Wanted: Skilled Workers in Germany

By: Jenna Tidwell

            In early October 2018, the two leading political parties of Germany’s governing coalition agreed upon the terms for what will be a historic change in their country’s immigration policy.[1] According to a new study conducted by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, “German firms are suffering from a huge shortage of skilled labour which could see businesses miss out on £27 billion (€30 billion) [$34 billion USD] in revenue,”[2] and the country has just the fix to fill that gap: skilled asylum seekers.[3] Germany’s Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, is currently pushing to finalize the bill that aims to assist skilled workers who are seeking refuge in Germany[4] by allowing “[a]nyone who has completed a qualified vocational training or degree course[] and has signed an employment contract” to work in Germany, sans restrictions.[5]

            In just three years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open-door migration policy” has allowed over one million refugees to enter the country, a fact that, while causing much strife throughout the country, may now be its saving grace.[6] The current state of the German labor market is clear: baby boomers are beginning to retire, and there are not enough millennials entering the work force to sustain the country’s current economy.[7] The IAB Institute for Employment Research conducted a study that found that to maintain its competitive edge, “the country needs at least 400,000 people coming to work in Germany every year.”[8] Without these additional workers, the country’s capacity for production will decline, leading to billions of Euros in lost profits.[9] The German Economic Institute found that in September 2018, “in the areas of mathematics, computing, natural sciences[,] and technology, a record 338,200 jobs went unfilled.”[10] Facing the impending doom of their entire country’s economy, the German governing coalition took note of the scarcity of workers and admitted that the current pool of available manpower, approximately 500 million people, would not be enough to maintain Germany’s current state of affairs.[11] In hopes of garnering support for the bipartisan strategy, the Interior Minister stressed at a press conference that the shortage of workers is “why we need workers from third countries.’”[12]

            The new law, which was hammered out during a late-night battle between the German conservatives and center-left Social Democrats and was inspired by the highly praised Canadian model[13], contains three key points that are aimed to combat the worker shortage while maintaining a bipartisan compromise.[14] First and foremost, the coalition members agreed that they must make the process of coming to work in their country easier for asylees and those seeking a better future in Germany.[15] Currently, it can take up to six months to process a work visa for an employee coming into Germany from a non-European Union country.[16] According to Michael Bueltman, who coordinates the German operations for a company that employs 1,200 people from various countries, this wait time “has a negative impact” on the recruitment of vital employees.[17] This long process is one thing that the new immigration law aims to change.[18] The hope appears to be that with fewer restrictions placed on workers who have previous vocational training,[19] the process of obtaining a work visa should run more smoothly and take less time, but only time will tell if this prediction rings true.

            To attract more foreign workers into the country, the new law will allow jobseekers who reside outside of the European Union to reside in Germany for up to six months while they attempt to secure employment.[20] However, only those who possess the requisite education or training will qualify,[21] which includes being able to speak German.[22] Those who take advantage of the six-month window will also not be able to access any type of social benefit from the German government during that time.[23]

            Germany is also hoping to maintain some of the migrants it has already acquired who have become sufficiently acclimated to German society.[24] Migrants who are currently in Germany but do not have residency permits may be allowed to remain in the country “if they are gainfully employed and can show they have joined the fabric of German society.”[25] This strategy offers the option of an easy transition for both asylees who are interested in joining the workforce and the German officials in charge of implementing the new regulations.

            While the strategies embodied in the new immigration law have the potential to be a great success for Germany, some critics worry that the agreement is a “half-baked compromise” that “just creates ‘more bureaucracy and opaque regulations.’”[26] The legislature also seems to be concerned with the possibility of the new law going awry as “the government is reserving the right to quickly reintroduce the [former] procedure” of requiring a certification that no German citizen could perform a particular job before allowing a migrant to fill the position.[27] Yet, members of the German business community have reacted positively to the new regulations,[28] and the hope remains that Germany will be able to tackle two problems at once with its new approach to the country’s refugee crisis.

[1] Germany’s New Immigration Laws Open Door for Skilled Labor, Deutsche Welle (Oct. 2, 2018), https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-new-immigration-laws-open-door-for-skilled-labor/a-45734442.

[2] Harvey Gavin, No Wonder Germany Wants More Immigration – ‘400k Workers Needed’ to Plug HUGE Labour Gap, Express (Sept. 9, 2018), https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1015203/germany-immigration-eu-migrant-crisis-angela-merkel-horst-seehofer.

[3] Leonard Kehnscherper, Germany Chases a Fix for Its $35 Billion Immigration Problem, Bloomberg (Sept. 9, 2018), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-09-09/germany-chases-a-fix-for-its-35-billion-immigration-problem.

[4] Id.

[5] Deutsche Welle, supra note 1.

[6] Express, supra note 2.

[7] Bloomberg, supra note 3.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Germany to Ease Immigration Rules to Fight Worker Shortage, Euractiv (Oct. 2, 2018), https://www.euractiv.com/section/economy-jobs/news/germany-to-ease-immigration-rules-to-fight-worker-shortage.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] New German Immigration Laws Agreed at Government Meeting, Deutsche Welle (Oct. 2, 2018), https://www.dw.com/en/new-german-immigration-laws-agreed-at-government-meeting/a-45722498.

[14] Deutsche Welle, supra note 1.

[15] Id.

[16] Bloomberg, supra note 3.

[17] Id.

[18] Express, supra note 2.

[19] Deutsche Welle, supra note 1.

[20] Euractiv, supra note 10.

[21] Deutsche Welle, supra note 1.

[22] Euractiv, supra note 10.

[23] Deutsche Welle, supra note 1.

[24] Euractiv, supra note 10.

[25] Id.

[26] Deutsche Welle, supra note 1.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.