Germany needs a quarter of a million migrant workers a year

German Minister of Interior, Construction and Homeland Horst Seehofer (C) leaves after a press conference in Berlin on 2 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]

This article is part of our special report Migration and security: Snapshots across a divided Europe.

Germany is dependent on migrant workers but a decreasing number of them will be EU citizens in the future. In the long term, about 146,000 immigrants from outside of the EU will have to be integrated into the German labour market every year, according to a recent study. EURACTIV Germany reports.

It is always difficult to make forecasts, particularly when they concern the period until 2060. Nevertheless, a study by three researchers, from the German Research Institute of the Federal Employment Agency (IAB) and Coburg University, has done exactly this, predicting different scenarios for how the German labour market will develop.

Germany has an ageing population, meaning that fewer and fewer young workers are paying into a welfare state that is growing ever more expensive. In order to meet the shortage of workers in the longer term, about 260,000 people would have to migrate to Germany and enter the labour market, the researchers concluded.

The researchers worked on the assumption that the number of migrant workers from within the EU will fall, as EU economies continue to converge and fewer people leave their countries to look for work.

Although around a quarter of a million EU citizens still come to Germany every year, the experts estimate that this figure will be only 114,000 in the long term. In order to alleviate the effects of reduced EU immigration, the researchers said there would have to be more immigrants from outside of the EU, which would amount to 146,000 a year.

In 2017, the total migration balance was of slightly more than half a million immigrants, the so-called ‘migration monitor’ of the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) indicated.

However, demographic change in Germany is increasingly being felt, with about 300,000 more people leaving the labour market every year than those joining it.

Dr Stefan Hardege, head of labour market and immigration at the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), thinks the figure calculated by the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s migration report of 260,000 people needed a year was realistic.

He added that demographic change was already being felt in the economy. “Among the companies we consulted, 60% currently view the shortage of skilled works as a danger to the development of their businesses. In 2010, only 16% said so,” Hardege stated.

Even in a best-case scenario, where women and men in Germany were in employment at the same level and with retirement at the age of 70, this would only result in an additional four million workers on the market by 2060, the Bertelsmann study calculated.

New immigration law to attract workers with fewer qualifications

The biggest problem with the current trend in Germany is the lack of people with medium and lower levels of qualifications. The lack of graduates will be less significant, as an increasing number of people are going to university, while thousands of training positions remain unoccupied, the researchers believed.

The researchers therefore welcomed the planned new ‘specialised workers immigration law,’ which is also intended to attract people with fewer qualifications into the country. Immigrants with fewer qualifications currently find it difficult to obtain permission to stay if they are not EU citizens.

In contrast, highly qualified immigrants can obtain an ‘EU Blue Card’ and stay in Germany. The BAMF issued more than 21,000 of these last year. In this respect, Germany is a frontrunner, as this figure represented 84% of all Blue Cards in the EU.

The ‘immigration law’ adopted by the German cabinet in December means that access to the German labour market should also be given to people with professional qualifications. Immigrants with the means to live are then allowed to stay in the country for six months to look for work.

But for the law to take full effect, there was “still work to be done,” the migration study stated. For instance, it said that there had to be greater recognition of foreign professional qualifications in the German dual system of vocational training.

However, an immigration law on its own would not be enough to tie workers to Germany in the long-term, believes Jörg Dräger, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung executive board.

“Migration and integration are a task for society as a whole,” Dräger said. He added that without offering a continuing “welcoming culture” and attractive integration initiatives, it would not be possible to offset the shortage of specialised workers in Germany.

Hardege from the DIHK also shared this opinion, saying “we should first make sure that we reduce the number of people moving away, particularly of those who have been educated and trained in Germany.”

“They are well-suited to staying in this country,” he added.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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