Germany’s new workers are cause for Bosnia’s shrinking population

Already, the Germany embassy in Sarajevo is one of the biggest German visa offices worldwide. In 2018, over 14,100 national visas were issued. Numbers are only higher in Lebanon and Turkey.

When a Bosnian politician announces the creation of 100,000 new jobs, we joke in Bosnia that half of these will be abroad. With Germany’s new regulation on the immigration of skilled workers, an increased number of people could reach Germany – this will have consequences for Bosnia. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In front of the German Embassy in Sarajevo, the queue is long on a Monday morning in December, even despite the drizzle. Like many other Bosnians, the people here want to try their luck in Germany. One of them is Anel Vojić, who has waited 17 months to stand in line.

Vojić is 32 and has arrived from Bihać, a small town in western Bosnia. He finished business school, but did not find work. “If one is not member of a party, it is impossible to acquire a well-paid job in Bihać. The country is getting more and more corrupt and I don’t see any hope here anymore,” he said. His last job as a bouncer earned him around €250 per month. Now he has had enough and wants to try his luck in Germany.

For him, and for many others, this could become easier in the future: With a new regulation, Germany wants to speed up the processing of applications, because the German economy is lacking workers. Currently, one has to wait around eight to ten months for a visa – depending on the type of application, as Damir Kapidžić, Professor of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo confirmed to EURACTIV.

To improve the chances of qualified citizens from non-EU countries to obtain a German visa quickly, the German regulation on the immigration of skilled workers (Fachkräfteeinimmungsgesetz, FKEG) is currently being refined. It should help close the growing gap on the labour market. German employer associations are saying the new law is long “overdue and urgently needed”.

In contrast to current provisions, this is intended to abolish the so-called “priority check”, i.e. the obligation for companies to check whether an EU national (including from Germany), would also be suitable for the job before hiring a foreign skilled worker.

In addition, the regulation further extends the recognition of vocational qualifications – similar to the recognition of university degrees – and procedures are also to be accelerated.

In Germany, the new law is seen as a triple-win situation: the German labour market, workers from non-EU countries and their countries of origin would all benefit from the deal. To this end, Germany is investing in countries of origin, and efforts are being made to make the recruitment of skilled workers more sustainable.

If everything goes according to plan, the new regulation should come into force at the beginning of next year.

“How many people will still be here in 15 or 20 years’ time?”

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, people are less confident. The German Embassy in Sarajevo is already one of the largest German visa offices in the world – between 2015 and 2018, the number of visas issued rose from around 7,400 to over 14,100, according to the Foreign Office. More visa applications to Germany are made only in Lebanon and Turkey.

The reason for the doubling is the German ‘Westbalkan-Regelung’, which came into force at the beginning of 2016. Similar to the law currently being discussed, it facilitates access to the German labour market. Although the applicant needed to possess an employment contract, proof of qualifications recognised in Germany were no longer required, under the law.

However, processing this many applications takes time – and many firms are not prepared to wait this long for new employees. With the new regulation, many Bosnians are hopeful they will receive a visa faster and easier.

“How many people will still be in Bosnia in 15 or 20 years’ time? During the summer, it is already difficult to find construction workers, electricians or even nurses who are well-trained,” said political scientist Kapidžić. Some see it as cynical that EU member states can profit from cheap labour from non-EU countries – and are therefore the cause of serious problems for the economic planning of countries like Bosnia in the long run.

Meanwhile, Bosnian politicians have not yet found a recipe to prevent this mass exodus. “When a Bosnian politician announces the creation of 100,000 new jobs, we joke in Bosnia that half of these will be abroad,” said Kapidžić. There are currently no ideas or concepts that would prevent such a mass exodus.

Private transfers amount to 11% of the GDP

However, migration experts have also put a positive spin on this: “people invest more in their education if there are opportunities to migrate,” says Herbert Brücker, Director at the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research. This in turn increases the return on investment in education, so that more people study or undergo training. Ultimately, only some people emigrate and later return to their country of origin, and the level of education rises, according to Brücker.

Migration is often just temporary. According to figures from the IAB-SOEP migration sample, about 40% of people who migrated to Germany had already migrated before. Before the financial crisis of 2008, that figure was still at 20%. “These movements are quite positive for the economy. I hope that migration between Bosnia and Germany will increase. It would be better for both if there was more immigration,” highlighted the migration expert. This would at least be the case if we also took into account the increased welfare gains for migrants.

Remittances that migrants send to their families at home from abroad are also substantial. In 2017, these amounted to more than 11% of Bosnia’s GDP according to the World Bank, and this trend is rising.

The reasons for this increase are the diaspora’s improved financial situation and a growing number of Bosnian emigrants. In 2016, remittances to Bosnia were six times higher than foreign direct investment to the country.

Problematic health sector

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the German Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs spoke to EURACTIV, highlighting that it was the task of Bosnian policymakers to improve the country’s living conditions to limit the brain drain. However, all efforts are subject to the proviso that countries of origin have their interests safeguarded.

And the German Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community stated that: “The recruitment of skilled workers from abroad cannot, in particular, lead to healthcare systems being weakened in developing countries”.

The health sector is regarded as the most affected field of activity when it comes to migration. “The global demand for doctors and nurses is higher than its supply. They are recruited by almost all OECD countries, but are then missing in their home countries,” said Brücker. While he appears generally positive about migration opportunities in most occupational sectors, the health sector could actually suffer. Comprehensive approaches need to be developed in this sector to cushion negative consequences – such as support for training and education in countries of origin.

The coalition between the CDU and the Christian Socialist Union is currently blocking the legislative process. After it was adopted by the cabinet in December, it should have been discussed in March before the German Parliament. Under pressure from the CSU, however, the parliamentary process has now been postponed: the CSU wants to link the regulation to another law that ensures deportations are strictly enforced on those leaving the country – the “orderly return law”, as reported by the southern German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

German employer associations warn, however, that it would be wrong to link issues of asylum and immigration of skilled workers. This would send the wrong political message. “To ensure competitiveness of the German economy and secure our prosperity, we continue to depend more and more on skilled workers from abroad,” according to employer associations.

Vojić is now in Münster. One month after that morning in front of the German embassy in Sarajevo, he received his work visa. He currently earns his money as a window cleaner at a cleaning company. Soon he will start a German language course, after which he hopes to find a better job.


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