The German government has agreed on the cornerstones of the new Immigration Act. But experts, business representatives and trade unions see still significant room for improvement. EURACTIV Germany’s media partner “Der Tagesspiegel” reports.
It was a long way for the CDU. In the past decade top politicians like Wolfgang Schäuble insisted that Germany was not an immigration country. Unforgettable is also the remark of former CDU State Minister Jürgen Rüttgers, who triggered a controversy in 2000 with the slogan “Children instead of Indians” [„Kinder statt Inder“, expression used by him during a controversial anti-green card campaign].
But after the EU’s dispute this year, the government has now agreed on a cornerstone paper for an immigration law. Finally, as labour market experts find. “In order to meet the demand for jobs, in future Germany needs a skilled worker immigration in six-figure amount,” President of the German Institute of Economic Research, Marcel Fratzscher, told the “Tagesspiegel”. In July 2018 alone, there were more than 800,00 vacancies nationwide.
No immigration into the social system
The most important guidelines are outlined on four pages: The decisive factors for permission to immigrate are meant to be professional qualifications, age and language skills. At the centre of the plans are not only graduates, but also immigrants with vocational training. In the future, the government no longer insists on the so-called priority examination, that is, the preference of domestic applicants when filling an open position.
However, the German government reserves itself the possibility to reintroduce the priority test “for the protection” of German workers in the short term, for example, if the number of unemployed increases. The prerequisite for immigration should be that the applicants can earn their own living. “We will prevent immigration into the social systems,” it is written in the cornerstone paper obtained by the “Tagesspiegel”.
But can the planned Immigration Act keep what it promises? Representatives of the economy fundamentally welcome the submitted paper saying it goes in the right direction. However, like the trade unions, they see considerable need for improvement in several areas. A major criticism is that the much discussed “lane change” is not included – the opportunity for rejected asylum seekers to stay in Germany, if they have a job. “Some improvements have to be done there,” says economist Fratzscher.
Above all, it is the CSU that is against such a regulation. Parts of the Union and the entire SPD campaign in favour of it: “It cannot be that diligent nurses or craftsmen are torn from their farms and deported,” said SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil.
As a compromise solution, a cut-off date regulation could be possible, as proposed by the German County Association (DLT).
Anyone who lives in Germany until the entry into force of the Immigration Act and can demonstrate “real integration benefits” should be allowed to switch from the asylum system to the regular labour market, demands DLT President Reinhard Sager.
Should this actually happen, many people could benefit from such a solution. More than 600,000 rejected asylum seekers were living in Germany at the end of last year, according to the Central Register of Foreigners. But according to the Federal Employment Agency, it is not being recorded how many of them were employed.
“Fireworks of vagueness”
The labour market policy spokesman for the liberal FDP group Johannes Vogel criticised the cornerstone paper as a “firework of vaguenesses” instead of a real “big hit”. It would introduce only minor repairs, instead of creating “a proper point system on the model of successful immigration countries”.
This refers to Canada, for example. Skilled workers from shortage occupations can qualify for immigration when they reach a certain score – categories such as education, language skills, age and adaptability are assessed.
Vogel also criticises the fact that German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer in his policy paper keeps silent on salary limits. For the already existing “Blue Card”, which already entitles highly qualified workers to immigrate to the EU, they are considered as “unrealistic”, says Vogel.
For graduates, they are currently set at €52,000 per year, in shortage occupations at €40,560.
Another problem that is not well addressed by experts in the paper is recognition of foreign degrees. “It has to go faster and become less bureaucratic,” says economist Fratzscher. “Currently, not even a doctor from Spain can come to Germany easily. For a doctor from India, this is even more difficult.”
President of the Employer Association, Ingo Kramer, demanded that it should be made possible for people from abroad which have a completed education to take up a job, even “if this is not 100% equivalent to a German training.”
It is also controversial that immigration will in future not be confined to so-called “bottleneck occupations” – jobs in areas such as mechatronics, IT, maintenance and software development, where there is currently a shortage of skilled workers.
“The removal of the restriction to the previously narrowly defined ‘bottleneck occupations’ would allow that in principle immigration could happen into all training occupations and the actual needs in the labour market could be covered with professionals from abroad,” says Kramer.
The German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) considers this to be the wrong way. It believes that the need must be determined together with the respective industries. Then it could be decided whether immigration in this area was necessary.
No disadvantages for job-seeking Germans
The DGB also criticises that the option of a temporary job search, which is included in the cornerstone paper, is not new. This is already possible for third-country nationals with an academic degree, if they have the necessary funds and health insurance, and for foreign graduates of German universities.
To extend the regulations to professionally qualified third-country nationals is more of a placebo, as the possibility is hardly used anyway.
Many business representatives are positive about the elimination of the priority test. If someone from outside the EU currently wants to work in Germany and submits an existent job offer, the Employment Agency has to carry out such an examination.
The body then clarifies whether a German or an EU citizen could be considered for employment as well. In “bottleneck occupations”, this priority check does not exist.
In the future, it could disappear altogether – if the economy gives the opportunity for it. Economist Fratzscher rates as too far-fetched fears that German could be disadvantaged as a result of abolishing the priority test.
“Someone who speaks German, lives here, is integrated, always has huge advantages over a candidate, for example, from Asia.” As an exception, however, occupations are conceivable in companies in which the business language is English.
There is agreement among experts that an immigration law is necessary. “Germany is heavily dependent on immigration. The economic boom in Germany would not have been possible without immigration from other EU countries,” says Fratzscher.
This is also shown by a study by the Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation. Accordingly, foreigners have relieved the German budget by €22 billion in their contributions alone in 2012. “In the future, we will be increasingly dependent on immigration from countries outside Europe,” says Fratzscher.
Competition with the US and Canada
But it is questionable whether so many people will come to Germany in the future, as the German government imagines. “It is not the case that people all over the world are sitting on packed suitcases, waiting for a signal from Germany,” says Ulf Rinne from the Research Institute for the Future of Work in Bonn. Most of them still rather would like to go to the US or Canada.
In addition, only a few met the requirements described in the cornerstone plan. For example, only a few people in the world speak German, even less have vocational training that satisfies German standards.