Germany’s Skilled Immigration Act: Who will benefit?

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Germany’s new law on the immigration of skilled workers, which aims to provide easier access to the German labour market for qualified workers from non-EU countries, will come into force on 1 March. But some experts believe the new law is insufficient and NGOs consider it ignores those already living in Germany. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The German economy suffers from a lack of skilled workers, which acutely threatens its growth.

While things are changing on paper, only two of the changes will have a noticeable effect in practice, explained labour market expert Herbert Brücker at an event organised by Mediendienst Integration, a media service for journalists interested in migration issues.

Skilled workers with vocational qualifications will be put on an equal footing with university graduates. They will be allowed to enter the country to work, something which has so far only been done for so-called ‘problem professions’.

Moreover, as of 1 March, it will be largely irrelevant whether Germans or EU citizens are already available for a vacant position.

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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.

Old and new hurdles

Although the new law will make it possible to already be admitted for job search or training, there is a strong condition: German language skills must already be acquired in the home country.

According to Brücker, the most challenging hurdle is and remains the recognition of qualifications before entering the country as they need to be equivalent to German ones. But because Germany’s widespread dual system of vocational training is virtually unique in the world, this makes things especially problematic.

In other words, equivalence is not always a given.

This is the main reason why Brücker calls the new law a “very, very small step”, adding that opportunities have gone amiss.

Brücker refers to other immigration countries such as the US, Australia or Canada, where such equivalence examinations are lacking. Because of these hurdles and the German language skills required for some forms of entry, Brücker concludes that the Skilled Immigration Act is “not appropriate against the background of the challenge [a lack of skilled workers] we face”.

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Home and back again

The law will not help people with a refugee background whose applications for asylum have been rejected and who have been living and working in Germany for years or are still in training. When the law was drafted in 2019, some parties called for a possible “shift” from the asylum system to a specialist-visa-type system.

Although this would have given people whose asylum applications had been refused the chance to obtain a right to stay as skilled workers instead, it did not make it into the final law.

This means that people who would be eligible for a skilled worker’s visa based on their qualifications and knowledge of German, but who already live in Germany, cannot apply for it. Instead, they must first return to their home country, go to the German embassy and then apply for it from there.

This leads to some quite nerve-racking situations, Marlene Thiele told EURACTIV.

Thiele works as a project manager at the ‘Netzwerk Unternehmen integrieren Flüchtlinge’ (Network companies integrate refugees) of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK).

She gave the example of a person from the Balkans, who had worked in Germany and was given a “very long leave of absence” to be able to apply back home. But this was almost a year ago, she added.

However, there are also cases where things move faster.

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Possible shift

However, Thiele noted that on closer inspection, there is a chance of a “de facto shift” because of another integration law that has been in force for a little longer: regulations related to the suspension of removal (Duldungsregelungen). These apply to people in work or training and function on the so-called “three plus two” principle.

Despite an unfavourable asylum decision, it is permitted to stay in the country for three years for training, and then another two years if one finds a job in the profession for which they have trained.

According to Thiele, anyone who gets that far has a good chance of getting an unlimited residence permit – because by then, they are usually already well integrated.

But of course, you first have to get a training place in a state-recognised certified training programme. And “good chances” are not the same as a guarantee of a permanent residence permit.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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