Germany softens restrictions on central- and eastern-European workers

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The German government has opted for a small-scale opening of its labour market to workers from ten countries that joined the EU in 2004 or later, easing access for engineers specialising in fields where labour is particularly short.

Beginning 1 November 2007, German employers wishing to hire electrical or mechanical engineers from ten countries, from Estonia in the north to Bulgaria in the south, will face less bureaucratic hindrances. In particular, they will no longer need to provide a document from the country’s labour office, certifying that no adequate candidate can be found on the German labour market. 

In a closed-door meeting on 24 August 20076, the German government, however, did not follow strong reccomendations, particularly from Research Minister Annette Schavan (CDU – Conservative) to decrease the lower earnings limit currently in force for non-EU15 applicants from €85,000 to €60,000. Critics say that the high threshold limits the scheme to senior and managament-level employees and excludes even younger specialists from its benefits. 

Schavan has been facing tough opposition as well from anti-immigration forces on her own party’s right wing as from the Social Democrats (SPD) and from trade unions. SPD Labour Minister Franz Müntefering has been quoted as saying that his preference is for training some of Germany’s 3.7 million unemployed before hiring people from abroad. Trade union chief Michael Sommer has been arguing along similar lines. 

Nevertheless, the German government also decided to ease the hiring of foreigners who have finished their university studies in Germany. Under the new scheme, they will be able to obtain a work permit for at least three years following their diploma. 

Before the end of 2007, the German government will follow up with more discussions on the country’s immigration scheme. One of the options currently under consideration is a system of attributing jobs to foreigners according to credits on a scale of expertise. 

The decisions were taken following warnings from economists that labour shortage is costing Germany around €20 billion per year. 

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