Germany to address skills shortages through immigration reform 

Expat news
  • group of people in Germany
Published on 2023-03-01 at 07:00 by Asaël Häzaq
In the face of acute labor shortages, Germany is reforming its migration policy to attract skilled immigrants. The announcement was made on February 20 by the Federal Minister of the Interior and Community (BMI) and the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (BMAS). So what new measures does Germany intend to deploy to gain attractiveness?  

A new law to attract foreign workers

There are dark days ahead for Germany. The country is facing a double whammy, with a worrying aging population on one side and an ever-growing labor shortage on the other. According to the German employers' association, the country has 2 million job vacancies, and a large number of companies are reporting recruitment difficulties. Ultimately, there could be a shortage of more than 200,000 qualified workers by 2026.

In December 2022, the German government was already communicating about its reform project. Among other things, it targeted the complex bureaucracy, which currently makes it hard for immigrants to apply for work permits. The government has also been considering allowing naturalization after five years of residence in Germany, or even three years for foreigners who are well integrated (thriving at university or at work), compared to the current eight years. If this law is passed, foreigners might even acquire German nationality without having to renounce their own, which is impossible for the time being.

What would be the major changes?

Are the measures announced in December 2022 reflected in the immigration reform project? In fact, the German immigration reform is based on three pillars: professional experience, skilled labor, and expatriates' potential. The last point mainly concerned the naturalization of well-integrated foreigners.

New visa for foreign workers

This is probably one of the most important pieces of information for prospective expats in Germany. Currently, they still need a job offer from a German company to qualify for a work visa. According to the reform, there will be a new visa, the “Chancenkarte”, or "opportunity card" in English, allowing foreigners to stay in Germany for one year to look for a job. Unlike traditional work visas, the Chancenkarte will not tie the foreigner to specific jobs. They will be free to change jobs and apply for part-time or temporary work.

“Greater flexibility” to attract more skilled foreigners seems to be the name of the game. The government is looking to welcome 65,000 new foreign workers per year. That's well below economists' forecasts of 400,000 new foreign workers needed to address the labor shortages. 

But the easing measure comes with conditions. Foreigners must be able to support themselves. They must also have completed at least two years of higher education. The German government is planning a point system to rank the applicants. Among the criteria for classification are age, professional experience, German language skills and ties with Germany.

Better recognition of qualifications

It is a headache for non-European experienced foreigners with diplomas not recognized in Germany because of poorly translated versions. These diplomas do not always have an English name, let alone a German one. It is, therefore, difficult for these foreigners to assert their skills to the German authorities, especially since there is no federal harmonization on this subject. Each federal state applies its own rules for recognizing a qualification.

The reform will make it easier for international talent to apply. Experienced or "high-potential" applicants won't have to meet the qualification requirement, while other foreign workers will be able to start the process of having their qualifications recognized once they arrive in Germany. This measure should allow them to be operational quickly and, therefore, to start working sooner.

More flexibility for international students

Currently, only students from the European Union are eligible for state-funded student grants (BaföG, education support). Unfortunately, the international crisis has had a significant impact on students' savings. In this context, international students who are far away from their families or unable to receive support from them are particularly vulnerable.

The reform should allow international students to work more hours while having access to more training courses in parallel with their studies (German courses, for example). But although this flexibility measure seems to be meant for international students, it's unsure whether it is completely appropriate for their situation. Student associations are the first to point out that increasing working hours reduces the chances of academic success. They believe that this measure aims to curb the labor shortage by directing students towards precarious jobs with sometimes difficult working conditions.

Relaxation of EU Blue Card conditions

The EU Blue Card facilitates the entry, residence, and work of European Union (EU) nationals in another EU country, in this case, Germany. The conditions for obtaining the card are strict. Applicants must have a university degree and earn at least 58,400 euros per year. Switching jobs is also subject to strict conditions. Moreover, the EU Blue Card will be accessible to refugees granted asylum in an EU member state. Besides, there will no longer be a diploma requirement for experienced IT professionals, and the annual wage threshold will be lowered. 

Targeted international partnerships

German Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Hubertus Heil, and Svenja Schulze, Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, visited Ghana and the Ivory Coast to present their new immigration plan. "We must use all possible options at home and abroad to attract skilled workers," said Heil. 

Like Canada, which organizes recruitment fairs in foreign countries, Germany plans to open more migration centers in several African countries. Accra already has its center, which opened in 2017. But it mainly deals with Ghanaians who are in Germany illegally and have agreed to return to their country. Soon, this center will also be responsible for the selection of qualified candidates wishing to work in Germany. The German government plans to invest 10 million euros in the Accra center. European support should also be developed. The German government plans to open other centers in Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, and Indonesia.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has concerns about the German reform plans since sectors affected by labor shortages are more or less the same around the world. In Germany, there is a shortage of skilled metal workers, engineers, electricians, welders, plumbers, and health professionals. But it's worth noting that there is a severe shortage of health professionals in Ghana, too. The WHO believes the German project will likely harm the Ghanaian economy. The WHO has also criticized France, which has a residence permit intended for foreign doctors (it targets the same African countries as Germany), at the risk of aggravating the medical deserts in many African countries. Meanwhile, the German government prefers to speak of a "win-win" partnership and recalls that Ghana and Germany have been "close partners since 1957".