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Canada's point system: a model for Germany?

Canada takes in more immigrants per capita than any other country in the world based on a points system. But Germany is hesitant to introduce a similar scheme, as lawmakers can't agree on the country's needs.

indian man sitting at computer with germany flag

Germany continues to need high numbers of skilled workers from abroad

Canada accepts an average of 250,000 legal immigrants each year. For the Canadian government, immigrants play a key role in maintaining the country's economic well-being.

"Canada's post-recession economy demands a high level of legal immigration to keep our work force strong," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said earlier this week as he presented the country's annual immigration plan in parliament. The plan estimates that Canada will receive between 240,000 and 265,000 new permanent residents in 2011.

Sixty percent of these immigrants come through economic streams, mainly as part of the Federal Skilled Worker Program. It gives priority to technicians, skilled tradespersons, managers and professionals who help supplement the Canadian-born workforce.

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Applicants are sorted according to a point system. It awards a certain number of points for factors including education, language skills, work experience, age, or employment perspectives. In addition, candidates must prove that they have enough money to support themselves and their family members after they arrive in Canada.

A Master's degree or PhD, for example, is awarded 25 points, whereas only a high-school education gets 5 points. Four years of full-time, paid work experience earns applicants 21 points, one year only 15 points. Altogether, a maximum of 100 points can be awarded. The pass mark is 67 points for all factors combined. Then, applicants are qualified to apply for permanent resident status. These applications are in turn compared to the occupation demands of the various provinces.

The remaining 40 percent of immigrants come to Canada for humanitarian reasons, mainly refugees and asylum seekers, as well as family members of permanent residents. In the case of the latter, authorities have determined that the relatives of qualified and employed immigrants often also have a good education and are highly motivated to integrate into their new home country.

Canada has a population of some 34 million people. Australia and New Zealand also use similar point-based systems.

Can Germany learn?

Debate about a point-based system of immigration has existed in Germany for years. However, it has been impossible to date for lawmakers across party lines to agree on such a scheme.

Economics Minister Rainer Bruederle has said a point-based system would be advantageous for Germany. It was flexible and allowed authorities to select applicants based on the country's respective economic needs.

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There are thousands of jobs for qualified engineers that are open in Germany

And the clock is ticking. Business organizations such as the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) or the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) said Germany lacked about 400,000 to 500,000 skilled workers.

"We are desperately dependent on qualified immigrants," DIW's president, Klaus Zimmermann, said. The lack of skilled workers could hamper Europe's biggest economy in getting back on its feet after last year's recession. The economics ministry estimated that the labor shortage was costing the German economy some 15 billion euros per year ($21 billion).

In addition, the German population is shrinking - and growing numbers of Germans are even emigrating, for example to countries like Canada. At the same time, qualified specialists from abroad would rather immigrate to Denmark, The Netherlands or Britain. If they do choose Germany, they face a months-long bureaucratic ordeal to get their papers.

The Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) said in its 2010 annual report that an immigration reform should be much more closely tied to the employment market instead of to human capital. In Germany, a point system such as Canada's would be linked to an ongoing analysis of profession shortages in the country. If an applicant had a profession urgently required in Germany, he would receive bonus points in the scheme.

An additional element would enable companies to directly hire highly qualified foreigners. The Council recommended employers would pay a set one-time fee in order to circumvent the point system and directly hire from abroad.

"Only those employers that are really affected from an acute and serious shortage of labor will make use of this costly option," the Council said. The fee would then be earmarked in a fund to further educate domestic workers.

But politicians continue to be unable to find common ground on the issue.

"The existing laws are flexible enough," said Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in response to Bruederle's demands. "Employers who need skilled workers should go out in the world and recruit them - and then we'll help them with the immigration. The other way around won't work."

Author: Sabina Casagrande
Editor: Rob Mudge

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