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Politics

German politicians at odds over how to regulate immigration

Politicians in Germany, a top destination for immigrants, are grappling with how best to channel the surge. A points-system like that in Canada might be the answer, some argue.

Germany's attitude toward migration, and how the country will manage the surge of immigrants who want to live and work in Europe's economic powerhouse: those are issues at the top of the agenda in German politics.

With an eye on the demographic development, many say Germany needs and depends on skilled migrants.

The parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) in the Bundestag is one of them.

Thomas Oppermann again on Sunday urged the introduction of a points system, like that used in Canada, as a basis for recruiting skilled immigrants from around the world, telling the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that it makes sense to "re-establish the need for non-EU migrants on an annual basis." Within the 28-nation European Union, nationals can move and relocate freely from one country to the next.

If many EU immigrants come to Germany, there is less demand for migrants from outside the European Union, the Social Democratic politician explained.

Demand-oriented system

Oppermann's ideas don't meet with unanimous approval.

"We don't need new immigration regulations." Gerda Hasselfeldt, parliamentary leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), said. The CDU's Bavaria-based sister party is adamant that current regulations are sufficient: "It would only create more bureaucracy."

Germany doesn't need a points-system because it already has functioning criteria in place - a "demand-oriented system," Stephan Sievert, a research associate at the Berlin Insitute for Population and Development, told DW.

Germany simplified procedures for immigrants from outside the EU by introducing a Blue Card system that grants entry to applicants with a university degree and a job offer with a minimum salary depending on the field.

Refugees wait at entrance to housing

Instead of deportation, proposals include legal immigration for skilled asylum-seekers

But there is always room for improvement, argues Sievert. "We know that knowledge of the German language is a factor that facilitates integration," he says, suggesting the government could come up with a way to reward potential immigrants for their language skills by making immigration to Germany easier.

Points-system as a gatekeeper

In 1967, Canada was the first country to introduce a points-based system, assessing applicants on various factors linked to labor market demand and an immigrant's potential to meet that demand.

Australia and the UK also have points-based immigration selection systems.

Australia operates a "hybrid" system for skilled migration, with both employer sponsorship options and points-based visas. The UK introduced a points-based program in 2008. According to a 2011 report by the CentreForum thinktank, "the aim of the points based migration system (PBS) is to provide an objective measure of a migrant's potential contribution to the UK economy."

The criteria include English language ability, the capacity to support oneself financially, age, previous experience and already having a job on a shortage occupation list.

Spread the word

Boris Pistorius takes Germany's migration debate a step further. The interior minister in the northern state of Lower Saxony has suggested paving the way to legal immigration for rejected asylum seekers. The Social Democrat politician told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that asylum applicants might be considered if they possess qualifications and skills in demand.

Reluctant conservative politicians shouldn't close their eyes to Germany's demographic reality, says Volker Beck, the Green party spokesman for domestic affairs. "Either the workers come here, or the work will go elsewhere."

Most importantly, we need to market our system in people's countries of origin, Stephan Sievert says. "That should be the main task, to make the world aware that Germany is looking for immigrants."

In 2013, Germany recorded the highest number of immigrants in 20 years. In its most recent International Migration Outlook, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rated Germany as the top destination for people moving between EU nations as well as the largest recipient of new asylum seekers. In 2009, Germany ranked 8th on the annual migration survey.

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