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Germany

Germany Eases Restrictions on Skilled Foreign Workers

The German cabinet on Wednesday made it easier for highly-skilled workers from new EU countries to fill yawning gaps in the German labor market. But others will find it more difficult to get work visas for Germany.

A man looks through binoculars

German businesses are desperately scouting around for qualified people

The cabinet on Wednesday, July 16, decided to ease restrictions on highly qualified workers, effectively opening its borders to those with university or higher qualifications from 10 new EU countries from the beginning of next year.

German employers will from then on no longer have to show that there are no suitably qualified applicants from Germany or older EU nations in order to hire a suitable candidate from a new member country.

German businesses have long complained of a chronic lack of highly trained workers such as engineers and computer programers.

"Germany must take part in an international competition to attract bright minds," Labor Minister Olaf Scholz said.

However, restrictions on lower qualified workers from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which joined the EU in May 2004, remain in force until April 30, 2011.

In the case of Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the bloc at the beginning of 2007, the restrictions will be lifted only from the beginning of 2012.

The cabinet also decided to ensure an adequate supply of seasonal agricultural workers, many of whom come from Eastern European countries.

Preference to German-learners

Restrictions were also eased for those foreign applicants who can show knowledge of the German language and culture by having attended German schools abroad.

Germany was one of many EU countries that closed its labor market to the eight Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, along with Cyprus and Malta.

The restrictions were imposed for three years and then extended for a further two years to 2009.

Britain, Ireland and Sweden opened their labor markets immediately, and most other "old" EU members, including France, have since followed.

Small steps toward minimum wage

A window-washer

A minimum wage already exists in just a few sectors in Germany

Also on Wednesday, the German cabinet agreed after extensive political debate to introduce minimum wage regulations in more sectors of the labor market. Which sectors those will be, however, has not yet been decided. Construction workers, janitors and letter carriers are already guaranteed a minimum wage under German law.

The regulations are aimed at countering wage dumping and low-wage competition. Labor Minister Olaf Scholz praised the agreement, saying that "it is a good day for many employees who work hard and earn little." Economics Minister Michael Glos, who'd resisted the move, said nevertheless that the government had "pushed through the most economically friendly solution."

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