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Not yet booming

Monika Lohmüller / hgNovember 22, 2012

Not many have heeded the call so far: Germany's Blue Card foreign labor recruitment program hasn't yet attracted many workers. Perhaps the country's image needs more polishing.

Foreign worker in a Bosch high-pressure cleaning room +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

It's the European version of the US Green Card - only that it's blue and so it's called the Blue Card instead. Since it was introduced in Germany in August, the hurdles preventing non-EU foreigners from taking jobs in the country have become a bit lower.

The Blue Card allows university graduates from non-EU countries to take up jobs which will earn them at least 44,800 euros ($57,546) per year, down from 66,000 euros in the earlier German legislation. The job permit is valid for an initial period of three years. But so far, there hasn't exactly been a run on the card.

Is the Blue Card on its way to become a complete failure? Well, it's early days, says Stefan Hardege from the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK). What needs to be done right now, he says, is to increase Germany's charm offensive in its search for skilled foreign labor: "We need a more efficient information policy and an advertizing campaign showing the advantages of Germany."

Blue Card logo
The Blue Card logo doesn't say much to foreigners yet

Gunilla Fincke from the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) also believes that calling the Blue Card a flop right now would be premature. She points out that Germany has for decades build up a reputation as a non-immigration country. You can't shed such an image overnight just by adopting a piece of pioneering legislation, Fincke maintains. She suggests letting special migration commissioners help qualified applicants in German embassies abroad.

Labor market bottlenecks

Many industries in Germany have experienced a lack of skilled workers for many years, with well-known shortages in the car and engineering sectors, but problems also in research and development and in nursing. "Those are sectors where many companies have had problems filling vacancies," says Hardege. "And they're not just on the lookout for engineers or graduates, but also for suitable applicants in the trades."

Estimates by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) indicate that there'll be a shortage of some 240,000 engineers in Germany by 2020. Christoph Metzler from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW) thinks the Blue Card is a clear and positive signal to foreign workers to apply for jobs in Germany.

Foreign nurse in an intensive care unit in Germany Photo: Oliver Berg dpa/lnw +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
The nursing sector needs many skilled workers from abroadImage: picture-alliance/dpa

But courting the brightest minds needs to involve advertizing campaigns, Metzler believes. He points to the German corporate "Diversity Charter" under which 1,250 companies have vowed to explicitly welcome workers from abroad.

Metzler also points to initiatives by the federal government or regional authorities. "There's an internet portal from the federal government where, say, an engineer from India gets to know more about life in Germany and what to expect," he says. There will also be a world map of sorts: "On this map, applicants can look up which initiatives and activities there are in their own countries to help them find a job in Germany." Metzler mentions the Goethe Institutes as places to get crucial information.

Degrees and qualifications recognized

Employees living in Germany with foreign degrees or qualifications have long faced an uphill battle to find suitable jobs. Often their qualifications weren't officially recognized so that they couldn't work in their own profession. Metzler welcomes the government's move to clear that hurdle too.

There's also a central German online platform called "bq-portal" where foreign companies and chambers of commerce can familiarize themselves with the education and vocational training systems in other countries.

When a foreign degree or qualification is recognized in Germany, it's usually compared with a corresponding German degree. If the foreign qualification does not meet the conditions required in Germany, foreign applicants can take advantage of special schemes to obtain additional qualifications.