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Taxi drivers in Dusseldorf
Some immigrants are overqualified for their jobsImage: dpa

Unused potential

December 9, 2009

German Education Minister Annette Schavan and integration commissioner Maria Boehmer presented a new plan Wednesday, aimed at making it easier for foreign qualifications to be recognized in Germany.


Education Minister Annette Schavan told reporters that some 2.87 million people living in Germany have qualifications that they gained abroad. Of these, around 500,000 people could benefit from a new 13-point government plan meant to streamline the system by which degrees and diplomas earned in foreign countries are compared to their German counterparts.

As it stands, many believe that immigrants are simply assumed to be unqualified. But, speaking at a press conference in Berlin to unveil the plan, Schavan said this attitude needs to change, not least because Germany needs more qualified workers.

Integration commissioner Maria Boehmer
Integration commissioner Maria Boehmer says the plan is a milestoneImage: dpa

"We will have gigantic problems in the next ten years finding sufficient skilled workers," she said, "Unless our economy completely stagnates for the next ten years – which no-one expects to happen. Everything we do is meant to create more growth, and that’s why it’s high time to take these steps."

A single process

The main provision of the new plan is the creation of a single process – a central agency to which immigrants would be able to apply to have their qualifications assessed and recognized, taking into account any professional experience they have gathered. All of Germany's 16 states have agreed to this idea in principle. Until now, disparities between standards in different states have further complicated the process.

The government’s integration commissioner, Maria Boehmer, spoke of a milestone in integration politics, describing it as one of the main projects of the coming legislative period. Boehmer is confident that the proposed plan would affect both academic and non-academic jobs.

Qualifications for skilled labor also often go unrecognized. "Let’s take floor-tilers.... A floor-tiler can, of course, work here without any problems, and he's very welcome," Boehmer said, "But at the moment we have a problem if he wants to train other people, or start his own business. It would also be an important step if we had recognition in these cases."

Interest from immigrant organizations

Immigrant organisations have cautiously welcomed the proposed plan. For Hilmi Kaya Turan, a member of the Berlin and Brandenburg Immigration Council, Wednesday's announcement amounted to the acknowledgement of a long-held concern.

Immigrants in Berlin
The German immigrant population is a potential economic assetImage: AP

"If these opportunities to have qualifications assessed is being granted, then that is a big step in the right direction. That was always one of the main demands of immigrants in Germany," he said.

But the plan presented on Wednesday is merely a statement of intent for the current session of parliament, and Turan is grateful that the government is finally moving to tackle a problem that has led, for example, to a lot of over-qualified taxi-drivers.

"There are many such cases, and the penny seems to have dropped with the government. That is the good thing about this – that they have recognized that a huge potential workforce is not being used," Turan said.

But it remains to be seen to what extent the new government will be able to release this potential.

Author: Ben Knight

Editor: Susan Houlton

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