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Skilled workers

December 1, 2011

Faced with an ageing population and a shortage of skilled workers, experts in Germany are demanding an overhaul of immigration laws to make it easier for talented foreigners to work in the country.

Foreign and German workers in Berlin
Highly-qualified workers are in demand in GermanyImage: dpa Zentralbild

German businesses notably depend on well-educated and highly-qualified workers. Even today many sectors are suffering from a shortage of skilled labor, which will only increase as the population ages.

In order to act against that trend, a group of experts from the political sphere, industry and the unions have drawn up an action plan, which calls for comprehensive immigration reforms. They want to promote what they call "carefully controlled immigration."

Under the chairmanship of the former Social Democrat (SPD) parliamentary leader Peter Struck and Christian Democrat (CDU) politician Armin Laschet, an independent, cross-party commission was set up in April by a group of prominent German institutions. Now, the experts in Berlin have published their conclusions.

More incentives for skilled migrants

Bernhard Lorentz (l-r), Peter Struck (SPD) and Armin Laschet (CDU)
The experts presented their findings in BerlinImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The number of employees in Germany will fall by some 6.7 million by the year 2025, according to the report's findings. That's why the politicians must react - on the one hand with more learning opportunities and on the other hand by improving the qualifications of the unemployed. But alongside more opportunities for women and older people on the job market, the commission found there should be more incentives to attract highly-skilled workers from abroad.

Struck emphasized that it would not be possible to plug the gaps created by demographic changes by workers from Germany alone.

"With our recommendations we want to convince the political parties, the political groupings in the German parliament to take part in a common initiative. The government and the labor minister should also play its role," he said.

In the face of the current labor shortage, Laschet, the former integration minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is sure of one thing.

"We must compete for the brightest talents in the world. We must get away from the idea of a ban on recruitment and clearly define who we need and under what criteria people can come to Germany," he said.

Turning away from recruitment bans

The commission argued the move away from recruitment bans should be "part of a culture of immigration and welcome." Laschet stressed that the law should make clear that immigration is "explicitly desired and promoted."

Specifically, the experts called for the scrapping of bureaucratic hurdles. Workers can already enter the country with an employment contract, but Laschet criticized the fact that some have to undergo weeks of tests. He said that had to change.

In addition, a "criteria-based" system should be introduced, allowing up to 30,000 skilled laborers per year to enter Germany. That could include having qualifications in a given shortfall sector and having German language skills. However, the experts said that so-called "immigration into the social welfare system" should be avoided.

Struck and Laschet described the right-wing extremist murders of migrants which have shaken Germany over recent weeks as "a heavy setback for efforts to bring skilled workers to Germany." Laschet said the violence represented an attack on "the whole of Germany" and said the case needed to be resolved as quickly as possible.

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen says Germany has to open upImage: picture alliance / dpa

BlueCard for skilled foreign workers

German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Germany had to open up to the idea that it was necessary to allow skilled foreigners into the country. The cabinet is set to consult shortly on the form of the so-called BlueCard for skilled foreign workers.

In the future, the income level for a settlement permit will be reduced to 33,000 euros ($44,385) for skilled workers in sectors with a large number of unfilled jobs.

For other sectors, the level will be reduced from the current 66,000 euros to 44,000 euros.

International students are 'ideal migrants'

According to a study published Tuesday by the advisory board of the German Foundation for Integration and Migration, Germany is missing out every year on the huge potential of highly-qualified workers, because many foreign students in Germany no longer feel welcome once they have completed their degree.

But Gunilla Fincke of the advisory board said such people are underestimated as "ideal migrants" - potential migrants, "who are in fact already in the country, but are not recognized as such, because we always think they'll only be here temporarily, while they're studying."

But these young people are well-educated and mostly speak German, she says, and through their studies they are familiar with the country and its people. They also understand the habits of the German labor market. Despite that, only around a quarter of them stay in Germany after graduation. Fincke says that's lower than the average in other countries.

Twice the number of international students

A group of foreign students
Foreign students are already familiar with German customsImage: Fotolia/Robert Kneschke

The number of students from non-EU states has almost doubled in the last 10 years, to its current level of almost 200,000. Of these students, some 15,000 to 20,000 go on to graduate in Germany. The largest group of foreign students come from China, followed by Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and India.

The study analyzed the basic experience of foreign students in Germany, and assessed what was important to them, in order to make them decide to stay in Germany in the longer term.

Some 2,600 students from 10 German universities were surveyed, all of them in master or doctoral programs. Immediately after graduating they had the chance to enter the German labor market. But the study showed about half of those questioned felt they were poorly informed about the possibility of staying on and finding work.

The experts concluded that German universities could better inform graduates about their prospects, and that German embassies around the world could play a more active role in advertizing for skilled labor.

Author: Sabine Ripperger / ji
Editor: Martin Kuebler