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Germany seeks looser immigration rules for non-EU workers

November 30, 2022

Germany's Cabinet is pushing for a point system for skilled non-EU workers and plans to grant immigrants from the West Balkans access to their job market for an unlimited amount of time.

German passport resting atop pile of other generic passports
The new rules will make it easier to get citizenship in the country Image: Maksym Yemelyanov/Zoonar/picture alliance

The German cabinet agreed in principle on Wednesday to immigration reform in a bid to secure more skilled workers.

Europe's biggest economy is currently experiencing a lack of roughly half a million people to its workforce and wants to make up for the shortfall.

The federal government said it wanted to boost immigration and training to tackle a skills shortage which is hampering the country's economy at a time of weakening growth. Meanwhile, an aging population is increasing pressure on the public pension system.

Germany is also keen on granting immigrants from the Western Balkan countries that are not in the EU, such as Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, access to their job market for an unlimited amount of time.

The proposals to amend the Skilled Immigration Act, first introduced in March 2020, include an "opportunity card" for jobseekers.

Immigration: Can Germany's new 'green card' deliver?

Shortage of workers in health care, IT and construction sectors

Germany's Labor Minister Hubertus Heil said: "We've got a lot to offer, we've got great jobs and we need to strengthen that [image] abroad,'' adding that it was in the country's interest to present itself as a cosmopolitan society that's welcoming to immigrants.

The Cabinet is yet to draw up a formal bill, and Heil expects to do so early next year. It would then need to be approved in parliament before German politicians could pass it into law.

Experts say Germany needs some 400,000 skilled immigrants to arrive each year as the country's aging workforce shrinks, particularly to fill vacancies in the healthcare, IT and construction sectors. 

"We want workers to be able to quickly come to Germany and get started," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said, adding that Germany wanted to establish the most modern migration rules within the EU. Although free movement of labor is guaranteed between EU member states, migration from outside the bloc falls largely within the purview of individual governments.

Faeser and Heil are both members of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck, a Green, said the law should become one "that shows the way forward, that aggressively pushes for a society of the many." 

Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger, of the Free Democrats, said: "Achieving integration and [facilitating] long-term stays in Germany — that needs to be our goal."

Germany plans to relax citizenship rules

What changes are proposed? 

Arguably the biggest change would be permitting people deemed to be "third country [i.e. non-EU] nationals with good potential" to come to Germany to seek a job, rather than having to demonstrate an existing contract offer. 

The policy would be based on a new points system that considers attributes in five categories.

These are qualifications, German language skills, career experience, connections to Germany (for instance relatives already living in the country), and age.

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil said that people deemed to meet three or more of these criteria would be eligible for closer consideration.

It's not yet clear exactly what it will take to qualify in each category, but Heil's comments raise the prospect of someone with no German language skills being accepted in some circumstances, which is highly improbable under the current system.

Heil said people who qualified for this "opportunity card," as it's been termed in German, would be allowed to come to Germany for a period of up to a year to look for work and would be able to carry out a two-week trial while seeking a job.

The government plans to approve migration for people whose academic qualifications might not be formally recognized in Germany. Not all foreign degrees and other qualifications are currently deemed equivalent to what would be their German counterparts. People with at least two years of experience in their field could then take up work provisionally and arrange recognition of their academic qualifications inside Germany.

Germany also plans to make it possible to seek to migrate to the country to take up part-time work, provided it is a minimum of 20 hours per week. 

The talking points agreed by Cabinet foresee allowing qualified people to seek jobs in sectors that have little or nothing to do with their academic qualifications, if their prospective employer is still keen to hire and train them. This would mean, for instance, that somebody qualified in a different field could apply for a job in a sector where Germany is struggling to fill posts, such as the hospitality industry.

Separately, the EU is working on a new "Blue Card" system for university graduates with qualifications recognized by the bloc, with the name inspired by the fabled "Green Card" system in the US. But this would mainly affect people who already had decent prospects of being granted a German work permit, whereas the government's plans are looking towards those who might not qualify for this.

msh, jsi,lo/jcg (AP, Reuters, dpa)