Germany to tackle skills shortage with ′Blue Card′ | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 03.03.2012
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Germany to tackle skills shortage with 'Blue Card'

The German Parliament has held its first debate on a government draft bill, which is geared towards luring more foreign, non-EU workers into Germany. Holders of a so-called Blue Card would face fewer restrictions.

What the Green Card is for the United States of America, the Blue Card is meant to be for Europe. A guideline from the European Commission dating back to 2009 stipulates that skilled workers from non-EU nations should have similar regulations as to their residence status than foreign workers in the US.

The German government has been dragging its feet on implementing the Blue Card, maybe because many still don't see Germany as an immigration country.

But it wouldn't help to turn a blind eye to the demographic realities. By 2030, Germany will have a shortage of six million workers, the Nuremberg-based Federal Labor Agency calculates.

And such a drastic contraction of the labor potential would gravely hamper growth and innovation, warns the Director of the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Klaus Zimmermann. "The threatening decline in our population – down to 77 million people by 2030 and 65 million people by 2060 – will also jeopardize the very financial basis of our social security," Zimmermann maintained.

Sealed-off labor market

The biggest hurdle for non-EU applicants to enter the German labor market has been his or her average annual salary, which needs to be no less than 66,000 euros ($88,000). The business community as well as trade unions have long criticized that this threshold is far too high. Only little fewer than 150 job contracts have so far been signed on that basis.

Wide shot of people of different nationalities

Germany's economy would screech to a halt without foreign labor

But changes are now in the pipeline. On Thursday, the German Parliament in its first reading debated alteration in line with Brussels' 2009 guideline for highly skilled labor. The government in Berlin aims to lower the average annual income ceiling considerably. Whoever wants to acquire a Blue Card in future would only need to have a college degree and proof of having earned at least 45,000 euros per year. Applicants who meet those requirements would get a temporary residence permit, which would be turned into a permanent one after three years in a given job in Germany.

Applicants who have earned no less than 45,000 euros would obtain permanent residence status right away. Accompanying spouses would be entitled to seek a job of their own and wouldn't have to undergo any German language tests. Moreover, the annual earnings threshold is even to be lowered to 35,000 euros for engineers and technicians in professions where there's already a particularly grave skills shortage.

Keeping the graduates

The Blue Card will also be offered to students to keep them in the country. They just need to find themselves jobs that correspond to their degrees and pursue them for two years. After that, they will be granted an unlimited residence permit, too. That would also apply to those undergoing vocational training in Germany.

According to Ole Schröder, State Secretary in the Interior Ministry in Berlin, the government is thus sending out a clear signal to ambitious skilled workers from outside the European Union, saying that they're needed and welcome in Germany.

"Our economic strength and with it the economic well-being of each and everyone in this country will increasingly depend on people's innovative clout and knowledge," Schröder added.

Critics not silenced

Critics of the government's draft legislation doubt whether the lowering of the required annual earnings threshold will be enough to lure more foreign skilled labor to Germany. Memet Kilic, a lawmaker from the opposition Green party, believes the political and social climate in this country will have to change as well to make things work.

Nurse in a hospital

There's a particular shortage of labor in heath care

"The basis for a successful bill would also a more effective struggle against racism," Kilic argued. He also criticizes that applicants would lose their residence status, should they have to fall back on welfare money during the first three years of their stay in Germany.

"To grant residence status only with such a caveat runs counter to the spirit of our migration law," Kilic argued. Germany, he said, would continue to have a closed-shop image. The signal going out to skilled workers would thus be rather negative and could mean that they'll give us a wide berth, he feared.

Amendments required

The opposition Social Democrats also appeared critical of the draft bill. SPD lawmaker Daniela Kolbe fears that wage dumping might result from the legislation. "We are talking about engineers, mathematicians and natural scientists whose initial salaries are put at over 39,000 euros per year on average, so, there's no need to lower the ceiling in this category of professions," Kolbe elaborated.

Having health care requirements in mind, Germany's upper chamber of Parliament, the Bundesrat, has already signaled it will only support the bill, if the Blue Card were also applicable to non-EU citizens without a college degree.

Author: Sabine Kinkartz / hg
Editor: Nicole Goebel