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Welcome to Germany?

Jennifer Fraczek / gswApril 2, 2013

Germany has a well-known skilled worker shortage and wants to boost immigration. But the country doesn't have the reputation for making it easy on newcomers. New initiatives seek to change that.

People waiting in an immigration office in Munich Copyright: Tilo Mahn
Image: Tilo Mahn

A welcome bag, a smartphone app and personal counseling prior to arrival in Germany are new measures intended to make moving to Germany from abroad easier. The bag contains informational material, important Internet addresses and telephone numbers. And the first stop in Germany may no longer be the immigration office, but rather a welcome center.

An expert council that was convened to come up with practical ideas for establishing a more welcoming culture has now presented its ideas, including putting together a comprehensive information package online. A further goal is expanding helpdesks in foreign countries by including the institutions at work locally, like the Goethe Institute or chambers of foreign trade.

Australia or Canada over Germany

The aim is that all groups of newcomers would benefit from the cultural shift, according to the president of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Manfred Schmidt. But in light of the lack of skilled workers in branches like the electronics industry or in IT, Germany is particularly aiming to make itself attractive to highly educated workers.

An Australian road sign bearing an image of a kangaroo © Bernd Leitner
Australia is a favorite destination for those looking to move abroadImage: Bernd Leitner - Fotolia.com

Although immigration procedures in Germany have already been relaxed, there's been no boom in new arrivals of skilled workers. According to the International Organization for Cooperation and Development (OECD), five to 10 times as many workers are preferring relocation to countries like Australia, Denmark or Canada, rather than Germany.

Manfred Schmidt believes that is primarily because Australia "has been a destination for immigrants for some time." In contrast, the immigration expert says, Germany has only viewed itself in a similar way for the past 10 years or so. There's still a lot to do, he thinks.

"Now it's about signaling to those who want to come that they're welcome," Schmidt explained, adding: "And that we want to address them even-handedly."

Ideally, Schmidt would like to see that this be true not only of highly qualified migrants but also for refugees, asylum-seekers and the families of immigrants.

Little more than tolerated

But when immigrants are asked if they feel welcome in Germany, the answers are divergent. Adil Abdelruhmann has had a wealth of experience with German bureaucracy. He comes from Eritrea and fled to Germany in the 1980s with his family. At the time, he was nine years old. He grew up in Germany, where he graduated from a trade school, and he views himself as German.

Manfred Schmidt (c) Timm Schamberger/dapd
Manfred Schmidt says Germany has not seen itself as an immigration destination for longImage: dapd

Abdelruhmann arrived with a passport for refugees, but lost it and never received a new one, he says. "I've done a few dumb things," he confessed, and, as such, now has the status of being "tolerated." That brings restrictions. For example, he cannot leave the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

For Abdelruhmann, the problem is not excessive bureaucracy - a complaint of many when it comes to German agencies.

"The paper pushing is no problem for me. It can be done quickly," he says, but notes that what he's missing is any kind of prospects. Part of the problem in Abdelruhmann's view is that there is little willingness among those charged with handling his case to help him find a job and get everyday issues settled.

Language barriers

A young man from India who received a good job at Deutsche Post DHL reported having had "good experiences" with the immigration office. Although bureaucratic, he says the system is navigable, once one is accustomed to it. But he says that better language skills are needed among immigration office staff: "They should probably have some people in the office who speak English - at least for the newcomers."

Dictionaries rest in front of several people talking in an office Photo: Sebastian Widmann dpa/lno +++(c) dpa - Report+++
Immigration offices may soon include more multilingual staff membersImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Developing a multilingual base of workers is also a priority for Manfred Schmidt. Furthermore, offices that deal with newcomers from abroad are set to be staffed by more employees who themselves have foreign roots.