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Germany in desperate need of skilled immigrants

August 25, 2021

Europe's largest economy has an aging population and low birth rates, and the federal labor agency says Germany must attract at least 400,000 skilled immigrants annually to keep up with demand.

A welder laying a bead
Demographic changes will force Germany to attract more skilled immigrants if it wants to remain the EU's top economyImage: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/dpa/picture alliance

Germany faces massive labor shortages unless it begins recruiting skilled immigrants to replace those retiring from the country's aging workforce, Federal Labor Agency Chairman Detlef Scheele told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) newspaper Tuesday.

Scheele said demographic changes mean Germany will have roughly 150,000 fewer working age residents this year alone, and warned, "It will be much more dramatic over the coming years."

"The fact is: Germany is running out of workers," he said.

"We need 400,000 immigrants per year, significantly more than in recent years," said Scheele. "From nursing care and climate technicians to logisticians and academics, there will be a shortage of skilled workers everywhere."

Cognizant of immigration issues in light of Germany's upcoming federal elections in late September, Social Democrat Scheele told the SZ: "This is not about asylum but targeted immigration to fill gaps in the labor market."

The pandemic and migrant labor

How can Germany fix the problem of labor shortages?

Last year, the number of foreign nationals living in Germany — a country of 83 million — rose by 204,000, the smallest increase in a decade. The problem has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which drastically reduced the number of immigrants entering the labor force.

Scheele said that beyond training low-skilled workers, retraining those whose professions have disappeared, or forcing people to work longer, the only way to master the situation will be to significantly increase immigration.

According to Germany's Federal Statistical Office, applications for recognition of foreign professional qualifications fell 3% last year, to 42,000.

Although the federal government reformed that process in March 2020, Johannes Vogel, labor policy spokesman for the neoliberal FDP's parliamentary caucus, criticized the current governing coalition of center-right CDU/CSU and social democratic SPD, saying their "paltry Skilled Immigration Act" has not come close to doing what it promised.

"We must finally become better in the global competition to attract talent — and to do so, we need a modern, points-based immigration system like Canada and New Zealand have long had."

A labor dispute in Germany's meat industry

Anti-immigrant attitudes won't work

The Federation of German Trade Unions (DGB) has also called on lawmakers to create faster and more reliable nationwide standards that will allow those immigrants with the legal status of "Dulding," or tolerated, as well as those in the country on humanitarian grounds, to enter the workforce and attain longterm employment perspectives.  

The anti-immigrant, far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) labeled the Labor Agency chairman's calls an "incomprehensible demand," accusing him of serving what it said were the interests of companies using immigration to drive down wages for German laborers.

Asked about political resistance to the idea of increasing the number of immigrants in Germany, Scheele told the SZ, "You can stand up and say, 'We don't want foreigners,' but that doesn't work."

Germany’s exploited eastern European workforce

js/wmr (AP, dpa)