Germany's employment agency wants to make it easier for highly qualified asylum seekers to get jobs. Employment experts say it makes sense, but a conservative lawmaker has spoken out against the plan.
Allowing asylum seekers to support themselves would only lead to more applications for asylum - that's the argument Christian Democrat parliamentarian and State Secretary in the Interior Ministry Günter Krings used in an interview with the "Rheinische Post" newspaper.
Krings does not think asylum seekers should be offered "blue cards," residency permits allowing highly qualified non-EU citizens to earn money in EU countries. Until now, the basic requirement for an application in Germany has been a contract with a company that is based in the country.
People subject to political persecution and war refugees usually don't have the right kind of visa for an application. That's why Germany's Federal Labor Office has requested a different set of regulations for asylum seekers.
Krings told the Düsseldorf-based paper that new regulations would lead to a drastic increase in the number of asylum seekers in Germany. "If we tell would-be immigrants, just come here and then we'll see if you can stay thanks to asylum application or the Blue Card, then that would make it abuse of the asylum process much more attractive," he said.
Residency for the highly qualified
But Wido Geis, immigration and labor market expert at the German Economic Institute in Cologne, doesn't think the blue card would result in more illegal immigration. "The large majority of refugees are not eligible for the blue card," he said.
Blue-card applicants have to have a recognized academic degree and a work contract with an above-average salary. In Germany, they have to earn at least 46,400 euros a year. The only exception is in fields where there's a particularly high demand for skilled employees. In that case, annual salary has to be at least 37,752 euros. Typically, the exception would apply to engineers, scientists, IT workers, and doctors.
Of the 240,000 asylum seekers currently in Germany, Geis estimates that two-thirds have no educational background at all.
No smuggler rings for academics
The point of the blue card is to fill the gaps in skilled workers in EU countries. Including asylum seekers in the scheme is in keeping with the project's purpose. Many have been barred from following the usual procedure because they face either war or political persecution in their home countries, making them unable to apply for a German visa at home.
For people who can file the appropriate papers, it is much easier to directly apply for the work permit, instead of attempting to get one via the asylum process. "Even if the approval process can take as long as three months or more depending on the country, no one would think of organizing a smuggling ring for academics."
No appeal for those without prospects
Nor does Geis believe in any irrational psychological effect. In theory, he said, it is conceivable that the news about blue cards for asylum seekers could attract people who have no real shot at such a residency permit.
But Geis said this is not likely. "In Asia, there are rumors about generous welcome payments and in Africa, you hear that everyone is allowed to stay in Germany and work. So I really don't think that the blue card will make much of an impact given such wild rumors."
Blue card not so attractive
Romin Khan, expert on immigration policy for service-sector union Verdi, also does not share Krings' fears. "For most immigrants, the Blue Card is unattractive, because they could just as easily be accepted in other countries," he said, adding that Germany still has some work to do in this respect.
"A residency status with permission to work shouldn't just be an option for highly qualified people. It should also be available to applicants who want to come here to train for a job."
Geis also thinks that German immigration regulations need improvement. "It is so complicated that even the advisory offices don't know all the regulations," he said, adding that other countries such as Australia and New Zealand have much better systems.
"It would be better to not be so hung up on university degrees, and instead put more value on the general prospect of successfully integrating in society and in the job market."
Humanitarian versus economic immigration
When it comes to assessing asylum applications, these aspects should not play a role, Khan said. "Humanitarian immigration should be considered independently of economic interests."
However, he thinks asylum applicants should have access to the labor market - and not just recognized refugees. "Creating barriers to employment just has the result of unnecessarily increasing the social costs of accommodating refugees," Khan said. Instead of making these people dependent on the state, he said, they should be offered the chance of supporting themselves, and taking charge of their lives.
Geis agreed, saying that given the demographic changes facing Germany at the moment, such an attitude is very desirable.