Germany is debating the issue of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, the two poorest EU member states. The question is: Are these mainly poverty migrants, or are they really needed for the German job market?
The year 2013 ended with a positive outlook for the German job market. The number of unemployed increased less than expected for this time of the year – by some 67,000 to 2, 873,000. The nationwide unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 6.7 percent.
The comparatively positive situation on the job market illustrates the innovative capability of the German economy, said the employment market expert, Gerhard Bosch, from the University of Duisburg-Essen in an interview with DW. Besides booming exports,German consumers bought more due to significant wage increases.
"The problem is that in 2013 there were not many new investments because companies are worried about the long-term prospects," said Bosch. But plans by the government to invest more in infrastructure and education will improve the situation for investments, he added. Private consumption will be boosted due to pension increases and by the introduction of a nationwide minimum wage.
Decreasing unemployment rates?
Experts from the Federal Labor Agency in Nuremberg expect a slight decrease in the unemployment rate in 2014 with an annual jobless average expected to be around 2.9 million.
The Cologne Institute for Economic Research, however, is skeptical. According to a poll among major trade associations at the end of last year, the mood in general is very good, said Michael Hübner, director of the institute. Nevertheless, he does not see that new jobs will be created. "There won't be many more new jobs. We have a historically high employment level with a working population of 42 million, but the dynamic has run its course now," he said.
The Federal Labor Agency, for its part, is not concerned about the debate over immigrants from Bulgaria and Rumania. Last year, people from these two countries already migrated to Germany as seasonal workers for the rural economy and in other areas where employees are desperately needed, such as in healthcare, geriatric care and gastronomy.
"Most of the Bulgarians and Romanians in Germany are labor migrants and not poverty migrants," said Herbert Brücker from the Institute for Employment Research in an interview with DW. And Martin Wansleben, managing director of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, even warns of damage to the German economy because of the ongoing debate about poverty migration. "Migration should not get a bad image because of the heated political discussion," he said in an interview.
Germany, it is estimated, needs up to 1.5 million skilled workers in the coming years because of demographic developments. Migrants help "to secure economic development and to stabilize the welfare system," says Wansleben. The current discussion shows the need for action. "We need to establish a welcoming culture for migrants. It is a task for society. Politics, the Church, unions and the economic [players] have to tackle it together," he said.
Better integration needed
Currently, some 155,000 Romanians and Bulgarians work in Germany. Their unemployment rate is lower than the average unemployment rate for other foreigners in Germany. Now, with the new rules, Bulgarians and Romanians are entitled to work in all sectors. "Therefore, we now have better integration options for people from these two countries because of the freedom of movement," said Heinrich Alt from the Federal Labor Agency board.
Alt, whose agency runs job centers and is responsible for Germany's welfare program, doesn't want to conceal the fact "that migration from these two countries is concentrated in certain regions and the evolving problems cannot be solved alone by the municipalities of Duisburg, Dortmund, Berlin, Mannheim and Offenbach."
The municipalities suffer
But, according to experts, only 10 to 20 percent of the migrants work in these municipalities. Only a few of the immigrants receive social benefits. But people who don't receive social benefits and don't have a regular job "are a problem," said Herbert Brücker. A closer look at the Bulgarians and the Romanians in Germany, in general, shows that "they contribute to the pension fund and the social insurance system so that the welfare state benefits."
The Labor Agency, meanwhile, has started to recruit new specialists: There are few management specialists and social education workers with Romanian and Bulgarian language skills to successfully counsel job seekers from these two countries.