Opinion: Germany Must Ease Restrictions on Foreign Workers | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 17.07.2008
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Opinion: Germany Must Ease Restrictions on Foreign Workers

The German government has approved easing labor market entry restrictions on highly qualified foreign workers. But the changes don't go far enough, says Deutsche Welle's Sabine Kinkartz.


Imagine that you're highly qualified. You've completed your studies and gotten the best grades, you've been working for a couple of years as an engineer, a process technician or an IT specialist, you've done additional training, fine-tuned your skills and are earning good money.

Maybe you’ve started a family and found friends. In short -- you're feeling good and have found your place in life, wherever it may be. What could bring you to give up all this, immigrate to Germany and work here? Can't think of anything? I can understand.

But Germany's federal government doesn't. It still hopes that it can lure highly skilled people with a university degree to Germany in large numbers. It's an old hope that's been disappointed so far: In 2006, only 456 highly qualified people received permanent residence status -- 10 fewer than last year.

Minimum salary

The minimum salary requirement is the biggest hurdle. Anyone who wants to come here without fulfilling any other requirements has to be able to prove that he or she is earning a hefty salary -- in the future, it'll still be twice the amount of an average German salary.

But who earns that much and more? Senior specialists and not young, highly qualified graduates at the beginning of their careers. The latter, however, are the ones being sought by industry here, because they are still flexible.

That's why the new action program to secure the supply of specialists has business leaders shaking their heads. A system that doesn't take into account the needs of the German labor market and an applicant's ability to integrate cannot work.

In the IT sector, every second company is saying that business is down because vacant positions cannot be filled. The Association of German Engineers says that there are 96,000 jobs available -- twice as many as four years ago.

Politicians not listening

The government hears what the business community is saying -- but it doesn't really want to listen. The labor minister says that the lack of skilled workers can't be as bad as the industry is saying. At the same time, he admits that he doesn't really know what the situation is like. Why should he? In the end, he's more concerned with protecting rather than opening the labor market. Germany has three million unemployed people -- a long-time Social Democrat cannot open borders under such circumstances!

Other states do exactly that and are way ahead when it comes to competing for the world's smartest heads. The Netherlands, for example, has adjusted the minimum salary requirements to be in line with those of skilled local professional beginners.

Plenty of choices

The German labor market on the other hand is only opening up for those who don't have to work in Germany. It's opening up for people so highly qualified that they can decide whether they want to stay in their own countries or -- if they're from India, China or South America -- wouldn't rather go to English-speaking countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada or the US, where the will have to worry less about resentment.

The new immigration measures taken by the federal government are a step in the right direction. But they're miles away from reaching the target.

Sabine Kinkartz is DW-RADIO's business correspondent in Berlin. (win)

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