It's a two-hour drive from Shuo Chen's birth place to Shanghai. In order to enable him to get a good education, his family decided to have him live with relatives and go to school in the mega-metropolis. Shuo Chen was six years old at the time.
At the age of 19, Shuo took an even bigger leap: He left the high-rise buildings and moved to the German countryside. In Worms, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, he studied economics. Today, 35-year old Shuo Chen has a leadership position in a German mechanical engineering company. Success stories like his are actually quite common in Germany, experts say.
Members of the Chinese elite, in particular, come to Germany to study computer science, business, or engineering, Tobias Busch told Deutsche Welle. Busch recruits skilled Chinese workers and top managers for the head hunters company PersonalGlobal.
"It's a positive selection of people. They all have a lot of power, energy and motivation." While the wealthier children of the political class study at expensive top universities in England, or in the US, the less wealthy talents study in Germany, where studying is much cheaper. Between 20,000 and 30,000 academics from China – under graduates and graduates – are currently in Germany. "China plays a much bigger role in terms of immigration than most people think."
New immigrants with twice the qualification of Germans
In Germany, many people still assume immigrants have lower qualifications, says labor market researcher Herbert Brücker. But the opposite is true. He compiled a new study commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation. It found that, today, 43 percent of new immigrants between the ages of 15 and 65 have either a master craftsman certificate, or a university or technical college degree – more than twice as many as in 2000. Among Germans with no migrant background, only 26 percent have one of those degrees. At the same time, the number of lower qualified people has almost halved, down to 25 percent from 40 percent previously.
Apart from young Chinese, like Shuo Chen, the new immigrants come to Germany above all from the younger EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe. "Immigration is, of course, connected to the euro crisis," Brücker told DW.
Former dream destinations, such as Spain, Italy, Britain, and Ireland have become unattractive because of high unemployment there. Germany's Federal Statistics Office said last year, 369,000 more people came to Germany than left the country – the highest number since 1995.
Overcome administrative hurdles
But the number of immigrants could go down again with the end of the economic crisis, says the chairman of the Bertelsmann's Foundation, Jörg Dräger. But Germany needs highly qualified immigrants, he insists. "We have a shortage of skilled labor, we're an aging population and our social security system will become unstable, if fewer young people pay into it for a growing number of old people," he warned.
That's why the foundation promotes a change in migration politics. Bertelsmann would like to see the introduction of a so-called 'Black, Red and Gold' card - the German national colors - which could be given out to highly skilled workers and to specialized workers in areas where there's a shortage of staff.
The card would have to take into account both the immigrant's qualification profile and the existing demand on the German labor market. The card would guarantee its owner unlimited right of residence and work. That's how Bertelsmann wants to convince the best talents to come to Germany.
"We are in competition with the US, Canada and Australia," says labor market expert Brücker. Those countries also controlled immigration with the help of a point system.
"We don't just need to change the laws in those fields. A lot has been done already over the past couple of years. We also need a much clearer recruitment strategy," he said.
Degrees obtained in the course of a person's educational career must be recognized, for example. Germany did introduce a new recognition law in 2012. But it failed because of administrative hurdles.
"The main problem is that educational systems are completely different from country to country in Europe." Germany and Austria have a dual educational system in place for example, which is missing in most other countries. It means in those countries, people aren't trained on the job but receive their qualification at school.
The home countries benefit
And how do the home countries cope with their academics' and skilled workers' absence? Years ago, experts warned of the risk of a brain drain – the rapid loss of highly skilled personnel, which would have a damaging effect on the economy. But labor market expert Brücker says migration to Germany has benefits for the home countries, too. "Unemployment sinks when there is emigration. That benefits the state and the economy because per-capita demands are reduced." Staff recruiter Busch says countries, like China, benefit directly from contacts that people like Chen can make.