European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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8 January 2019

Germany: new migration law seeks to attract skilled workers

In an effort to increase the level of immigration of qualified skilled workers from non-EU states, the German government has proposed a reform of labour migration legislation. The Act on Skilled Worker Immigration will make it easier for skilled workers from non-EU states to enter the country. Employers have been asking for an easing of the immigration policy for years; trade union DGB talks about a missed chance.

Shortly before Christmas 2018, the government put forward a draft law to remove obstacles to the immigration of skilled labour. The reform plan makes it easier for non-EU job seekers to receive a work visa. The objective is to attract skilled workers from outside the EU in an attempt to remedy labour market shortages. The country is short of nurses, care workers, construction workers, carpenters, electricians, and IT specialists.

The draft marks the end of the current key regulation that people from outside the EU can only take a job if there is no German or EU citizen is able to do it. Moreover, the regulation will not be limited to sectors where there is an acute shortage. In effect, this means that anyone with a recognised qualification and a work contract can move to Germany.

The reform plan defines ‘skilled worker’ as both university graduates and employees with full vocational qualifications. Where an applicant has the requisite qualification and an employment contract, it will no longer be reviewed whether it would have been possible to find a suitable German or EU candidate for the post. Candidates with full vocational qualifications will not only be accepted for occupations already suffering a shortfall of skilled workers, but skilled workers with full vocational qualifications are all welcome for a limited period (six months) to seek employment, as is already the case for university graduates (provided their German skills are of the required standard and they are able to finance their living costs). Existing asylum seekers who have found work but face deportation because their claims have failed can stay in their jobs.

Business leaders have long argued that the government should make it easier for skilled workers, including those from outside the European Union, to enter the country, because parts of the economy suffer from a lack of skilled labour. The German Economic Institute (IW) estimated this has cost the economy around 30bn euro. A recent study of the Institute that focused on the metal and electrical sector speaks about industry-wide shortages across the whole country. 

Trade union confederation DGB sharply criticised the planned skilled labour immigration law. The DGB had hoped that the reform would lead to more integration and participation. Instead, the law can easily be abused for wage dumping and exploitation because the residence permit is tied to a particular job with one employer, it argues.

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