Seehofer makes a German immigration plan on his terms

immigration law, Horst Seehofer's vision for German immigration
Looking a lot more relaxed these days. Source: Reuters

After years of discussion, Germany is moving toward a real immigration law. The draft from Interior Minister Horst Seehofer sketches the key points of an immigration policy and will likely be discussed at the cabinet meeting next week. It could be enacted by the end of the year.

Germany has been hesitant to embrace immigration, and as such it has until now avoided a unified law. Currently, only EU citizens and workers with a blue card for highly skilled immigrants have relatively straightforward access to the job market. Everyone else has to muddle through the legendary German bureaucracy.

The growing lack of skilled labor has spurred the government coalition to make it easier for qualified workers to seek jobs in Germany. The proposal does not directly address the issue of refugees, but the lack of an immigration law has prompted many migrants to apply for asylum simply in order to seek work. The intention is to allow job seekers to enter legally rather than seeking a sham asylum.

The proposed legislation would allow temporary visas for skilled workers to seek a job, an option currently open only to those with advanced degrees. It also would do away with giving German and EU workers priority in job applications. Employers no longer have to ascertain whether there are domestic applicants who could fill a job before hiring an immigrant. The plan would also make it simpler for immigrants to apply for trainee and apprentice positions.

immigration statistics, germany

Overall, the government intends to simplify the immigration process, creating bridges between agencies’ administrative silos and perhaps using digital tools to speed the process.

The effort to encourage immigration comes as more skilled jobs go unfilled. Six out of 10 German firms listed lack of skilled labor as their biggest business risk in a recent survey by the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The Labor Ministry has a long list of skilled jobs in demand, including caretakers for the sick and elderly, locomotive drivers, tile layers, sanitary technicians and software developers. Last year, 17,000 firms didn’t get any employment applications at all, and 49,000 trainee positions went unfilled.

For a long time, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance resisted the notion that Germany should be a land of immigrants, but the labor shortages have become so acute that they are now on board. Social Democrats, junior partners in the grand coalition, have long pushed for an immigration law and made it a condition for accepting the compromise on asylum seekers after the dispute nearly brought down the government last month.

The welcome mat is out for skilled workers. Source: Getty

However, the draft proposal makes no mention of the point system Social Democrats had proposed. Criteria such as age, qualifications and language ability would be considered, but there was no indication points would be tallied to provide an objective basis for accepting immigrants. Qualifications with equal value to those in Germany will be allowed, but formal certification will not be required, at least in the sectors most plagued by shortages, such as healthcare and IT.

Only one sentence in the proposal mentions refugees, in reference to their potential to help make up for domestic labor shortages. Opponents say anything more concrete would encourage people to seek asylum in the hopes they could switch to the immigration queue. In May, 238,000 refugees from eight origin countries had regular jobs, and 69,000 had mini jobs — untaxed part-time jobs paying less than €450 a month.

In addition to the lack of skilled labor, Germany faces the problem of an aging population, which increases the burden on those working to finance the retirement of the older generation. The draft proposal explicitly cites this as a reason for increasing immigration.

Several Handelsblatt reporters contributed to this article. Darrell Delamaide adapted it into English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: d.delamaide@extern.handelsblatt.com

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