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Germany downs immigration wall for non-EU skilled workers

Germany is easing up on its fortress-like approach to immigration as it attempts to make it easier for skilled workers from outside the European Union to take a job in the country

Written by Anil Sasi | Berlin |
April 18, 2013 1:03:22 am

Germany is easing up on its fortress-like approach to immigration as it attempts to make it easier for skilled workers from outside the European Union to take a job in the country.

In about two months time,a set of new immigration rules are likely to come into effect that should make it simpler for Indians,along with skilled labour from other non-EU countries such as China and Russia,to get into the German workforce as the country tries to establish a more comprehensive skilled migration program for non-European citizens,primarily to counter its low birth rates and declining working population. The move,being seen as an attempt to tide over growing shortages in areas such as engineering,plumbing,and public service jobs,comes at a time when Germany has begun to openly embrace the idea of a “demographic complementarity” with countries such as India. This is proving to be a new dimension to the relationship between the two countries — a key reason driving Germany’s efforts to push through the German language in schools across India.

“With the new immigration rules,we are substantially changing some of the old regulations and opening the door for the skilled labour that can help our country progress,” labour minister Ursula von der Leyen told a group of Indian journalists in Berlin. “It’s a win-win situation for both countries (Germany and India).” Earlier this year,in February,Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet passed new immigration regulations which,once approved by the German Parliament,attempts to cut bureaucratic hurdles for people in target industries,allowing them to get their qualifications recognised in Germany more easily. Indications are that the proposal is likely to go through by July this year.

“Innovation has been Germany’s main strength,and not mass production. In order to continue being a leader in technology,we need skilled labour… While our population is ageing,we have a low birth rate. Currently,of the total population of 80 million in Germany,41 million are employed. Over the next 15 years,we could lose about 6 million workers just for demographic reasons,” von der Leyen said.

Besides the EU countries,India is already the most important country of origin for highly-skilled labour migration to Germany. Germany had,late last year,introduced a “blue card” system that facilitates the hiring of foreign academics and caregivers,wherein the biggest chunk is accounted for by Indian origin workers. But the new regulations on the anvil are aimed at jobs such as train drivers,plumbers and waste-disposal workers,apart from engineering sectors such as electronics and electrical work.

While in contrast to most of the EU,where joblessness has surged as a consequence of the global economic crisis and the Euro zone debt woes,Germany’s employment rate is currently at its highest since its reunification in 1990. Despite that,the country’s ageing population and relatively low immigration has created a lack of workers in certain professions and sectors,which free movement of labour in the EU has failed to address.

German business has welcomed the new rules. “The German industry has been vocal about the shortage of workers,which has been addressed if growth has to be sustained. Immigration is growing,but we need more,” Benjamin Leipold,director – Asia Pacific at the DIHK (Deutscher Industrie-und Handelskammertag),the overarching federation of German industry said.

The response is echoed by the labour unions as well,according to Klaus Harbers of the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund Bundesvorstand,the umbrella organisation of unions. The fact remains that immigration to Germany is growing as its economy outperforms most of Europe. Net immigration grew to 3,40,000 last year from 1,28,000 two years earlier,with many more arrivals from the crisis-hit southern European countries. But the OECD,in a March 2013 report,said Germany must liberalise the recruitment of foreigners to fill a projected shortfall of 5.4 million workers with vocational or tertiary qualifications by 2025.

“Medium-skill jobs such as plumbing and nursing are well paid and highly respected in Germany. Skilling is key,apart from some degree of proficiency in German language,” Bernhard Steinruecke,director general of the Indo German Chamber of Commerce said.

(The trip was arranged by the German government)

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