“Skilled Workers Welcome” is Germany’s message to foreign professionals looking for better opportunities. Germany has simplified its immigration laws to attract global talent. The Skilled Immigration Act, or Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz, goes into effect in March 2020 and streamlines and expedites work visas for skilled workers.
Germany is in an international competition for top professionals, and the playing field is starting to level out. U.S. visa denials are at an all-time high. President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order has led to ramped-up application requirements, lengthy requests for evidence, increased filing fees, and delayed processing times.
Germany, on the other hand, is welcoming foreign workers with open arms. Baby boomer retirements and a low birth rate are rapidly reducing its working-age population. Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy estimates that, without business immigration, Germany’s workforce could be reduced by 16 million workers by 2060.
A study conducted by researchers from the German Federal Employment Agency’s Institute for Employment Research found that Germany will need to attract up to 491,000 foreign skilled workers from non-EU countries each year to meet labor market demands. According to Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, 47,589 people moved to Germany for work last year, about ten percent of the required target.
A recent attempt to draw more foreign workers to Germany has fallen short. In 2012, Germany implemented the EU Blue Card Directive, which enables professionals to live and work in Germany, provided that they have a university degree, a job offer, and will earn 53,600 euros a year as of 2019 (less for doctors or STEM workers). 27,241 Blue Cards were issued in 2018, not enough to meet Germany’s economic needs.
The limitation of the Blue Card is its exclusivity. Only professionals with four-year degrees qualify. Nearly two-thirds of all vacant positions in Germany require an Ausbildung, a two to three-and-a-half-year vocational education, rather than a university degree. This is where the new business immigration law will have its greatest impact.
The Skilled Immigration Act opens Germany’s job market to foreigners who do not have academic degrees. In addition to university graduates, the law applies to individuals with vocational training and certain IT specialists with work experience but no formal education. The law provides a direct pathway to permanent residency within four years.
Red tape has also been reduced to speed up immigration. The law does away with a priority check called Vorrangprüfung, which is equivalent to the U.S. Labor Certification. The government no longer examines the labor market to ensure that no German workers are able to fill the offered position. It is also no longer necessary to consult the whitelist, which lists shortage occupations. A German language requirement was removed from an early draft of the new law. Employers will decide whether the prospective worker’s language skills suffice for the offered position.
All federal states, or Bundesländer, are encouraged to open Central Immigration Offices that will exclusively review employment-based applications. An expedited option will be available, which is comparable to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s Premium Processing.
Prospective workers are allowed to move to Germany for six months to look for a job. Basic German language skills and the means to support oneself during the search are the only requirements.
Will these measures attract enough skilled workers to Germany? Only time will tell.