Germany faces international competition for skilled workers. The Federal Government wants to make Germany more attractive, so it is making migration easier for graduates and experienced professionals. What are the key changes and what do they mean for Germany alumni?
Germany wants to make itself more attractive for skilled workers from abroad. The Federal Government has developed a skilled workers strategy and initiated a new Skilled Workers Immigration Act. The Bundestag passed the act into law in late June. For years it has been evident that many are finding it more and more difficult to recruit enough qualified employees. The movement of people from EU countries falls far short of meeting the demand. While the number of foreign workers in Germany has risen by 2 million since 2010, there were still 1.98 million vacancies in Germany in 2022. This is the highest level ever recorded in Germany. Speaking at a press conference in late March, Federal Employment Minister Hubertus Heil described the task of securing enough skilled workers as ‘one of Germany’s most significant economic tasks for the coming decades’.
The previous Federal Government gradually liberalised immigration and residence laws for well educated individuals from outside the EU. The current Government is now continuing this with the Skilled Worker Immigration Act. Granted, the complicated name may not sound very promising, but there are some concrete changes which will be interesting to Germany alumni.
The EU Blue Card already allows foreign graduates to work in Germany. They must either have graduated in Germany or hold a degree which is recognised here. They must also have a firm job offer from a German employer and the salary must be above a certain level. Another key requirement until now is that the job must match the applicant’s level of qualifications. That means an engineer needs to show they have a job in engineering and a doctor must have a job as a physician in order to get an EU Blue Card to come to Germany. The new law scraps this requirement. According to the law, ‘Anyone who is a skilled worker will in future be able to pursue any qualified career’.
- In future, will be able to get an EU Blue Card, even if they do not hold a degree
- The minimum salary thresholds for young professional graduates currently range from €45,552 to €58,400, depending on the career area - these will be lowered
- Holders of EU Blue Cards will find it easier to change jobs, either within Germany or to a different EU country
- In future, individuals from abroad who are entitled to protection as refugees and who live in Germany or another EU country will be able to get an EU Blue Card
- Plans are in place to improve the conditions under which families of EU Blue Card holders can come to Germany. Until now, foreign skilled workers have only been able to bring their ‘core family’, but in future they will be able to bring their parents and their partner’s parents.
- It will also be easier to get permanent residence in the EU if you already hold an EU Blue Card
Germany also intends to bring in a Canada-style points-based immigration system. The new system will be called the Opportunity Card and is planned to start in the first half of 2024. People who hold professional or academic qualifications from their home countries will be able to apply to stay in Germany through the Opportunity Card. If successful, they will have up to six months to find suitably qualified employment. During this period they will be able to work for up to 20 hours a week, but essentially they will need their own funds to cover their living expenses.
There are 12 selection criteria, and the most important are:
- German language skills at A1 level minimum
- professional qualifications and experience
- career potential of a partner travelling with the applicant
- connections to Germany, such as family living in Germany or previous stays
Germany wants to attract more foreign skilled workers (in German)
Many people who want to live and work in Germany have fallen foul of the significant bureaucratic obstacles. Above all, getting recognition for professional qualifications has proved to be a major problem. Big changes are planned in this area. Anyone who has an officially recognised professional qualification from their home country and has at least two years of professional experience will in future be able to apply for vacancies in Germany. The recognition process for the professional qualifications can be commenced once the applicant has started in their role. Employers will help with this. The official term for these working arrangements is ‘recognition partnership’. However, some conditions will remain in place. For example, a minimum salary will still be required and the employer will have to respect the salary agreements which apply to their sector.
According to the Federal Government’s skilled worker strategy, ‘Modernising immigration, residency and naturalisation laws is needed to make it possible for immigrants from third countries and their relatives to participate fully and to achieve the desired increase in migration[...].’ For this reason the Government intends to remove obstacles to naturalisation and permit migrants to hold multiple nationalities. In future, migrants will be able to become Germans after five years, and in as little as three years in exceptional cases.
Foreign students will be able to earn more by working part-time. In future, they will be subject to the same rules as so-called ‘Werkstudenten’. In specific terms, this means that they will be able to work for a maximum of 20 hours a week and work full-time for limited periods during semester breaks.
Another innovation for students is the scrapping of the ‘Zweckwechselverbot’. What this means is that a residence permit will no longer be tied to studying in higher education. So if you have studied in Germany and have been offered a by a German employer before you graduate, you will be allowed to accept the offer. In addition, you will be able to get permanent residence more quickly than has been possible until now.
The new law will make it easier for Germany alumni to make their . That said, the chances of finding work in academia vary depending on the type of work you are looking for. Now and in the long term it seems likely that applicants will outnumber vacancies for teaching and research jobs. However, according to Federal Government estimates, there is a significant shortage of workers in technical research and development in business, and particularly in the area of . This is also true of medical careers and education. Employers have been desperate for IT specialists for years.
Through this strategy, the Federal Government is making it plain that Germany alumni are very welcome here and are considered key pillars of the German economy. In specific terms, they say ‘International students are particularly attractive for the German labour market because they come to Germany with many skills and during their studies gain additional skills which are important for the German labour market.’