For members


EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

The German government has agreed on a set of reforms for the immigration of skilled workers, which was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday. Here's what they're planning.

Two light aircraft builders instal the controls on a glider.
Two light aircraft builders instal the controls on a glider. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uli Deck

What’s happening?

Germany is currently facing a dramatic skilled worker shortage, particularly in the health sector, IT, construction, architecture, engineering and building services. The German government currently expects that, by 2026, there will be 240,000 jobs for which there will be no qualified candidates.

In order to help plug the gap in the labour market, the coalition government has been proposing changes to immigration law for months.

In September, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil presented plans for a new points-based immigration system, that will enable non-EU workers to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer, as long as they fulfil certain criteria, under a so-called “Opportunity Card” (Chancenkarte) scheme.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to apply for Germany’s new ‘opportunity card’ and other visas for job seekers

Now, the coalition government has agreed on a wide-ranging set of initiatives to help remove hurdles for skilled workers coming to Germany. The points were approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, who should then come up with a draft law in the first quarter of 2023.

What’s in the plans?

The central aim of the government’s plans is to make it easier for people from outside the EU to find a job in Germany.

In the draft paper, ministers distinguish between three so-called pillars, the first of which concerns the requirements that foreign specialists must meet in order to be allowed to work in Germany.

Until now, they have had to have a recognized degree and an employment contract, but the government wants to lower this hurdle.

The draft states: “For specialists who are unable to present documents relating to their professional qualifications or can only do so in part, for reasons for which they themselves are not responsible, an entry and residence option should nevertheless be created.” The competencies could then be finally examined once they have arrived in Germany.

A trainee electrician practices in a training centre in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

The second pillar involves skilled workers from abroad who do not yet have a degree but already have a lot of professional experience.

For employees in the information and communications technology sector, the requirement of having sufficient German language skills would be waived, and it would then be up to the managers of the company making the job offer to decide whether or not they want to employ the skilled worker despite a lack of German language skills. 

READ ALSO: ‘More jobs in English’: How Germany could attract international workers

The third pillar is about enabling third-country nationals with good potential to stay in Germany in order to find a job. The “Opportunity Card” falls under this pillar and will involve a new points-based system, which will allow non-EU nationals to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer as long as they fulfil at least three of the criteria of having a degree or professional qualification, having experience of at least three years, having a language skill or previous residence in Germany and are under 35.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Germany’s new opportunity card and other visas for job seekers

What other initiatives do the plans include?

The traffic light coalition also wants to do more to promote Germany as an attractive, innovative and diverse country abroad.

One initiative is to publicise job vacancies internationally and connect qualified people abroad with employers and educational institutions in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Will immigration reform be enough to combat Germany’s worker shortage?

The “Make it in Germany” portal, which has its own job exchange, will be expanded and further developed.

The government also wants to promote the German language both abroad and at home for example, by expanding digital language courses and exams.

The government also wants to simplify and accelerate the recognition procedures for foreign vocational qualifications. One of the planned measures is that the required documents can also be accepted in English or in the original language.

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For members


INTERVIEW: Why newcomers in Germany have a hard time getting started

Many foreigners are struggling to tackle bureaucracy and find a place to live when they move to German cities. The Local's Germany in Focus podcast spoke to an expert who works with international residents to find out why things are so bad at the moment.

INTERVIEW: Why newcomers in Germany have a hard time getting started

Kathleen Parker, who’s originally from Queensland, Australia, has been helping international residents get settled in Germany since 2012 through her business Red Tape Translation.

But she says coming to the Bundesrepublik as a foreigner has actually gotten “harder and not easier” over the past decade.

“When I started [my work], apartments were still available,” Parker told The Local’s Germany in Focus podcast.  “You could still walk into public offices and get things done without having an appointment months in advance. Costs were lower and I also don’t think digitalisation has progressed much in the last 10 years.”

Parker’s observations come on the heels of a recently published InterNations survey, which ranked Germany as the most difficult country for fresh arrivals, primarily due to lack of affordable housing, unyielding bureaucracy and limited digital infrastructure. 

READ ALSO: Germany ranked ‘most difficult country’ for foreign residents to get started

Survey respondents also said it’s particularly hard to get by in Germany without speaking the language. Parker can vouch for this, as she frequently accompanies newcomers to places like the Ausländerbehörde (foreigner’s office) to interpret for them.

‘Finding housing is hard’

Yet finding housing is the number one challenge Parker sees facing newly arrived international residents.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a single high-earner or a freelancer or family,” said Parker. “It’s just hard.”

She gave the example of one Indian family she knows in Berlin who have been searching for long-term housing for almost a year, meaning that “they’ve been jumping from one temporary unfurnished apartment to the next”.

She also sees internationals struggling with long, seemingly unending waiting times for residency permits. She gave the example of a South Korean freelancer who had to make eight visits before getting her Aufenthaltstitel was approved, or an American student who finished her course of study before she could renew her student visa. 

PODCAST: Is Germany really one of the hardest countries to start a new life in?

Immigration office Berlin

People wait outside of an immigration office in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

The slow processing times can be partially attributed to the many people moving to Germany in recent months, said Parker, either by necessity or choice.

“There are just more people and fewer staff: that’s the biggest crisis that’s happening all over Germany.”

READ ALSO: ‘Traumatising’: Foreign residents share stories from German immigration offices

Parker suggested that one reason for too few staff is that the job of a caseworker in German bureaucratic offices is stressful and may not be well paid. 

The position also tends to have a high turnover rate, meaning one foreigner could go through a couple caseworkers before getting their application processed.

‘Moments of beauty’

Despite these bureaucratic challenges, Parker says that she’s seen several “moments of beauty”.

“I think the treatment depends on the individual caseworker and how overloaded they are with work themselves,” she added.

Within 24 hours in the last week Parker told the Germany in Focus podcast that she saw two positive experiences at the immigration office in Berlin.

In one, “a caseworker went out of their way to make sure the applicant was addressed with their preferred pronouns despite what appeared on their passport”.

In another, “there was a caseworker in training that showed compassion to a client I took – they really made an effort to help her”.

There’s also a glimmer of hope on a broader scale: Germany is currently mulling legislation to make it easier for skilled workers to come to the country, even with no to little German, and more easily recognise foreign credentials. 

“It’s getting easier to get your qualifications recognised so you can be seen as a skilled worker in Germany,” said Parker. “But Germany’s still not great at recognising skills if they’re not on a piece of paper with a stamp on it.”