German parliament reforms skilled work immigration law

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The German parliament has passed legislation to open up new opportunities for job seekers from countries outside the EU and for many refugees who are already in the country. Conservative lawmakers are up in arms.

The Bundestag on Friday (June 23) finally passed a new immigration law reform designed to encourage more people from outside the European Union to come to Germany for work.

“This draft law secures prosperity in Germany,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) said as she presented the government’s plan in the chamber in the morning, though she added that it would only work if the bureaucratic hurdles were dismantled during its implementation.

“It’s unacceptable that you have to fill in 17 different applications to bring a new care worker into the country,” she said.

Nancy Faeser speaking in the Bundestag
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the immigration reform will help secure prosperity in GermanyImage: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

The biggest opposition party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance welcomed some of the government’s ideas, though they criticized plans to lower the qualification hurdles for foreign workers. According to Andrea Lindholz of the CSU, plans to lower the level of German language skills necessary would only encourage low-skilled workers.

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Lindholz argued that the new law would do nothing to address what she called the main problem: Bureaucratic bottlenecks such as over-long procedures at foreign consulates.
She also said that the plans to open opportunities for asylum seekers who were already in the county ran the risk of “turning the asylum process into a kind of state-financed job-seeking opportunity in Germany.” 
Norbert Kleinwächter of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), delivered a fiery rebuttal to the draft law, suggesting that the government’s plan would turn Germany into a “junk country” (Ramschland).”What you have put together in a 100-page draft law could be summed up in one sentence,” he said. “Everyone gets in, but no one gets thrown out.”

Lamya Kaddor of the Green Partyrejected the AfD’s criticisms, saying that speaking German was not the most important prerequisite for working in Germany. “You integrate best when you have to speak German at work — ever noticed?” she sarcastically asked the right-wing ranks in the house. “This is finally, finally, really good news for this country. In the competition with other successful countries of immigration like the US or Canada, we have made some crucial steps forward,” she said.

The Free Democratic Party (FDP), which represents the neoliberal part of the German government’s three-party coalition, underlined the economic benefits they believe the new law will bring. “It’s ridiculous that it’s easier in Germany today to emigrate into the asylum system than the job market,” said the FDP’s Konstantin Kuhle. “We’re turning that round with this law.”

Why is there a shortage of care workers in Germany?

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The new ‘Opportunity card’

A major new innovation under the law is a new “opportunity card” and its associated points system, which allows foreigners who don’t yet have a job lined up to come to Germany for a year to find employment.

A prerequisite for receiving a card will be a vocational qualification or university degree.

The cards will be awarded to those who fulfill a certain number of conditions, for which they will be awarded points: These could be German and/or English language skills, existing ties to Germany, and the potential of accompanying life partners or spouses on the German labor market.

The opportunity card will also permit casual work for up to 20 hours a week while looking for a qualified job, as well as probationary employment.

Integrating refugees

Those who are awaiting asylum approval, and got their application in by March 29, 2023, have the appropriate qualifications, and a job offer and will also be permitted to join the labor market. This would also allow them to enter vocational training.

A similar change holds for those here on a tourist visa. They will not be required to first leave the country, before returning in an employment context.

Recognition of degrees

A major obstacle to immigration has long been the requirement to have degrees recognized in Germany. 

In the future, skilled immigrants will no longer have to have their degrees recognized in Germany if they can show they have at least two years of professional experience and a degree that is state-recognized in their country of origin. Someone who already has a job offer can already come to Germany and start working while their degree is still being recognized.

Citizenship law reform

During the parliamentary debate, Martin Rosemann from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD looked ahead: “The well-qualified young people from around the world are not exactly queuing up to come to work in Germany,” he said. “We have to woo them and must give them a long-term perspective. That is why we will reform the citizenship law, too.”

The skilled immigration law is part of an initiative from Scholz’s government to liberalize conditions for non-Germans in the country. A new citizenship law currently being drawn up will also make it easier for people to have dual citizenship from non-EU countries — something particularly welcomed by Germany’s large Turkish community.

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