The German economy is under pressure, and not just because of the energy crisis, inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic. For several years now, companies have identified the shortage of qualified specialists as an obstacle to growth. The handicraft and the nursing sectors in particular are groaning under the unfilled positions and looking for short-term solutions. It has long been accepted that the migration of workers and trainees is the central element in combating the shortage of skilled workers.
Accordingly, the Skilled Worker Immigration Act was supposed to provide relief in 2020. However, two years later, disillusionment is spreading, because negative records are still being recorded in 2022. According to the Association of Chambers of Industry and Commerce, the shortfall is estimated at up to 1.8 million workers. The governing coalition wants to take action and has presented a key points paper on skilled labor immigration from third countries, the contents of which are to be adopted as draft legislation in the first quarter of 2023. The plans are ambitious, but if they are implemented, they have the potential to create real added value.
Three pillars for success
According to the federal government's ideas, labor immigration is to be based on three pillars in the future:
- Skilled = Recognized foreign qualification (training/university degree)
- Experience = Immigration for employment without prior formal recognition
- Potential = Stay for job search with proven potential
The primary goal is to make it easier for foreign specialists to find employment. To this end, bureaucratic hurdles are to be removed and lanes for faster access to a job opened up. Until now, foreign specialists have had to prove in an extensive recognition process that their foreign qualifications meet German requirements before they are allowed to work in Germany.
In academic professions, which are not regulated, this is comparatively easy, as an international university standard has been established and the so-called equivalence usually exists. The recognition procedure for non-academic professions is different. Here, there is no uniform global standard for vocational training, so that full recognition often resembles a gamble. It is therefore not surprising that 46 percent of applications for recognition of foreign vocational training are only granted partial equivalence.
In order to be able to pursue permanent employment in Germany in such a case, third-country nationals must pass additional and sometimes extensive qualification and compensation measures. This delays the start of employment and complicates the personnel planning of companies, so that these candidates are often not considered.
Pragmatic ideas for promoting labor force immigration
The federal government wants to counter this by allowing third-country nationals to immigrate to Germany for employment under certain conditions, even without prior formal recognition of their qualifications.
In particular, the comparison with a reference profession in Germany shall be waived if the third-country national:
- can prove two years of professional experience in the profession to be practiced, and
- a vocational or university degree of two years' duration recognized by the state in the home country is documented.
In addition, third-country nationals should be given the opportunity to be employed in the anticipated target occupation in Germany even before the recognition procedure is initiated. The specific proof of language skills shall also be waived at the beginning and the language requirements should rather be left to the discretion of the future employer. In addition, the partial equivalence of vocational training is to be strengthened and allow direct access to the labor market. Here, too, the assessment of employers will be decisive in the future.
Further steps include intensifying promotional activities abroad, cooperating with third countries for uniform training standards, and improving procedures and processes through digitization, acceleration and transparency.
Labor immigration made easy in the future?
All of this shows that the federal government has obviously understood that what is needed in the area of labor immigration is a greater hands-on mentality and not additional forms. On a positive note, the assessment of companies on how to employ skilled foreign workers is finally playing a role and the weal and woe of labor immigration is not solely dependent on foreign authorities, embassies and chambers of industry and commerce. This is right, because it is the companies that can best assess whether a candidate's knowledge and skills are suitable based on the requirements of a job.
For companies, all of this is basically good news, as it gives them access to a new group of workers who previously had no access to the German labor market due to the system. The handicraft sector in particular should thus benefit from a large number of workers with practical experience. But even with the new plans, the entire immigration procedure remains bureaucratic and complicated. In practice, small and medium-sized companies in particular are likely to shy away from the large number of complex legal issues. If employers want to fill a position with a third-country national and possibly under high time pressure, they are still recommended to consult an experienced advisor for the procedure with the competent authority.
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