Questions and answers: Opportunity card aims to bring more foreigners into the labour market

Questions and answers: Opportunity card aims to bring more foreigners into the labour market

The labor shortage in Germany threatens to grow by millions of vacancies. The government therefore wants to speed up labor migration to the country – the next stage will begin on June 1st.

In many professional fields, the German labor market has long only functioned thanks to people with foreign roots – and yet the skills gap is growing. The government wants to counteract the shortage of work and skilled workers with its reform of the Skilled Immigration Act. What the third part of the reform package, which comes into force this Saturday, brings:

How many skilled workers are missing in Germany?

Seven million skilled workers will have to be replaced by 2035 due to the aging of society, said Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) recently at a government skilled workers’ congress, citing the Institute for Employment Research. The shortage is particularly serious in the care and catering sectors, for example. IT specialists are lacking in many companies and also in the authorities. Due to the poor economic situation, only 707,000 vacancies were reported to the Federal Employment Agency in March, 70,000 fewer than a year ago.

But in the longer term, Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) expects that more and more jobs and training places will remain open. Being able to fill these will determine in the long term “whether Germany grows and whether prosperity in the country can increase or be maintained.” Today, around a quarter of all employed people have a migrant background – an above-average proportion in cleaning jobs and the catering industry, for example.

What’s new from June 1st?

The opportunity card, which was passed last year as part of the Skilled Immigration Act, comes into force. It is aimed at people who do not come from the European Union. This new instrument in the Residence Act is intended to make it easier for qualified workers to come to Germany. A contract with an employer in Germany is not a prerequisite.

From June 1, the opportunities for workers from the Western Balkan states to come to Germany for a job will also be expanded. Unskilled workers can also benefit from this. However, everyone who wants to enter the country via the so-called Western Balkans regulation must first provide proof of an employment contract.

How does the opportunity card work?

The basic requirement is at least two years of vocational training or a university degree in the country of origin and language skills in German or English. Depending on language skills, professional experience, age and connection to Germany, interested parties receive points that entitle them to receive the Opportunity Card.

Points are also awarded for qualifications in shortage occupations. With the card, non-EU foreigners can then come to Germany and then have one year to look for a permanent job. Under certain conditions, a one-time extension of two years is possible.

And what is new about the Western Balkans regulation?

This regulation facilitates access to the German labor market for nationals from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. To date, the Federal Employment Agency has issued 25,000 permits per year for workers from these countries who have a job offer. This quota is to be doubled to 50,000 permits per year.

Hasn’t this law been around for a long time?

In fact, Germany has had a skilled worker immigration law since March 2020, which the black-red coalition passed to promote the influx of qualified workers from non-EU countries. According to experts, its effect has been limited, on the one hand because of the travel restrictions caused by the corona pandemic, and on the other hand because of the still high bureaucratic burden for migrant workers.

Last November, the first part of the reform of the law decided upon by the traffic light coalition came into force. The first stage mainly included simplifications for the “EU Blue Card” and for recognized skilled workers.

And what has been in effect since March?

The possibility of residence for foreigners based on practical work experience – a core element of the law on skilled worker immigration. Skilled workers with a degree and professional experience can enter and work in Germany without a prior recognition procedure. They do not have to have any training that is recognized in Germany. This is intended to save bureaucracy and shorten procedures.

The job offer in Germany must guarantee a gross annual salary of at least 40,770 euros – if the employer is bound by a collective agreement, remuneration in accordance with the collective agreement is sufficient. To cover temporarily particularly high demand for workers, limited short-term employment has been made possible. The Federal Employment Agency has set a quota of 25,000 for this purpose for 2024.

Will the reforms attract more workers to us?

It is still too early to assess the impact, as the changes have only been in effect for a short time. However, in addition to the sometimes high requirements and bureaucratic obstacles, there are other obstacles that prevent migrant workers from moving to Germany.

“In view of the blatant labor shortage of over 400,000 people per year, the opportunity card is first and foremost an opportunity for Germany,” says Green Party interior politician Misbah Khan. It is now up to Germany as a society and business location to breathe life into the new legal changes and become an even more attractive immigration country.

What else deters migrants besides the language?

Compared to other traditional immigration countries, the tax and levy burden in Germany is relatively high. This is particularly deterring highly qualified people. In addition, it has now become known that it is difficult to find affordable housing in some metropolitan areas. Some municipalities have recently reported that landlords sometimes ask newly immigrated foreign applicants for a guarantee from their employer.

Could there be further reforms soon?

“But we as legislators have not yet reached the end,” says Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, the FDP’s interior expert in the Bundestag. “We have resolved to simplify immigration law; that remains an open task,” says the MP.

She has high hopes for the use of artificial intelligence in processing applications from potential migrant workers. The Foreign Office is already doing pioneering work in this area. This is also necessary – Germany cannot afford current waiting times of over a year.

Source: Stern

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