The Skilled Immigration Act (Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz) has taken effect in Germany. It aims to prepare its economy for the future. The mission of the act is to bring skilled workers from outside the EU in order to help rebalance demographic realities and to fill job vacancies in areas that require skilled workers. Germany, like many developed countries, is facing demographic upheaval with an aging population and requires action to ensure that economic growth continues. The aim is that the act will attract about 25,000 more workers per year to Germany.
Skilled Workers: Definition
It should be made clear that this act, which took effect this month, is for skilled workers and those who have completed vocational training and have a higher educational degree. A university degree is not required to apply as a skilled worker but it is required that the applicant holds qualifications in their field. Any qualifications have to be equivalent to the requirements to work in that field in Germany. The only exception when it comes to holding such qualifications is in the area of Information Technology. An applicant does not require such qualifications if they have at least 3 years of experience in the field (gathered in the past 7 years) and have an annual salary of at least 49,680 euros.
The act also requires applicants to have a B1 standard of the German language. The language ability requirement can be waived in certain cases but it is advisable to consult with a legal professional about this. Obtaining a B1 standard of German demonstrates commitment on the part of the applicants. They may invest time and effort to improve their language skills without the guarantee that they will be successful in their application.
Changes Made by the Skilled Immigration Act 2020
The new Skilled Immigration Act will change a number of aspects relating to the immigration process in Germany. First, there is no longer a restriction when it comes to hiring non-EU workers for roles. The resident market labor test no longer applies and companies can hire workers from third countries if they believe them to be most suited to the job. The market labor test required checking the market for similarly qualified professionals from EU countries before moving for those from outside it. This move should benefit employers when it comes to decision-making regarding the best person for a particular job. Theoretically, it should speed up the hiring process.
Second, the federal states of Germany will have their own Central Immigration Office (Zentralen Ausländerbehörden – ZAB) with the aim of processing more of the applications made under this act. This step could result in more assistance when it comes to ensuring that applications are processed quicker or it could mean greater bureaucracy. This is why we stated above that “theoretically” the act could speed up the process. With an expected 25,000 more immigration applicants per year to Germany (and could be more depending on the success of the Act) it is possible that there will be delays in the processing of applications.
Skilled Immigration Act 2020 and Employers
The Skilled Immigration Act will have a huge impact on employers as well. It will grant the Federal Employment Agency more powers when it comes to auditing businesses. They will aim to ensure that the exploitation of non-EU workers does not occur due to the introduction of the act. Heavy fines can be given in the event that such incidents are found. Fines can also be given out should employers not inform the immigration authorities that a worker hired under the act has had their contract ended early.
Therefore, employers have to make sure that they are prepared for some disruption. The act may make it easier to bring workers in from third countries but there will be more regulation and inspections as a result of it. Employers should make sure they are up-to-date with this act and have received legal advice as regards its contents.
Opposition to Skilled Immigration Act 2020
The opposition to the act ranges from those who believes it opens Germany up too much and those who believe that it does not go far enough. For some, the German language requirements are too restrictive as those who invest their time and effort into learning German may not be presented with the opportunity to work in Germany afterwards. It is a sizable investment and may discourage the potential skilled workers that Germany requires from applying.
On a political level, there have been voices against the new Skilled Immigration Act with claims that it simply supports the government’s aim to open Germany more to the wider immigration. There have also been questions as to how extensive the shortage of skilled workers really is. Arguments against the view that there is a shortage of skilled workers point to the fact that workers’ wages have not increased hugely, such increases would be a signal that there is a shortage of workers.
Whether the job shortages around skilled labor exist currently may be debated, but the fact that Germany has an aging population cannot. An aging population means that even if these problems do not emerge now, they will likely emerge in the future.
Currently, highly-educated workers with university degrees have options available to them through the EU Blue Card and through Resident Permits for Highly-Qualified individuals (under § 19 German Residence Act). In order to avail of these options for a residence permit, the applicant must have a university degree.
However, for many workers in the industries that will power the 21st century such as in Information Technology and Communications they may have qualifications for their line of work without necessarily having a university degree as part of that. They may have obtained their skills through working in the industry or through other forms of higher education faculty. As Germany’s IT and Communication sectors grow this act aims to keep Germany competitive and attractive to highly skilled professionals on the international market.
One area in which this future-proofing is evident as part of the act is the example of the eSports Visa. Through this act, Germany becomes the first country to offer a dedicated visa for professional eSport athletes. This may not seem like a big step until one considers that the eSports industry is already worth the billions of dollars and this trend is likely to continue growing. It’s a hugely popular industry and one that certainly equates to a 21st industry. By providing a dedicated visa to this industry, Germany is indicating how it aims to be a world leader in the field.
The Skilled Immigration Act could have a big impact on immigration to Germany. It opens the door to more people to come to Germany as long as they fulfill the criteria of the act. This could have the desired effect of enticing skilled professionals to come to Germany which may power the German economy and keep it at a strong level for the next number of years and decades. Whether issues such as the language barrier prove too great a step for the skilled individuals sought after remains to be seen. The act may not hold all the answers but it is a step in the right direction. Action has to be taken with regard to the demographic realities of modern Germany.
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