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Germany’s Skilled Immigration Act: New Law Eases Entry for Foreign Workers

Work in Germany. Germany’s revised immigration law. The initial phases of a forthcoming law designed to simplify the relocation process for skilled workers from outside the EU to Germany are anticipated to be implemented. Having received final approval from the German government, the law is scheduled to take effect in stages in November 2023, March 2024, and June 2024.

The primary aim of Germany’s revised immigration law is to attract skilled foreign workers and address labor shortages. The anticipated modernization of Germany’s immigration laws is poised to facilitate a more straightforward process for third-country nationals seeking employment in Germany, potentially leading to an annual increase of 60,000 non-EU workers in the country.

The reforms outlined in the Skilled Immigration Act primarily target individuals with vocational, non-academic training. Additionally, the existing regulations for qualified professionals with university degrees will undergo relaxation as part of these comprehensive changes.
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Why is Germany making changes to its immigration policies?

Similar to many European countries, Germany is grappling with a shortage of skilled workers. In 2022, the country witnessed a historic high in its labor shortage, with the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) identifying 1.74 million unfilled positions nationwide. By July of the previous year, nearly half of all surveyed companies, as reported by the Munich-based research institute IFO, experienced staff shortages, leading to operational slowdowns.

To address this shortage, Germany aims to tap into the pool of qualified professionals from outside the EU. However, bureaucratic hurdles hinder the current immigration process. During a press conference at the Federal Office for Foreign Affairs (BfAA) on January 17, 2023, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock highlighted the need to revolutionize the visa process. Alongside Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, she stressed the importance of streamlining the system by removing bureaucracy and enhancing digitization for increased efficiency.

“We know that we can only guarantee our future, the efficiency of our economy and the efficiency of our social security systems if we have enough skilled workers at our disposal,” said Scholz.

“From within the European Union, that’s not so difficult, because there is freedom of movement. With regard to the rest of the world, it is a greater challenge,” he added.

Germany is grappling with high labor shortage,
Germany is grappling with a shortage of skilled workers.

How does Germany plan to attract skilled foreign workers?

In an effort to counter its skilled labor shortage, Germany is introducing a new ‘opportunity card,’ known as the ‘chancenkarte.’ This card will utilize a points-based system to facilitate the entry of workers with the necessary skills into Germany.
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The initiative, proposed by Labour Minister Hubertus Heil, aims to address the country’s workforce shortages, particularly targeting individuals who do not currently possess a work contract in Germany.

The points-based system will consider various factors such as qualifications, professional experience, age, German language proficiency, and connections to Germany (such as family members in the country). Workforce needs will drive the establishment of industry-specific quotas on an annual basis. Applicants for the scheme must meet three out of four of the following criteria:

  • 35 years old or younger
  • Language skills or a previous stay in Germany
  • Three years of professional experience
  • A degree or vocational training

Currently, most non-EU citizens need to secure a job offer before moving to Germany. The upcoming ‘chancenkarte‘ will simplify and expedite the process for individuals seeking employment in Germany. Citizens of certain countries with visa agreements can enter Germany visa-free for up to 90 days, but they face restrictions on short-term employment during this period.
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The opportunity card aims to permit individuals to come to Germany and search for employment or apprenticeships. This removes the need to apply from abroad. Applicants must demonstrate the financial capability to cover their living costs during this period.

Introduction of the opportunity card will simplify the process for individuals without a job
The opportunity card aims to permit individuals to come to Germany in search for jobs.

What are the main changes?

The new system brings about several key changes:

  • Greater Emphasis on Professional Experience: The revised system places more importance on professional experience rather than strictly requiring a university degree, making it more accessible for individuals with substantial work experience to come and work in Germany.
  • Recognizing International Qualifications: Germany will enhance its openness to acknowledge job experience and professional qualifications recognized in the workers’ native countries.
  • This is a departure from the current stringent approach to recognizing qualifications.
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  • Facilitated Job Seeking with the Opportunity Card: The introduction of the opportunity card will simplify the process for individuals without a job offer to explore employment opportunities in Germany. During their active search for full-time employment, qualified job seekers with degrees or vocational certificates will have the flexibility to stay in the country for up to one year, with permission to work up to 20 hours per week.
  • Eased Rules for Job Offers and Recognized Diplomas: For individuals with a job offer and a recognized diploma, the new system will lower salary thresholds. This will simplify the process of bringing families to Germany, and facilitate the attainment of permanent residency. These measures aim to create a more favorable environment for skilled workers and their families.