Germany agrees to ease rules for skilled immigrants

BERLIN - Germany's cabinet approved plans on Wednesday that seek to make Europe's biggest economy more attractive for highly-trained immigrants but some industry groups complained the proposals were too timid.

By (Reuters)

Published: Wed 16 Jul 2008, 6:37 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:50 PM

The package of measures, which would also extend limits on low-wage labour from nations that recently joined the European Union, are an effort to plug a shortage of skilled labour in sectors such as engineering and technology.

The new rules are due to take effect at the start of next year and still need to be worked into a draft law to be presented to parliament for approval.

"We have taken a step toward making Germany more competitive internationally," said Social Democrat Labour Minister Olaf Scholz, who drew up the plans with conservative Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

"We are putting the conditions in place so that people can come here who can contribute to creating economic growth," he said at a joint news conference with Schaeuble in Berlin.

The proposals adopted include keeping Germany's labour market closed to unskilled workers from new EU member states for two years longer than planned. Germany is one of a handful of EU states still restricting workers from nations that joined the bloc in 2004.

Unskilled workers from the 10 countries that joined the EU in May, 2004, excluding Cyprus and Malta, will not be allowed in until April 2011, compared with an original date of the end of April, 2009. Cheap workers from Romania and Bulgaria will continue to be excluded until the end of 2011.

Particularly vulnerable

Most industrialised economies suffer from a lack of highly-qualified workers but as the world's biggest exporter of goods, including billions of euros worth of complex machinery and equipment, Germany is particularly vulnerable.

The shortage of computer technicians, engineers and other skilled workers is costing Europe's largest economy around 20 billion euros ($31.8 billion) a year, according to estimates by the government and the DIHK chambers of industry and commerce.

The changes approved in cabinet on Wednesday include allowing graduates from new EU member states to work in Germany without limit from Jan 1, 2009. They will no longer have to show they are not taking jobs from Germans.

However, graduates from other countries will be only be allowed in if no Germans are competing for the same position.

The government reduced the minimum wage highly-skilled foreigners have to earn to secure a work permit to 63,600 euros ($101,200) per year from 86,400 euros.

August-Wilhelm Scheer, president of the Bitkom information technology, telecommunications and new media industry lobby, said the government had not been bold enough.

"The measures will scarcely be able to contribute to alleviating the shortage of expert workers," he said.

Scheer proposed introducing a points system that would allow in skilled workers who filled certain criteria such as qualifications, language ability and age and dismissed claims that this would lead to a flood of immigrants.

"These concerns are unfounded because the government can decide from year to year the maximum number of immigrants that can enter and which qualifications they must have," he said.

Dirk Schumacher, an economist at Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt, said the proposals were "one step in the right direction".

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