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“Opening doors and hearts”

A new law aims to make it easier for skilled workers to emigrate to Germany. Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil explains how this will work. He also tells us how equal opportunities will play a part in the new plans and how important it is to have a genuinely welcoming culture.

Hubertus Heil
Hubertus Heil © picture alliance/Geisler-Fotopress

Mr Heil, you have described the new law as “the cornerstone of a modern country of immigration”. What are the distinctive features of a modern country of immigration in your view?

A modern country of immigration opens doors and hearts. It demonstrates a genuinely welcoming culture in everyday life with few bureaucratic obstacles. We need skilled workers from all around the world as our own population is growing older and there are already many vacant positions here. Other industrialised countries are facing exactly the same challenges. Germany is an attractive country, but we are competing with many other countries with longer traditions of migration, ones where the weather might be better or the language easier. That’s why we need to make active efforts to recruit highly qualified immigrants and make it as easy as possible for them to start life in Germany.

That’s exactly what our new law does. We’re lowering barriers, stripping away bureaucracy and focusing much more on people’s potential. This has made the legal framework more modern than ever. At the same time we also want to make it easier for people to integrate into everyday life. We want people to feel comfortable here, become part of our society and want to stay here. Language skills are crucial in this regard, but social engagement and a welcoming culture at work also matter as well.

Why does Germany need skilled workers from abroad?

Right now there are 17 million vacant positions in Germany. At the same time, over the next few years there will be more people retiring than young people entering the workforce. That means there is already a shortage of workers and that gap is only going to widen in the long term. We cannot close that gap just from our “own reserves” alone. True, there is still untapped potential around employment for women, older people and people with disabilities. But we still need migration on top of this. Given that finding skilled workers often takes a long time, we now need to pull out all the stops, both by making migration easier and making better use of our own reservoir of talent.

How is the new law making migration easier for skilled workers?

In future, migration for skilled workers will be based on three pillars. Firstly, your qualifications. If you’ve already found a job and hold qualifications which are recognised in Germany, it will be easier to get a work visa. In particular it will be easier to get the coveted “blue card”, as we’re reducing the level of the minimum salary required.

Secondly, your experience. We’re opening up new pathways for migration for work purposes for people with professional qualifications and/or appropriate professional experience. Even if their degree or qualification is not recognised in Germany, they can get working visas and go into employment straight away.

Thirdly, your potential. This pathway will help people find work. We have created a new “Opportunity Card” which is available to people if they have not yet found a job but who can contribute promising potential. These people can now live in Germany for at least a year in order to find a job which is suitable for their qualifications.

We’re also clearing away barriers which slowed immigration in the past, such as procedures for getting qualifications recognised. In some cases we’re scrapping the requirement for exams, and in others it will be possible to take examinations once you’re in Germany, instead of having to take them beforehand. We’re also making it easier for people to bring their families to Germany.

All in all we’re proud to say the new rules are both ambitious and balanced. We’re protecting new arrivals against salary dumping and exploitation – after all, opportunity and protection must go hand in hand. That’s the principle which underpins our welfare state.

We’re lowering barriers, stripping away bureaucracy and focusing much more on people’s potential.
Hubertus Heil

One key element of the reforms is the Opportunity Card which you mentioned earlier. What does the government hope to achieve by introducing it?

The Opportunity Card allows you to find a job when you are here in Germany. Non-EU citizens can now stay in Germany for up to a year to find a job, before it was six months More people will also be able to get a residence permit. If you can find a job which is suitable for your qualifications this year, you will be able to extend your stay in Germany.

However, Opportunity Cards are only available to people who can cover their own living costs, either through savings or with a part-time job. Cardholders will be able to work up to 20 hours a week in jobs which are unrelated to their qualifications. The Opportunity Card also allows cardholders to work on a trial basis for up to two weeks in a job which matches their qualifications.

You have personally tried to recruit skilled workers on trips to India, Brazil and several other countries. What reactions did you encounter?

Almost without exception the reactions were positive. Many young, motivated and well educated people would love to come to Germany, either because there is a lack of prospects for them at home or because of the opportunities which Germany offers them such as around professional training and development. Sometimes people mentioned the good security situation here and opportunities to bring their family with them.

What are the most important arguments you put forward when promoting Germany?

There are many great reasons to come to Germany: regulated working conditions, diverse career opportunities and strong science and industry. Skilled workers can benefit from these in their own professional advancement. In addition to this there is our social security system such as health insurance, good opportunities to bring your family to Germany, and free education. The latter point is particularly important for young families and foreign students as well.

Hubertus Heil was born in Lower Saxony in 1972. He has been Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs since March 2018. Like Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, he is a member of the SPD political party and has served as its Deputy Chair since late 2019. His roles before then included a stint as the party's Secretary General. Hubertus Heil studied Political Sciences and Sociology and has been a member of Germany’s Bundestag since 1998.