Blue Card for experts

The German labour market offers interesting prospects for international specialists.
by Petra Schönhöfer

Cold. It might sound rather ironic, but Sri Nugroho is an expert on something that some people abroad associate with Germany. Nugroho develops refrigeration systems. He helps guarantee laboratory samples are kept at the right temperature and that ice-cream doesn’t melt at the ice-cream parlour. As a specialist engineer for refrigeration and air-conditioning technology he belongs to the group of international experts who are particularly sought-after on the German labour market. Employers are talking about the demand – even shortage – of skilled personnel. By 2025, estimates the Federal Employment Agency, there will be roughly six million fewer employees available in Germany as a result of demographic change. That constitutes a brake on growth and innovation which is already causing a significant loss of productivity for the German economy 
today. Although the current trend on the German labour market is viewed positively and the number of people in employment is higher than ever before at 41 million, several sectors and regions lack qualified specialists. This shortage is most clearly evident in the so-called MINT professions (mathematics, IT, natural sciences and technology).

Sri Nugroho and his family have moved to Hof in Upper Franconia. Although he has already lived in Germany for 20 years, things have never been as good as they are now: “I was able to choose my job from several offers,” explains the father of three sons. Years ago, after giving it long and careful consideration, he and his wife decided in favour of making Germany their new home. They have bought a house and found German friends. Nugroho’s philosophy is: “The best person is someone who is useful to others.” For that reason – and also to remain in contact with his country of origin – he founded an association that informs his fellow countrymen about moving to Germany to work. Private initiatives of this kind are naturally the exception. That’s why the Federal Ministry of 
Economics and Technology, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Federal Employment Agency have launched a special skills campaign. In addition to using all the potential available in Germany, it aims to attract highly qualified international specialists for the German labour market. To that end, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology has set up the Make it in Germany website to spread the word about Germany’s open and welcoming culture and just how attractive the country is.

The multilingual website introduces visitors to Marie Campos from the USA. As a biochemist she is also qualified in one of the sought-after MINT sectors. “Actually after graduating from California State University I had a good job,” reports the 40-year-old. Her curiosity was aroused by an ad in the paper promoting a stay in Germany. She applied to the exchange programme and received a job. She signed up for a year, but has now spent over ten years working as product manager for chromatographic systems. Campos is not only enthusiastic about the quality of these technological products, but she also appreciates the work-life balance in everyday German life. She says she has reached the end of a journey that began with a German course.

Tung Nguyen Hoang discovered his interest in Germany early. “It all began with a four-week school exchange,” says the 28-year-old Vietnamese engineer. He completed a Bachelor degree in mechanical engineering in Vietnam. Eventually an exchange programme with twin city Hanover brought him back to Germany, where he then studied for a Master in mechanical engineering. Although he began his working life in Germany in 2009, the year of the economic crisis, he was able to find a job as a software developer. That would have been difficult without a degree from a German higher education institution. And unfortunately not all international specialists have one. That’s why the Federal Government has simplified the system for recognizing professional qualifications acquired outside Germany. The recognition legislation came into force in April 2012. Now everyone is legally entitled to a transparent process for comparing the validity of foreign professional qualifications irrespective of their country of origin. This is meant to open up opportunities for many people like those enjoyed by Tung Nguyen Hoang. Despite his good job, however, he is not sure whether he wants to live in Germany for ever. He is certain that his professional and personal experiences in Germany would open up many opportunities for him in his country of origin – and also help his country’s development.

The young civil engineer Esperanza Costa-Guillot is no longer very confident at all when it comes to her country of origin. You hear a lot about high youth unemployment in Spain these days. “For a long time the building industry in Spain was considered safe as houses, but now I can’t see any prospects there for me,” explains Costa-Guillot. After her first stay in Germany in 2011, when she did temporary work, in March 2012 she began a job with a tool-making firm in the Taunus hills. The contact was made through Peter Postinett, the Head of Market Services International, who also teaches at Valencia University: “Although we are a renowned company with an excellent reputation, it often takes us a long time to fill certain vacancies. We thus decided to include foreign labour markets in our search – above all, Spain.” The company offers language courses and helps with finding accommodation to make starting work easier for employees like Costa-­Guillot. The Federal Government would like 
to improve this situation further. It has made immigration easier to encourage international experts to come to Germany. The EU Blue Card has been in force since 1 August 2012. A residence permit for foreign specialists has been introduced that allows them to look for work for up to six months. The Blue Card facilitates access to the German labour market for non-EU graduates. The precondition is a contract of employment and a minimum annual salary of roughly 45,000 euros. In professions with staff shortages, such as medicine and engineering, the salary threshold is 35,000 euros. Blue Card holders with appropriate knowledge of German can apply for permanent residence after 21 months. Concessions also apply for family members who want to work in Germany. That is important to Costa-Guillot, whose boyfriend wants to join her as soon as possible.

Her first name, Esperanza, means “hope” in Spanish. And that is something she is not giving up. She is starting her new life in Germany with optimism and determination. The only thing she really misses – especially in winter – is the Spanish sun.


by Petra Schönhöfer

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