Germany Aggressively Reforms Laws to Attract Immigrants

Germany, often considered the economic engine of the European Union,  is facing demographic challenges, including an aging population, rising death rates, and low birthrates, that are causing labor shortages which are only projected to worsen during this century.

Germany is now joining the ranks of countries, such as Canada and Japan, addressing its demographic challenges through legal reforms to attract more immigrants in an effort to shore up its shrinking worforce.  On March 1, 2020, the Skilled Immigration Act will take effect to attract new immigrants interested in living and working permanently in Germany who will help strengthen the country’s economy.

Among other features, the new law redefines “professional” to include not just higher education graduates, but also those with vocational skills who have completed training courses of at least two years’ duration.  Professionals will need to have their qualifications recognized by Germany but won’t need to have a job offer in order to relocate.  They can  get a six-month residence permit in order to look for a job in fields related to their qualifications, even if there is no skills shortage in Germany in those fields.   A key change is the elimination of the requirement, that also exists in the U.S.,  for verification that no qualified German worker is available to do the job before an employer can hire a foreign professional.  Foreign professionals with employment will be eligible for permanent residency after four years.   The law also makes it easier for foreign students who come to Germany to pursue university degrees or vocational training, to get residency.  This post explains the new German law in more detail.

In 2012, Germany made a less aggressive attempt to attract foreign talent, but it fell short in part because it aimed only at those with the equivalent of bachelors or higher degrees, while the German economy also needs workers in jobs that don’t require that level of education.

The United States faces similar demographic challenges to Germany, Canada and Japan.   Yet the administration and Congress have failed to make serious efforts to substantially reshape the U.S.’s outdated immigration laws.  Canada has experienced record increases in immigration since enacting its immigration reforms.

It will be worth watching Germany to see if the Skilled Immigration Act produces similar results.   If so, policy makers in Washington D.C. should consider following these countries’ leads and act to substantially reduce current barriers to immigration, particularly for foreign students who obtain their higher education at U.S. institutions, to ensure that the U.S. can maintain a robust workforce and a strong economy.