The federal government’s parameters for a skilled-labor immigration law were fundamentally welcomed, although some improvements were thought to be necessary. All of the experts attending the 23rd Forum Migration held by the Otto Benecke Stiftung e.V. (OBS) on December 6, 2018, agreed on this issue. Approximately 300 participants from the fields of politics, business and academia, churches, associations and migrant organizations attended the event at Bonn’s Post Tower. The theme was “Migration – the New Normal!? Opportunities and Challenges for Germany as a Country of Immigrants.”
In his introduction, the Managing Chair of OBS, Dr. Lothar Theodor Lemper, made it clear that we will be thinking about the issue of migration for many years to come, and that the opportunities migration offers for the German job market and our social systems – in the sense of “productive integration policies” – need to be seized, given our shortage of skilled workers. The Managing Chair of OBS warned against binding different objectives to the skilled-labor immigration law.
In his welcome speech, Eberhard Diepgen, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for OBS and the former Mayor of Berlin, reminded the audience of the history of OBS, an organization that has long concerned itself with confirming qualifications for immigrants. He embraced the fact that the focus of academic education is now being expanded to include vocational training. He called for a “lane change” for those who have lived and worked here for a long time already (key date regulation).
In his presentation, “Nachdenken über Migration” (“Thoughts on Migration”), Dr. Peter Graf Kielmansegg, professor emeritus of Political Science at the University of Mannheim, put forward the thesis that no other issue had polarized the political discussion in Germany as much as immigration in 2015. The resulting uncertainty shifted some citizens to the “fringes” of the political spectrum; they felt that the state no longer fulfilled their need for protection because they were living in a country with open borders. In other countries, the refugee issue has already “exploded” their party systems, he said. “In this situation,” said Dr. Graf Kielmansegg, “we were unable to find a language of the center that would have made it possible to talk respectfully with one another about a challenge that strikes at the heart of our shared community.” He believes one cause is the reinterpretation of political debate as moral debate. A “language of the center” would require people to acknowledge the realities of the situation.
Dr. Cornelia Schu, Managing Director of the Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Migration und Integration (Expert Council of German Foundations on Migration and Integration, SVR), opened her statement on the “position paper” with some current figures. In the Federal Republic of Germany, one-fourth of the population now comes from a migrant background. In 2017, 54% of all new entrants were EU citizens. Overall, the total number of immigrants was 500,000. Dr. Schu welcomed the planned skilled-labor immigration act, even if she believed the opening could have been more extensive in some places. She expects the law to help fight the shortage of skilled labor, to create a unified system for the various regulations, to improve Germany’s attractiveness as a destination, to increase societal acceptance of immigration, and to reduce irregular immigration. In Dr. Schu’s opinion, the planned skilled-labor immigration act should be the cornerstone for an overall strategy.
In his statement, Bundestag Member Helge Lindh (SPD) made it clear that the planned law did not consider those who had already immigrated. He wished to see a “lane change” on this issue, which the law probably will not enforce. Mr. Lindh warned people not to expect the law to eliminate every bureaucratic problem. Even if the effects of such a law are relatively modest, its signal function should not be underestimated. He encouraged educational partnerships if both sides could benefit from them.
Jürgen Hindenberg, the Managing Director of Vocational Training and Securing Skilled Personnel at the Bonn/Rhine-Sieg Chamber of Industry and Commerce, lamented the fact that the trend toward academization has resulted in a current 1.21 vacant training positions for every applicant. The hurdles for admitting refugees to dual training programs are high, he said. In contrast to the previous NRW regulations, he said, the “position paper” was a “disimprovement.” Mr. Hindenberg demanded a change in direction in order to ensure that those with completed training/an established career can remain.
Dr. Thomas Günther, the Managing Director of the Cologne District Craft Trades Association, also named the massive skilled-worker shortage as a barrier to further expansion in the craft trades. Dr. Günther determined that these trades had accepted refugees for training programs very quickly and early on. Since training and work are catalysts for integration, and workshops have an average of 5.8 employees, refugees can learn and find their footing quickly in these small teams.
When asked about the shortage of skilled workers, especially in the healthcare sector, Alexander Pröbstl, a member of the Care and Patient Service Board at the University Hospital Bonn, reported that the shortage resulted from the definition of quality. The care provider/patient ratio in Germany is 1:10, while in Sweden, Switzerland and Norway it is 1:4. This results in overworked employees, shorter times in the profession, etc. Mr. Pröbstl sees a particular need for action from politicians here; without migration, he says, the missing 100,000 skilled workers could not be found.
Dr. Wolfgang Müller, the Managing Director for European Cooperation at the Federal Employment Agency, described a labor shortage in four areas: highly qualified, vocational training, seasonal work, apprenticeship. He supports the idea of a virtual Welcome Center that would combine information and advice for foreign employees; our labor market is not yet designed for international workers.
Maja Rentrop-Klewitz from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Department for the Recognition of Foreign Professional Qualifications, describes the role that this recognition plays in the planned skilled-worker immigration law. Having one’s qualifications recognized is a prerequisite for immigrating as a skilled worker. In the case of only partial recognition, simultaneous qualification measures are planned. In the IT sector and other industries with shortages, immigration can be permitted on the basis of extensive professional experience. Some of the challenges that Ms. Rentrop-Klewitz mentioned were advising intensity, local responsibility, uneven implementation, length of the processes, and available qualification/compensatory measures.
Tilman Nagel, Head of the Education, Vocational Training and Labor Market Center of Excellence at the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), used his statement to direct attention to the countries of origin, of which 40% are considered developing countries. Mr. Nagel noted that labor migration relieves the labor markets, and that more than twice the amount of public development assistance is sent as remittances to support family members at home. He also pointed out the importance of knowledge transfer, which takes place not just through returnees, but also through partnerships with the home countries. An important approach for attracting skilled labor, he said, was offering post-qualification options in the countries of origin if their training level is not as high as in Germany. Mr. Nagel believes a more productive approach is to establish training partnerships, which also improves the quality of training in the countries of origin.
In his statement, Martin Wilde, the Managing Director of Don Bosco Mondo e.V., described the collaboration between the private sector and civil society in attracting skilled workers. Don Bosco’s institutions and companies in emerging and developing countries cooperate to train young, disadvantaged people. Don Bosco has more than 850 vocational training centers worldwide. The training measures are anchored in well-established institutions. They are also sustainable because the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Sisters of Don Bosco live alongside and on behalf of the local population, on a permanent basis. The long-term nature of this commitment is consistent with the long-term interests of the training companies.
Peter Clever, Member of the Executive Board of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations and Chair of the Administrative Board of the Federal Labor Office, began his talk on the topic of “Fachkräftemangel: Was ist zu tun?” (“A Shortage of Skilled Workers: What Can Be Done?”) by stating that great progress had been made in the discussion about immigration, since it is now dominated by objective arguments. Another positive sign, he said, is that neither employers nor trade unions are playing the fight against unemployment off against the goal of controlling immigration to attract skilled workers – since both are necessary. In light of the coming skilled worker immigration law, Mr. Clever emphasized that the information exchange between the responsible agencies must be significantly improved so that skilled workers willing to immigrate will even consider working in Germany and submitting the corresponding requests. Public agencies need to be transformed from “brakes” to “lubricants” in order for the skilled worker immigration law to function. In addition, Peter Clever welcomed the elimination of the priority review, but also suggested improvements to some areas of the position paper:
• Identity confirmation is known to be impossible in some cases.
• Entry-level qualifications also cannot result in deportation.
• It must be clarified which exceptional cases permit foreign agencies to refuse an apprenticeship permit.
• Recognition of foreign training qualifications must truly be handled flexibly and pragmatically (partial recognition).
In the course of the forum, Prof. Dr. Klaus J. Bade was bidden farewell as a member of the OBS Advisory Committee. The Chair of the Advisory Committee, Dr. Marianne Krüger-Potratz; the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Eberhard Diepgen; and the Managing Chair of OBS, Dr. Lothar Theodor Lemper, thanked him for his service to OBS and awarded him the Executive Board’s Certificate of Appointment as an honorary member of OBS.
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