Germany needs to reform its immigration laws: Expert

Germany needs to reform its immigration laws: Expert

EU’s largest economy could face major problems unless it attracts, retains highly skilled immigrants, says Professor Panu Poutvaara

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) - Germany needs to reform its citizenship and immigration laws to attract more skilled workers from abroad, a senior migration expert told Anadolu Agency.

“The number of those retiring is bigger than those entering the labor market. So without immigration, the German economy could face major problems,” Professor Panu Poutvaara told Anadolu Agency.

Poutvaara, director of the ifo Institute’s Center for Migration Research, based in Munich, said Germany needs 400,000 skilled workers each year to meet labor market demands, according to official estimates.

The EU’s largest economy is currently facing a significant workforce shortage, especially in the information technology, renewable energy, construction, engineering, and medical sectors.

Poutvaara said the government’s planned reforms to the immigration law could help the country address demographic challenges and stay competitive.

“In general, this is a very modern law, and it may very well be that it’s the most modern,” he said, but cautioned that much depends on its implementation and cutting red tape.

“A big question is how smooth the implementation will be, especially the waiting times at embassies and consulates. If those waiting times can be sufficiently shortened, the law has great potential,” he said.

“Another problem Germany has and Germany can address is bureaucracy. So, for example, when it comes to recognizing the skills of nurses, it takes way too long in Germany and speeding up such administrative processes is the most important part of the new immigration law,” he added.

- Catching up with US and UK

According to the plan, Germany will adopt a new points-based immigration system in 2023, similar to the Canadian model, which will allow well-qualified non-EU citizens to come and look for a job.

The reform also foresees simplifying administrative procedures for the recognition of professional qualifications of immigrants and making it easier for them to bring family members.

German industry associations and companies have long called for the reforms, stressing that the country is lagging behind traditional immigrant countries in attracting highly skilled immigrants and offering opportunities.

“I would not say that Germany has been unpopular. So currently, Germany is after the US, the country which has the highest number of immigrants worldwide. But it’s true that, when it comes to attracting, let’s say for example, IT professionals, or medical doctors, or nurses, then Germany is in a weaker position than the US or the UK, Canada,” said Poutvaara.

“A big part of this is language, so that English-speaking countries have an advantage because a lot of potential immigrants speak English, either as a mother tongue or have studied it at school,” he said.

Germany’s planned reforms will also enable immigrants to hold dual citizenship, or multiple nationalities, which is currently not possible for immigrants from certain countries.

Poutvaara said the reform would be a positive step and would enhance the integration of immigrants and their children.

“I would say that, definitely, being able to acquire citizenship faster helps in integration,” he said, citing various studies.

“Getting citizenship makes people more integrated and gives, especially children, stronger incentives to invest in country-specific skills,” he said, referring to language skills and cultural knowledge.

“It makes sense to require language skills and test for the citizenship because if there would be no test to prove language skills then there would be less incentive to invest in language learning,” he said.

- Shortening the wait

Germany’s center left-liberal coalition government is planning to finalize work on the legislative changes in the coming weeks and submit them to parliament for approval in the first half of 2023.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats, the Greens, and the pro-business Free Democrats pledged to reform citizenship and immigration laws when they signed their coalition agreement in December 2021.

As part of immigration reforms, those who have already lived in Germany for several years should be able to become citizens more easily. Instead of eight years, as is currently the case, it should be possible to obtain citizenship after just five years of residence in Germany.

In the case of "special integration achievements," it should even be possible after three years – for example if immigrants have shown special academic, professional achievements, voluntary commitment, or have particularly good language skills.

Children born in Germany to foreign parents should automatically become Germans if one parent has had their "lawful habitual residence" in Germany for five years. So far, that has only been the case after eight years.

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