Skilled workers are urgently needed in Germany. Politics, business and experts agree that the gap in the labor market must also be closed through immigration. The new Skilled Immigration Act, which will gradually come into force this Saturday, is intended to help.

“We are creating a modern immigration law that is up to date and is therefore at the forefront in a global comparison,” said the Federal Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, Reem Alabali-Radovan (SPD), to the German Press Agency. The law was overdue and bold reforms had been neglected for too long. “Now it’s 5 to 12.”

Wasn’t there something like this already?

Yes, Germany has had a skilled immigration law since March 2020. The law was passed by the black-red coalition to make it easier for qualified workers to move in from non-EU countries. Now it has been reformed because there is still a shortage of staff in many places, especially skilled workers.

The fact that the Skilled Immigration Act of 2020 did not have the desired effect was also due to the corona pandemic, said Pau Palop-García from the German Center for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM). In addition, the bureaucratic burden for foreigners who want to come to Germany as migrant workers is still high.

What changes now?

What is new is the introduction of a so-called opportunity card based on a points system. The selection criteria for immigrants willing to work who choose this path include language skills, professional experience, age and connection to Germany. In the future, foreign skilled workers will have to achieve a minimum salary of around 43,800 euros, instead of the previous gross annual salary of 58,400 euros.

Asylum seekers who entered the country before March 29, 2023 and have a qualification and a job offer should be able to apply for a residence permit as a skilled worker if they withdraw their asylum application. Until now, you had to first leave the country and then apply for a work visa from abroad.

In the future, anyone who comes to Germany as a highly qualified specialist from a non-EU country should not only be able to bring their spouse and children with them, but also parents and parents-in-law. However, the prerequisite for family reunification is that the livelihood of the relatives is secured. Parents cannot apply for social benefits.

How serious is the situation on the labor market?

Germany’s companies are currently unable to fill around 1.73 million vacancies, according to the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research (IAB) in its quarterly survey. The Federal Employment Agency (BA) alone reported 748,665 unfilled positions in October. According to the BA, the average completed vacancy time to fill a position is currently 153 days. According to the BA, this reflects the difficulties many companies have in finding suitable workers and skilled workers in a timely manner despite increasing unemployment and underemployment.

What do associations say about this?

There is a desperate need for staff in nursing and crafts. However, the German Professional Association for Nursing Professions (DBfK) sees no solution to the problem of skilled workers in the law. “On the one hand, because the shortage of skilled workers in the nursing professions is a problem worldwide, and on the other hand, because the general conditions for nurses in Germany are not attractive,” said DBfK Federal Managing Director Bernadette Klapper.

“The best law is of no use if there is too much bureaucracy to deal with and if implementation is lacking,” said the President of the Central Association of German Crafts (ZDH), Jörg Dittrich. Small and medium-sized companies in particular lack concrete advice and support measures when searching for and recruiting qualified skilled workers abroad and when integrating them locally.

The Social Association of Germany (SoVD) warned that sufficient affordable housing as well as school and daycare places for family reunification must be made available to immigrants. “There must be no new distribution battles here,” said SoVD board chairwoman Michaela Engelmeier. You shouldn’t lose sight of the people who are already here. They need to be better integrated into work. These included the long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, older people, immigrants and women.

Does the law go far enough?

The Skilled Immigration Act points in the right direction, said Anja Piel, board member of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB). “Where there are large gaps in skilled workers, there are usually also structural problems such as poor pay and poor working conditions.” Now it is important to make better use of existing potential.

“The Skilled Immigration Act is an important welcome signal,” said the Federal Association of German Employers’ Associations (BDA). But it could only be a first step. The migration administration is already completely overloaded. “Workers who already have an employment contract and could start tomorrow are waiting months to get started.”

How big is the interest?

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) offers advice for people abroad who are interested in working in Germany. According to the BAMF, there were 71,409 consultations on skilled immigration last year – an increase of 13 percent compared to the previous year.

Germany is – despite the difficult language – very popular with skilled workers abroad, said Sekou Keita from the IAB. In surveys, Germany often ends up in third place, just behind Canada and the USA. “Germany relies heavily on the image of a strong economy with good professional opportunities,” said Keita.