Published Date: 

Michael Gardner 06 December 2022

The German government’s new benchmark paper on an immigration act for skilled labour has generally been welcomed by higher education organisations, although World University Service, an international non-governmental organisation supporting students and staff in higher education institutions, cautions that it must not jeopardise prospects for countries in the Global South to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The benchmark paper refers to the three pillars of skilled labour from countries outside the European Union (third countries): skills, professional experience and potential for sustainable integration into the labour market.

Legislation would contain a package of low-threshold, straightforward requirements for immigration as well as measures to boost the learning of German, facilitate entry into the country and make transition into its labour market easier – all of which are aimed at securing Germany’s skilled labour base.

Competition with the United States

The paper comes at a time when apprehension is mounting in German industry and politics and in the European Union as a whole over remaining competitive vis-à-vis the United States.

Already in late October, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed that Europe’s future competitiveness depended on developing a “workforce with the right skills” and highlighted the need to make Europe more attractive for skilled labour from third countries.

The new strategy of the United States to heavily subsidise green technology is putting further pressure on the EU and in particular the German economy.

“It’s welcome, and right, that politics is now focusing more strongly on the considerable potential of international students and graduates from German universities as future skilled labour,” said Joybrato Mukherjee, president of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

“The vast majority of them are highly qualified young people who are familiar with German culture and have acquired language skills. Moreover, nearly half of them are studying STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects, which are in very high demand, and surveys have shown us that many of them seek to stay on and work in Germany once they have graduated.

“This is something we ought to make much more use of as a society, and here, the federal government’s new benchmark paper recommends the right legal adjustments,” he said.

The DAAD is already running a number of programmes supporting the aims of the benchmark paper, including grant schemes for specially talented students, providing information on the German higher education system and offering language programmes in Germany and abroad. During the last few years, more programmes have been introduced addressing the special needs of refugee students.

A recent survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that international graduates from German universities already account for roughly a quarter of all skilled labour immigration.

“In order to retain the best brains in Germany, it is important to improve the overall framework for recruitment and preparing studies and provide international students with more support when entering the German labour market,” Mukherjee said. “The DAAD is ready to back the federal government in expanding its activities in this area.”

Fair globalisation

While World University Service (WUS) generally welcomed the German government’s intention to establish what it refers to as a modern law on immigration and, where justified, recruit skilled labour from third countries, it noted that this should only be done if a respective country of origin’s own demand for skills is met.

It emphasises that international students and graduates from German universities ought to be able to gather professional experience in Germany for two or three years but should then apply their qualifications and skills in their countries of origin.

As in the past, Germany ought to provide support in this phase with business start-up programmes and by arranging employment. This ultimately benefits German companies and their subsidiaries abroad, WUS argued, since international graduates are not only highly qualified but are also familiar with German culture and approaches in various areas.

“As understandable as the demand for skilled labour for Germany is, it must not be met at the expense of the need for well-qualified staff in Africa, Asia and Latin America,” said WUS-Germany Chairman Kambiz Ghawami.

“If globalisation is to develop in a fair manner, recruiting skilled labour urgently sought in Germany must not result in countries of the Global South failing to achieve the goals of the Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030 because of a lack of skilled staff and have the future prospects of people once again sacrificed in favour of the industrialised nations.

“It would be absurd to second development aid workers and experts from Germany to remedy shortcomings in the Global South arising from the recruitment of prospective skilled labour from Africa, Asia and Latin America,” Ghawami said.

Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock, on her visit to India to rally support for the West’s confrontation with Russia and China, has signed a mobility and migration agreement with her Indian counterpart Subramanyam Jaishankar. One of its aims is to facilitate stays of highly qualified professionals and students from India in Germany.