Germany opens door to skilled migrants as population shrinks
ATA Ucertas, a doctor from Istanbul with a moustache that curls up his cheeks, was welcomed with open arms when he came to Germany this year, evidence of a shift in German attitudes as its population shrinks and labour becomes scarce.
A fifth of residents and a third of school children have a migrant background, making up a growing share of the electorate.
With elections in a month’s time, the changing attitudes are reflected in the rhetoric of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.
A decade ago, when unemployment was high and immigration laws strict, Mrs Merkel’s party campaigned on slogans like ‘Kinder statt Inder’ (Children instead of Indians). Now they are calling for a “welcome culture” towards migrants.
“Germany is making a lot of effort to promote immigration because of the very severe demographic situation, which will affect it more than virtually any other OECD country,” said OECD migration expert Thomas Liebig.
“The discussion about a welcome culture is part of the whole process of becoming a country for which migration is normal.”
With joblessness near its lowest level since reunification, the country faces a shortage of 5.4 million skilled workers by 2025, despite attempts to mobilise women and older people.
Nearly 300,000 people, mainly from the European Union, migrated on a long-term basis to Germany in 2011, OECD data shows, around a third more than in 2010. Most came from the eastern states that joined the EU in 2004, such as Poland. Germany has long been notorious for its bureaucratic hurdles and an off-putting attitude towards economic migration.
The hundreds of thousands of ‘guest workers’ recruited from Italy, Greece, Turkey and other southern states in the 1960s to help it rebuild from the rubble of World War II were not encouraged to integrate and learn the language, though many did.
Germany has recently been unwinding its recruitment ban, starting with highly qualified workers and slashing the minimum salary and investment that workers and entrepreneurs needed to immigrate.
This month, it jettisoned 40pc of its immigration rules, lowering barriers for medium-skilled workers in sectors with chronic shortages such as train drivers and electricians.
“This little revolution has gone by largely unnoticed,” said the OECD’s Mr Liebig. For highly skilled workers, Germany now has some of the most liberal immigration laws of the 34 OECD states.
Immigration is rising so much that Germany’s population grew in 2011 for the first time in nearly a decade. But relative to its population, it still attracts only a tenth as many foreign workers as countries like Canada, which have traditionally welcomed immigration.