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New immigration rules for non-EU specialists to come into force in Germany

Out-Law News | 28 Feb 2020 | 5:20 pm | 3 min. read

New immigration rules for skilled workers from non-EU counties come into force in Germany on 1 March.

The new law is intended to make it easier for these workers to access the German labor market.

The new law creates a uniform concept of 'skilled workers', which covers both professionals with vocational training and those with academic degrees. The rules on immigration of professionals without academic training have also been loosened.

The changes are intended to bring more applicants from countries outside the EU to Germany, according to the Handelsblatt. Despite the weakening economy, there is a shortage of specialists with university degrees, such as engineers or doctors, but also of specialists with vocational training such as craftsmen or nurses. Up to 1.6 million jobs are vacant, according to the 2018 labor market report of the German Chamber of Industry & Commerce.

Labor law expert Carolin Kaiser of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "Especially for employers who primarily employ and need specialists in training occupations, this approach represents a major improvement to counteract the shortage of skilled workers in Germany."

Kaiser Carolin July_2019

Carolin Kaiser

Rechtsanwältin

It remains to be seen whether the new law is really an effective solution to counteract the shortage of skilled workers or whether the criticism will be confirmed that it is far from comprehensive enough.

"The immigration law for skilled workers is a logical first step towards a further opening of the German labor market. However, it remains to be seen whether it is really an effective solution to counteract the shortage of skilled workers or whether the criticism will be confirmed that it is far from comprehensive enough," she said.

From 1 March, individuals will be able to spend up to six months in Germany to look for a job provided that they are qualified and speak German. Previously, only academics were allowed to do this.

If an applicant has a recognized qualification and an employment contract, the so-called 'priority test' will also be omitted. This test checks whether Germans or EU citizens available on the job market are suitable for the job. Also, immigration is no longer limited to specialists from 'bottleneck' professions.

A foreign qualification must be considered equivalent to a qualification acquired in Germany in order to be recognized. The relevant immigration authority at the location of work will check whether this is the case. The applicant bears the costs for this: in some cases this may be the employer, in others the employee.

"Recruiting personnel from outside Europe is not to be underestimated and could be a challenge, especially for small and medium-sized companies," Kaiser said. "They will have to reconsider whether specialists from third countries really are the solution to their shortage of skilled workers."

"Although there are government initiatives to secure skilled workers for small and medium-sized companies, it remains to be seen to what extent these will suffice under the Immigration Act and actually help companies in practice," she said.

The reform of the skilled workers immigration law might ease some bureaucratic hurdles, but will also create additional bureaucratic effort for employers, Kaiser said. An obligation to register has now been introduced. The employer must report to the competent immigration office within four weeks if an employment relationship with a specialist from abroad ends prematurely.

"Employers should take this new reporting requirement seriously, as fines could be imposed," Kaiser said.

The new law also gives the federal states the opportunity to create central immigration authorities by merging the local authorities. However, the introduction of central immigration authorities is not required by law.

"It remains to be seen whether this will be used as an opportunity to pool competencies so that employers and employees can benefit from accelerated procedures," said Kaiser. "In any case, their competence would be limited to the first entry visa. This could result in additional uncertainties for employers, particularly with regard to the question of which immigration authority is responsible in a specific case and procedures could be delayed again."

"As long as there is no central immigration authority, the competences are as follows: In case that the foreigner already lives in Germany, the immigration authority in the place where the foreigner is located is responsible. If he is abroad, the authority located where he wants to take his residence is responsible," she said.

Experts also see the high level of bureaucratic effort involved in recognizing foreign professional qualifications as a problem. Professor Herbert Brücker from the Institute For Labor Market And Vocational Research said  that the legislative reform would have relatively little effect because the recognition of professional qualifications remains a hurdle.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research wants to facilitate and speed up the recognition process. The Central Service Center for Professional Recognition (ZSBA) was set up for this purpose. It is a pilot project for a period of four years and located at the Federal Employment Agency (BA) in Bonn.

The ZSBA is to advise and support applicants before and during the recognition process and to forward their applications to the responsible authorities. However, it is only "a non-binding service offer and not a consistent or competent authority", according to the Federal Government.