Despite the record number of immigrants coming to Germany, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is calling for a strategic realignment of the country's policy on immigration. "Germany will need more qualified immigrants than ever before," said Jörg Dräger, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board. "Unfortunately, it is still not attractive enough, especially to people from outside the EU." Dräger also warned against expectations that the influx of workers from Europe's crisis-ridden southern countries would remain strong. In order to attract more highly skilled workers to Germany over the long term, the Gütersloh-based foundation is thus proposing a range of measures consisting of new immigration regulations, a revised right to citizenship and increased efforts to make newcomers feel welcome. According to a recent study carried out on behalf of the foundation, if these measures were put into place, Germany's social welfare systems and labor market would benefit from immigration to an even greater extent than is currently the case.
In its proposal, the Bertelsmann Stiftung documents the loosening of restrictions that has taken place in Germany's immigration policy in recent decades, even if the country continues to subscribe to the exclusionary attitude adopted in the 1970s. "We are creating one legal loophole after the next, instead of viewing immigration as desirable and normal," said Dräger. "The result is a lack of policy management that led to Germany attracting only 17,000 skilled workers from outside the EU in 2011, out of a total of more than 300,000 immigrants." In addition, four out of ten immigrants who arrived in 2009 from non-EU nations have already left the country. "Too few are coming, and the few that do are not staying long enough," Dräger said.
Germany will continue to need a reliable, long-term inflow of immigrants, above all because of the demographic developments the country is experiencing. In a study carried out on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, Herbert Brücker, professor of economics at the University of Bamberg and departmental manager at the Institute for Employment Research, notes that without more immigrants, Germany will only have 27 million workers at its disposal in the year 2050, compared to 45 million today.
The study also shows that Germany's social welfare programs are not burdened by immigrants, but benefit from their presence instead. When all government transfer payments are considered, the country's social welfare programs – which will continue to grow as the population ages – currently come out ahead financially. This gain would increase if more immigrants decided to move to Germany, an increase that rises the more skilled the immigrants are. The country's public pay-as-you-go insurance systems – those financed by current payroll deductions, such as the pension, nursing care and health insurance systems – would especially benefit. "The gain for social welfare programs, which amounted to €2,000 annually per immigrant in the mid-2000s, is even greater for immigrants arriving today," said Brücker. In addition, his calculations show that higher levels of immigration do not lead to increased unemployment, but would, depending on the qualifications of those coming to Germany, even decrease the jobless rate by up to 0.12 percent. In the study, the labor market specialist also comes to the conclusion that more immigrants would not have a negative impact on wages.
Targeted immigration policies could promote the positive trend that has made itself evident over the past 10 years, namely the ongoing rise of qualification levels among immigrants. For example, 43 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 65 who came to Germany in 2009 had a university-level degree or were qualified craftsmen or technicians. Not only is that figure almost twice as high as in the year 2000 (23 percent), it also exceeds the figure for the native population. At the same time, the proportion of immigrants who were students rose from 14 to 23 percent. "The structure of people coming to Germany has changed," writes Brücker.
According to his findings, however, this development has only been influenced to a small degree by the country's immigration policies, which the study describes as mostly reactive. According to the study, immigration to Germany has in the past "generally resulted from major political events such as the fall of the Iron Curtain and the civil wars in former Yugoslavia." Now, the EU’s eastern enlargement and the economic crisis in Southern Europe are causing a large number of people to move to Germany to find work. "Of the increase in immigration that has occurred since 2007, 71 percent can be ascribed to worsening economic conditions in other countries," Brücker said.
"The current immigration boom is good for Germany, but can't last. In the future the country is going to need more immigrants who come from non-EU countries," said Dräger. In order to attract more highly skilled workers from beyond the EU, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is recommending that Germany adopt new regulations in order to more actively manage work-related immigration. Its model differentiates between four types of immigrants: highly skilled workers, workers employed in industries lacking qualified personnel, immigrants seeking further education and temporary workers. According to the new approach, the first two groups will be able to apply for a "black-red-gold card," named for the country's national colors. The cards would be awarded based on a point system that would take into account each immigrant's qualifications and the overall needs of the German job market. The card would include unrestricted residence and work permits and would make it easier for the holder to acquire German citizenship. The other two groups would receive a temporary residence permit, with the number of people receiving a permit adjusted based on ongoing needs. The new approach would also make it easier for students to extend their residence permit if they decide to stay in Germany.
According to Dräger, such immigration regulations would play a key role – if only a partial one – in helping Germany acknowledge and welcome immigrants. "Germany will only become attractive if immigrants like the whole package," he said. "Quality of life, safety, infrastructure and opportunities for family members are just as decisive as economic and legal conditions." In its proposal, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is therefore also recommending better language-learning programs, more protection from discrimination and less complicated procedures for taking on German citizenship. "The first task is to convince highly skilled immigrants to come here," Dräger said. "The second is making sure they want to stay."