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Gütersloh, March 27, 2015. In the coming decades, Germany will be more dependent than ever before on immigration. Without immigrants, the number of people of working age would sink from approximately 45 million today to less than 29 million. That would represent a decline of 36 percent. This gap cannot be closed without immigration. Even if women were to be employed at the same rate as men, and the retirement age was increased to 70, the number of potential workers in the country would rise by only about 4.4 million. These are the findings of a new Bertelsmann Stiftung study. The report also forecasts that the currently high rate of immigration from other EU countries will decrease significantly in the near future. This demands stronger efforts to attract qualified workers from non-EU countries.

In 2013, a total of 429,000 more people came to Germany than left the country. The Federal Statistical Office estimates that a net total of 470,000 immigrants arrived last year. According to the study, net immigration at this level would be sufficient for at least the next 10 years to keep the country's potential labor force at a constant level. From that time onward, however, the need for immigrants will grow, because the baby-boomer generation will be entering retirement. One out of two of today's skilled workers with professional training will have left the workforce by 2030.

Immigration from EU countries will fall again

The experts from the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) and the Coburg University of Applied Sciences who carried out the study on the Bertelsmann Stiftung's behalf point to an additional challenge: The current record levels for immigration from EU countries (2013: a net of around 300,000) will not continue. One reason is demographic change, which will shrink populations across the European Union. In addition, as the crisis-stricken countries experience economic recovery, the incentive to emigrate will decline. The study's authors forecast an annual average of just 70,000 immigrants or fewer from EU counties by 2050. This would still be a significantly higher rate of immigration than in the 35 years previous to 2010; in this period, net migration relative to the rest of the European Union was generally evenly balanced.

On the basis of several different possible scenarios, the migration researchers calculate that by 2050, Germany will need a net average of between 276,000 and 491,000 immigrants per year from non-EU countries. In 2013, however, this group represented on balance just 140,000 immigrants, and thus only about a third of total net immigration. In addition, most third-country nationals arriving in Germany came on humanitarian or family-reunification grounds, for study, or for training. By contrast, fewer than 25,000 skilled workers came to the country on the basis of the EU Blue Card or other employment-related residence permits.

Immigration law can help

"Germany cannot rely on continued high immigration from within the European Union. We must set a course now that makes Germany more attractive as a destination country for third-country nationals as well," said Stiftung executive board member Jörg Dräger. According to Dräger, this should include an easily understood immigration system that makes it clear that immigration among the skilled from outside the European Union is not only allowed, but desired. This welcoming signal should be based on a new immigration law that makes immigration rules transparent and simple, and offers immigrants prospects for a long-term stay and swift naturalization. The migration research shows that countries are more attractive to skilled foreign workers if they offer robust opportunities for participation. This includes language support, integration into the labor market, social equality and protection against discrimination.

The study's authors acknowledge that the actual demand for labor is difficult to forecast given the changing character of working environments. For example, digitization could significantly reduce labor demand. Nevertheless, the researchers argue that societal aging represents an insoluble problem for the state budget and social protection systems if net immigration drops significantly.

Stronger recruitment of immigrants from third countries would at the same time increase Germany's responsibility for the stability of labor markets in countries of origin, Dräger said. "Germany must commit itself more strongly to the creation of fair international migration systems." The concept of fairness is also important to Germany’s population: In a recent representative Emnid survey conducted for the Bertelsmann Stiftung, 43 percent of respondents said that Germany should recruit skilled migrants from developing countries only if these countries are not impaired in their development as a consequence.

Additional information

Conducted by IAB experts Johann Fuchs and Alexander Kubis and Lutz Schneider of Coburg University, the study uses various scenarios to explore how the labor-force participation of domestic workers and immigrants from the EU and third countries can counteract the decline in potential labor force. As a result of the Reinhard Mohn Prize, which will be awarded by the Stiftung on June 11 to Prof. Rita Süssmuth for her work on sustainable migration and integration policies, the Bertelsmann Stiftung is this year deeply engaged with the question of how migration systems in Germany and worldwide can be fairly constructed.