View of the Alexanderplatz in Berlin being crossed by many pedestrians and different vehicles.

Does Germany need a new immigration law?

Despite record levels of immigration, relatively few skilled workers are arriving among migrants from non-European countries. Our recent edited volume by policy and legal experts explores the extent to which a new immigration law can help attract the global skilled labor Germany needs to manage demographic change. Our Policy Brief outlines what this legislation should include.

Germany already faces a shortage of skilled labor in technical professions and the health sector. This shortage will worsen once the baby boomers – the generation born in the 1950s and 1960s – enter retirement. Extended working lives, increased levels of investment in education and improved conditions for combining family life with career paths are not enough to close the gap. Germany therefore needs foreign skilled labor. To date, most of this labor has come from other EU countries. However, as societies in these countries are themselves facing an inverted population pyramid, the inflow of skilled labor coming to Germany will soon subside. In the long run, Germany needs more skilled labor from non-European countries.

In 2015, a record 1.1 million more people migrated to than out of Germany. Many of these immigrants are refugees originating from non-European countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet they are taken in on humanitarian grounds, not as a result of professional qualifications. Many of these refugees are highly educated individuals who, once they have acquired German language skills, can help strengthen the German economy and enrich German society. Other refugees, however, do not have the necessary qualifications. It will take years to train these individuals, and not all of them will successfully complete such training. In addition, there are many skilled workers from non-European countries who are not refugees, but have been deterred from seeking work in Germany because of the complicated nature of immigration regulations.

Overall, relatively few skilled workers from non-European countries comprise the record number of immigrants that have come to Germany. As a result, calls for a new immigration law have grown louder among, for example, SPD and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen Bundestag parliamentary groups. 

What must be done to achieve broad-based consensus on a new immigration law and what might this look like?

In our new edited volume on the topic of labor migration in the context of a new immigration law for Germany, various experts from Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), German universities, institutes and the Bertelsmann Stiftung have explored various aspects of a new immigration law. They explain how such a law can help Germany attract more skilled labor.

The first part of the publication delineates what skilled labor migration involves for a receiving country. Indeed, labor migration can succeed only if and when the population remains open to it. There must be a consensus on the advantages of skilled labor migration – only then will a country have a broad majority in favor of an immigration law.

The second part of the publication explores the actual extent of skilled labor migration to Germany. Building a consensus on an immigration law hinges upon raising awareness for the fact that because current inflows of skilled labor are too small, Germany needs more skilled labor from non-European countries.

The third part of the publication presents constructive reforms and the features of a potential immigration law.

Refugees in Germany

Five principles should underpin a new immigration law

The Policy Brief authored by our migration expert Matthias M. Mayer shows what a fair and effective immigration law for Germany would entail. An immigration law makes sense for everyone if it is tailored to labor market needs. Jobs are a key driver of integration and, as such, strengthen openness among local populations toward immigrants. Achieving this does not even require introducing changes to current immigration regulations. A point system like that used in Canada would not yield the desired improvements here. Introducing such a system would involve a considerable investment of time and resources and would potentially result in even more complex immigration procedures.

A new immigration law should be underpinned by the following five principles.

First: Effectiveness. Germany must attract those individuals that our economy needs, that is, people with a university degree or vocational training who can rapidly and smoothly integrate into German society.

Second: Transparency. The available options for entry must be summarized and be given a distinctive label, such as "the Black-Red-Gold Card."

Third: Attractiveness. Those who make the decision to live in Germany should have clear prospects of permanent residency and naturalization. Political stalemates on this issue only serve to deter. Dead-end debates over dual citizenship should also be brought to an end.

Fourth: Efficiency. Creating a Federal Ministry for Migration, Refugees and Integration would help ensure that a new immigration law be implemented effectively.

Fifth: Legitimation. We need to reduce concerns regarding immigration numbers. An open exchange over agreed upon targets such as: "We aim to attract anywhere from X to Y number of skilled workers each year" could help deflate fears and promote more rational discussion. After all, we must continue to attract those we need and offer refuge to those who need us. 

For an excerpt from the edited volume and to order the full publication (currently in German only), please click here. Our Policy Brief is available here.