Skilled Personnel Welcome Germany Is Becoming Increasingly Attractive to Immigrants

Importance of welcoming culture underestimated
Importance of welcoming culture underestimated | Photo (detail): © Marco2811/

People here speak Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek. In Kreuzberg cafés, in the Berlin underground, in scene bars in the city centre, the trend is particularly conspicuous. These are not tourists on tour in Germany; more and more they are young immigrants from southern Europe fleeing the crisis and going to Berlin. Bookshops even offer guides in Italian and Portuguese for new Berliners.

In the last two years Germany has become more and more attractive to immigrants. The country that has successfully defied the economic and financial crisis has recorded a strong influx of people from southern and eastern Europe. In the first half of 2012 some 16,000 came from Greece, 78.2 percent more than in the first half of 2011. Eleven thousand came from Spain, 53.4 percent more. And the number of immigrants from Portugal went up a good 53 percent: from 2,000 to 6,000.

The end of skills shortages?

“For Germany, this is great”, says Herbert Brücker, migration expert at the Institute for Labour Market and Employment Research (IAB) in Nuremberg. Fifty to seventy percent of the immigrants of these countries, he says, are university graduates, many of them in the sought-after fields of science and technology. But caregivers and nurses also soon find work. Medium-sized companies fall over themselves to greet engineers, software specialists and computer scientists. Sometimes skilled professionals advertise in Spanish internet portals and newspapers. The Federal Employment Agency also helps in the search for suitable applicants. According to a report in a Portuguese business newspaper, more than 10,000 people applied for 2,500 vacant positions in the city of Schwäbisch-Hall. The media are already euphorically reporting the end of skills shortages.

The downside

But this is only one side of immigration. Because between the mechanical engineer who quickly finds a well-paying job and a temporary worker who, having been lured to Germany, must then work for a wage barely sufficient to eke out an existence, there is a world of difference. Unfortunately, there have recently been reports about cases resembling the latter. They concern mainly migrant workers from Eastern European countries, people who only recently have come to enjoy freedom of movement within the EU and who have increasingly made use of it. Although the figures for the first half of 2012 show that immigration from southern Europe has been rising, actually the larger number of people are going to Germany from the new EU accession countries: Poland (about 89,000), Bulgaria and Romania (88,000) and Hungary (25,000). In total these immigrants amounted to about a 24 percent increase over the number in the same period last year. This, too, says migration expert Brücker, is a result of the economic crisis. Migrant workers that previously sought jobs in Spain or Greece now go to Germany.

Importance of welcoming culture

What is being done to accommodate immigrants in Germany or, even more, to “integrate” them? The companies desperately seeking skilled personnel offer a wide range of aids in acclimatisation. One business in the Swabian town of Künzelsau has rented an apartment house where newcomers can initially lodge before they find a flat. Company employees help them with administrative formalities, buying a car and in learning German. At a company in Bremen an employee originally from Spain helps in finding the right specialists from his country.

The Germans themselves are divided in their opinion about immigration. According to a study published in mid-December 2012 by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the majority of Germans think their country is an attractive place to which to immigrate and one out of two look upon immigration as an effective remedy against skills shortages and the ageing of society. But nearly two-thirds of those questioned also believe that immigration leads to additional burdens on the social system, to conflicts with the native population and to problems in the schools. One positive sign: the younger those questioned were, the fewer the reservations they had about immigrants. “Germany underestimates the importance of a welcoming culture and underestimates its attraction as a country for immigration”, says Ulrich Kober, who presented the Bertelsmann Foundation’s study.

There seems to be plenty of “welcoming culture” when it comes to the right skilled labour force. After all, the federal government has facilitated the process for the recognition of foreign degrees. But there is still need of a welcoming culture particularly for those who, having come to Germany, live to begin with at the margins of society.