The German government has made a conscious effort to attract immigrants to the country, including by establishing pro-growth policies on high-skilled immigration. In 2012, approximately 400,000 people immigrated to Germany, more than 100,000 higher than the number in 2011.22
The German economy has performed better than most others in Europe, which has attracted increased immigration from European Union (EU) countries. “But more than the rest of Europe, its healthy economy needs additional workers, especially for jobs requiring high levels of training and education, a problem likely to be exacerbated in the long run by its low birthrate,” reported The New York Times. “Right now Germany is trying to fill 117,000 jobs in science, technology and engineering, a gap that may widen to as many as one million by 2020, according to the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.”23
Germany has established policies that make it easy to attract those workers, both for employers and for new or transferred foreign-born employees. “Highly skilled people are very rarely turned down for work visas in Germany. The country needs highly qualified people,” said Lucy Jacobs, associate, Palladium Mobility Group in Dresden. Jacobs pointed out that denials usually happen only in the case of fraud or security threats.24
The EU Blue Card, which has no annual quota, is a key part of the country’s openness to high-skilled professionals. As a member of the EU, Germany already has access to any EU citizen who wished to travel to the country and start working — without the need for immigration processing. Starting in 2012, the EU Blue Card made it easy for skilled workers outside the EU to work in Germany (and most other EU countries). The temporary work permits for mostly professional positions must pay at least 1.5 times the gross average annual salary, which is about $58,000 a year in Germany.25
Individuals can gain permanent residence after 33 months (or even 21 months) on a Blue Card in Germany. If a non-EU national is not a Blue Card holder, then typically he or she can acquire permanent residence after working in the country no more than five years. Germany has a “job seeker” visa that gives recent graduates six months to find work. Lower-skilled positions are generally filled domestically or via access to the approximately 500 million people in the EU who can work in Germany without the need for immigration approvals. Seasonal visas are also available.
Demographic concerns play a role in Germany’s immigration policies. In a Pew Research survey, 55 percent of Germans said the growing number of older people in the country is a “major problem.”26 More than one-third of the population of Germany will be 65 or older by the year 2050, and the overall population of the country is expected to decline without large increases in immigration.27
In December 2014, protestors marched against the rising number of asylum seekers in Germany, particularly those from Muslim countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the country’s immigration policies and said that, overall, immigration is “a win for us all,” arguing Germany needs more workers to thrive economically.28
22. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2014), International Migration Outlook 2014.
23. Alison Smale (July 18, 2014), “Needing Skilled Workers, a Booming Germany Woos Immigrants,” The New York Times.
24. Interview with Lucy Jacobs.
25. Under German immigration law, the minimum salary in Germany is regulated as follows: two-thirds of the annual earnings ceilings of the annuity assurance (in 2015, 48,400 euros) or in case of shortage occupations (especially in the fields of mathematics, information technology, medicine and engineering) 52 percent of the annual earnings ceilings of the annuity assurance (in 2015, 37,752 euros), according to Stefan Lenz.
26. Pew Research Center (January 30, 2014), Attitudes About Aging: A Global Perspective.
28. Alison Smale (December 30, 2014), “Merkel to Attack Anti-Immigrant Movement in Germany,” The New York Times.