Germany eases immigration laws for professionals

AP News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2011 7:12 AM
Germany eases immigration laws for professionals

Catherine Lees moved to Berlin in 2008, thinking she could easily find work in a nation whose schools are strapped for teachers. Two years later she left, after German officials refused to recognize her early childhood education degree from Australia.

"I was not going to be able to make proper money, have access to professional education or get conditions that I was used to in Australia," Lees, 28, told The Associated Press.

Legislation passed Wednesday by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet aims to change all that, making it easier for foreign professionals to get their qualifications recognized and use their skills in Germany.

Germany estimates some 300,000 immigrants already living in the country have no right to work because their professional qualifications or degrees from foreign institutions are not recognized. At the same time, Germany faces a severe shortage of skilled labor _ it's unemployment rate dipped to 7.9 percent last month, one of the lowest in Europe.

"You can still find the doctor from Israel or Turkey whose job qualifications are not being approved," Education Minister Annette Schavan told reporters in Berlin. "We need different rules, rules that do justice to today's globalized world and mobility."

The new law still needs to pass Germany's lower and upper house of parliament later this year.

The law targets foreign professionals from all over the world and will apply to those already living in Germany as well as prospective newcomers. Citizens from fellow European Union nations are already overwhelmingly allowed to work freely in all of the bloc's 27 member nations.

"There is a young generation out there today that naturally plans its careers as taking place on different continents," Schavan said, implying that Germany no longer wants to lose out on international high achievers, who often prefer the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom over Germany.

"We now have a lack of 400,000 engineers, master craftsmen and skilled workers," Hans Heinrich Driftmann of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce DIHK said recently. "We're already losing one percent of our economic growth and in the future this shortage will only get worse."

His group has repeatedly warned that an aging population is going to sharpen Germany's labor problem in coming years and that companies need to be more open-minded toward immigrants. Without that, it says Germany could end up with a labor shortage of five million people within the next 15 years _ which would also mean a lack of millions of people paying taxes or investing in the country's pension funds.

Germany's booming economy is especially aggravated by a shortage of engineers _ there were some 80,600 open jobs in the profession last month, according to the Association of German Engineers.

Physicians are also desperately needed. A doctors association, Marburger Bund, says the country lacks 12,000 physicians at hospitals and 3,000 general practitioners.

However, for some like the Palestinian immigrant Shakib Amawi, the labor law reforms may have come too late.

Amawi holds a degree in civil engineering from a college in Kuwait, where he also worked for seven years. When he came to Germany in 1992, he was not allowed to seek work as a civil engineer and took a lesser job as a machine operator in a bread factory near Duesseldorf.

That company closed last year and now the 50-year-old is seeking work again. Although his degree may finally be recognized, he fears it may be too late.

"I've sent out so many applications again," Amawi told the AP in a telephone interview. "But now everybody tells me that I'm too old and it's been too long since I worked as an engineer."

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Melissa Eddy contributed reporting from Berlin.