The German government is introducing its own version of a “green card”, the Chancenkarte (literally “opportunity card”), in an attempt to plug its desperate labor shortage. Industry associations have been complaining for some time, and the Labor Ministry has suggested the shortfall is slowing economic growth.
The new “opportunity card,” presented by Labor Minister Hubertus Heil in the German media recently, will offer foreign nationals the chance to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer, as long as they fulfill at least three of these four criteria:
- A university degree or professional qualification
- Professional experience of at least three years
- Language skill or previous residence in Germany
- Aged under 35
Just for comparison, when I first immigrated to Germany, I was expected to have — at least — a Masters’s degree, and (as you’ll see in the “cultural and structural problems) back then the qualifications I had to present had a much higher level of scrutiny than what this new scheme is proposing.
The criteria are not unlike those used in Canada’s points system, though that uses a more complex weight system. And there will be limits and conditions, the minister from the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) emphasized in media interviews this week. The number of cards will be limited by the German government on a year-by-year basis, according to demand in the labor market, he explained.
Isn’t there already a jobseeker’s visa for Germany?
Currently, most workers coming to Germany from outside the EU need a firm job offer to get their visa accepted. They can apply for a visa for job seekers, but the process is often long and laden with bureaucracy. Citizens of certain countries like the US and Australia can come to Germany for up to 90 days without a visa, but they aren’t permitted to enter into a long-term work contract.
The Chancenkarte is therefore expected to make it easier and quicker for non-EU citizens to come to Germany to find work and get a residence permit, rather than having to apply from abroad.
“This is about qualified immigration, an unbureaucratic process, and that’s why it’s important that we say that those who have the opportunity card can earn a living while they are here,” Heil told WDR Radio.
Some are not impressed with Heil’s opportunity card at all. “It’s setting up unnecessarily high hurdles and makes the system more complicated,” said Holger Bonin, research director at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) in Bonn.
To Bonin, Heil’s points system will simply require more bureaucracy.
“Why don’t they make it much simpler? Give people a visa to look for work, and if they don’t find anything within a certain amount of time they have to leave?” he said. “To add extra points to that just makes it more complicated — if these criteria are important to employers, they can decide that during the recruitment. They won’t need a card as a pre-selection.”
Germany’s worker woes
Germany is facing the mammoth task of plugging its growing worker shortage while also overhauling bureaucratic and typically paper-based systems that slow down immigration processes – for instance by making it tricky to get foreign qualifications officially recognized in Germany – or even put people off from applying altogether.
In June 2022, a German Economic Institute report found that 44 percent of businesses feel that worker shortages are holding them back, with significant consequences for the economy. This is the highest proportion recorded since the survey began in 2011.
Cultural and structural problems
Germany’s skilled labor shortage has been an issue for some time. Gesamtmetall, the Federation of German Employers’ Associations in the Metal and Electrical Engineering Industries, says that two out of every five companies in its sector are seeing production hindered by a lack of staff. The Central Association for Skilled Crafts in Germany (ZDH) says that the country is missing around 250,000 skilled craftspeople.
The number of skilled people immigrating to Germany from non-EU countries to work has risen over the last few years, but it is still relatively low. According to the Mediendienst Integration, the number of qualified workers entering Germany was just over 60,000 in 2019, just 12% of all migration from non-EU countries to Germany in that year.
Germany has a few cultural disadvantages compared to other Western nations hoping to attract skilled workers: German is less universally spoken than English. “Skilled workers are almost always looking to get into countries that speak English,” Sowmya Thyagarajan told Deutsche Welle (DW).
Another issue is that German employers traditionally set a higher store by certificates and qualifications, and these are often not recognized in Germany, or take months to approve. “Those problems won’t be solved by introducing an opportunity card,” Bonin said.
There are other systemic problems for German employers: Germany’s federal system means different local authorities sometimes recognize different qualifications, and Germany’s reliance on paper bureaucracy, with employees, often needing translations of their certificates approved by notaries. This too is a concern that Heil is attempting to tackle.
The German Government wants to set an annual quota
According to Heil, the “opportunity card” (Chancenkarte) works as follows: “Every year, according to our needs, we determine a quota for how many people may come to Germany with the opportunity card to look for a job or training here for a certain period of time. For this time, they must be able to secure their own living.”
Anyone who has a degree recognized by Germany, whether training or studies, immediately meets the condition for the “opportunity card.” “But we also want to give people who have other strengths and whom we need in the labor market a chance to come to Germany,” says the minister.
Carter, A., (2022), “Chancenkarte: Germany releases details of new points-based immigration system”, retrieved 20 September 2022 from IamExpat Media website https://www.iamexpat.de/expat-info/german-expat-news/chancenkarte-germany-releases-details-new-points-based-immigration
Goldenberg, R., (2022), “Germany to introduce ‘green card’ to bolster workforce”, retrieved 20 September 2022 from Deutsche Welle (DW) website https://www.dw.com/en/germany-to-introduce-green-card-to-bolster-workforce/a-63046971
Tagesschau (2022), “Heil will Fachkräfte mit “Chancenkarte” locken, retrieved 20 September 2022 from ARD-aktuell / tagesschau.de website https://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/heil-zuwanderung-101.html