Germany unveils immigration reform plan to tackle labour shortages
Adds quotes from labour and interior ministers, comments from migration expert
BERLIN, March 29 (Reuters) -Germany on Wednesday unveiled draft reforms on immigration, skills training and promoting immigration from Western Balkan countries, a bid by Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government to plug labour shortages in Europe's largest economy.
"Securing our skilled labour base is one of Germany's biggest economic tasks for the coming decades," Labour Minister Hubertus Heil said.
The number of job vacancies in 2022 was at a record high of close to 2 million, according to the ministry.
One of the reforms is a new immigration law that aims to address key hurdles for migrants to Germany, particularly for those coming from outside the European Union.
"With this, we are laying the foundation for a new start in migration policy," Finance Minister Christian Lindner tweeted after the cabinet approved the reforms. "Anyone who can contribute to the country's economic success as a skilled worker is welcome."
The draft law, seen by Reuters, says the reform could increase the number of workers from countries outside the EU by 60,000 people a year.
"If people bring professional experience or personal potential with them, we will make it possible for them to gain a foothold in our labour market," Germany's Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.
It offers foreign workers three pathways to enter the country. The first one requires a professional or university degree recognised in Germany, and an employment contract.
The second requires a minimum of two years of experience working in a relevant sector, and a degree or vocational training.
The third is a new "opportunity card" for individuals who do not have a job offer but have the potential to find work. The opportunity card follows a points-based system that takes into account qualifications, language skills, professional experience, connection to Germany and age.
"The draft contains a number of innovative and sensible ideas, but it is not far-reaching enough to do justice to the problem we are facing," migration expert Herbert Bruecker told Reuters. He said the requirements of the opportunity card were too complex just for a temporary visa to look for work.
The cabinet also approved an education law that entitles young people to paid off-the-job training. Germany's Federal Labour Agency will pay up to 67% of the net salary for the duration of the training.
The cabinet also decided to extend regulations for job-seekers from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which were previously expected to expire at the end of the year. Germany will be able to recruit up to 50,000 workers annually from these countries. Under this regulation, Germany had previously been able to recruit 25,000 workers per year.
Bruecker welcomed this extension, noting that employment rates among these immigrants were between 97% and 98% three to five years after moving to Germany.
"The scheme is a complete success and it should be extended to other countries," Bruecker said.
Reporting by Maria Martinez and Holger Hansen; editing by Matthias Williams and Bernadette Baum
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