"Bienvenidos! Welcome to Baden-Württemberg!" Several initiatives are currently underway in the southwestern German state, home of the Black Forest, to attract young workers from Spain.
Plagued with a lack of skilled workers, rural southern Germany has focused on attracting Spanish workers looking for jobs as apprentices in the restaurant business, as skilled workers at hospitals or daycare facilities, or as engineers for the kind of small to mid-sized industries that form the backbone of the German economy.
The idea behind the campaign is simple: Southern Europe is faced with dramatically high youth unemployment, and small and mid-sized businesses in southern Germany are in desperate need of personnel. Why not let young and experienced skilled workers from Southern Europe come to Germany, creating a win-win situation?
But things aren't as easy as many politicians would like to think. Figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicate that many immigrants quickly leave Germany. According to the OECD's International Migration Outlook, released on Thursday, in recent years only one in two Greeks remained in Germany for longer than one year, and only one in three Spaniards.
The study serves a warning sign for Germany, whose population is graying and at the same time shrinking. Germany seems to be having trouble getting new immigrants to stay. In 2012, with 1 million new immigrants to Germany, the country ended up with just under 400,000 more people, when one factors in the number of those emigrating. About 4,000 more people emigrated to Turkey than came to Germany from the country last year.
Not the Same 'Guest Workers'
The current initiatives led by politicians and business associations are reminiscent of the campaigns in the 1960s and '70s to attract so-called Gastarbeiter, or "guest workers." Politicians and businesses at that time lured about 4 million workers from Southern Europe with cash bonuses and welcome gifts. In 1964, the millionth guest worker was publicly greeted at the train station by Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA). A brass band played the toreador aria from "Carmen," and it was reported in the press all over West Germany how the Portuguese immigrant's eyes shone as local dignitaries gave him a brand-new moped.
In 2013, local welcoming committees armed with flowers and presents are waiting for skilled workers from Southern Europe who have responded to the call for openings in the predominantly rural areas. The biggest difference is that in the decades past, it was mostly unskilled workers who came to Germany to do simple work. They also were meant to come to the country for only a few years, until the reconstruction work was done and the shortage of skilled workers was overcome.
Today, businesses are looking for educated workers who can speak German, and they want the immigrants to stay and to raise their families here. Indeed, these days the lack of skilled workers isn't a passing phenomenon. With a ticking demographic time bomb, the need continues to grow for new immigrants each year.
Therefore, it is good that the campaign to attract workers seems to be working. One million people relocated to the country in 2012. The last time the numbers were that high was in the mid-1990s. Many of those new to Germany last year were from the countries hit hardest by the euro crisis in Southern Europe. The number of people coming from Spain increased 45 percent over the previous year. Forty percent more immigrants came from Greece, Portugal, and Italy than in 2011.
But how can Germany keep the immigrants once they have arrived? For the most part, they are young and extremely well-qualified. "One trend is clearly visible: The immigrants who are coming to Germany now cannot be compared to those who came as guest workers in the 1960s," says Klaus-Heiner Röhl, an expert on regional politics at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research. "They are clearly better qualified and the number of those immigrating who have college degrees is rising."
Of the new immigrants, 43 percent between the ages of 15 and 65 have a master certification, university degree or a degree from a technical school. In contrast, only 26 percent of German-born citizens have comparable qualifications.
Still, quick integration into the German workforce will not work in many locations. That may be because, in many cases, it is the new immigrants to Germany themselves who self-identify as guest workers who are simply trying to bridge a short-term gap in the labor market.
"The young people want to return to their home countries once their economies are faring better," says Johann Fuchs, an analyst at the Institute for Employment Research (IAB). And that could lead to a situation in which German companies have concerns that they are investing in the training and integration of workers from the euro-zone crisis countrises, only to see them leave to go back home in a few years.
The shortage of skilled workers is already palpable in some regions and industries. "But that does not apply nationwide for all businesses," Fuchs says. "Most companies are aware of the trends, and they know that the labor force potential is constantly sinking. But the sense of emergency is not yet so great that they are immediately hiring under any conditions. Those workers from Southern Europe who need language and integration courses are often not their first choice.