The New Guest Workers A German Dream for Crisis Refugees 


Part 3: Germany Must Offer Its New Migrants a Reason To Stay

The generation of Carolina López, Enrico Orselli and Emilia Cincu is coming to Germany because Europe's biggest economy is stable. The crisis has driven people away from their native countries, but if they are to make Germany their permanent home, it has to offer them some good reasons to stay.

"For a long time, immigrants were not treated as if they were welcome. Our society isn't capable yet of being as relaxed about diversity as other immigration countries," Manfred Schmidt, president of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, told the newspaper Die Welt.

The fact that a modern economy has to compete for the best minds is something Germany is now trying to learn on the quick. Monika Varnhagen, head of the Central Foreign and Professional Placement Department at Germany's Federal Employment Agency, says that after 2005 she was busy finding jobs abroad for unemployed Germans.

Now she goes to job fairs and conventions to try to convince Southern Europeans to embark on careers in Germany. There is a shortage of engineers, mechanics, geriatric nurses and doctors, people like Pedro Moura dos Santos, 29, and his wife Ana, 30, of Portugal. Moura dos Santos is now working for fan-making company Ziehl-Abegg in Künzelsau, a town in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, and his wife is still looking for a job. Both are trying to learn German quickly.

A few weeks ago, the Labor Ministry launched a €139-million ($183-million) program to cover the cost of German courses for young Europeans in their native countries, followed by internships in Germany.

Emilio García Barea, 30, from Cádiz in the Andalusia region of Spain, had been out of work for three months. On Dec. 6, 2011, the Stuttgart Employment Agency brought him and 95 other Spanish engineers to Baden-Württemberg, where they met with business executives looking for personnel. They were given two days to find a match, and 33 of the engineers received job offers. García Barea now works for Seeber & Partners, an engineering firm near Stuttgart. His personnel manager says: "Motivated and flexible employees like Emilio García are very hard to find in Germany these days."

García Barea has an open-ended contract and is no longer worried that his bank account will be empty at the end of the month. At first, he attended a German course at an adult education center every evening. His brothers are both attorneys. They stayed in Cádiz, where they are still unemployed. "There is no future in Spain," he says.

New Immigrants often Welcomed

He likes his work and the pay is good, but living in a small town in Baden-Württemberg takes some getting used to. Sometimes he drives into Stuttgart to spend some time in a pub in the eastern part of the city. It's a local hangout for Spanish guest workers who came to Germany decades ago. They watch Spanish football, drink beer and converse in Spanish. Some have learned less German in 50 years than García Barea has in 15 months.

The new immigrants are no exotic models of multiculturalism, living in alternative big-city neighborhoods. In fact, they are often welcomed in conservative environments, such as small towns and villages, because they are needed.

In Deggendorf on the edge of the Bavarian Forest, District Administrator Christian Bernreiter (CSU) explains to locals why the region urgently needs more foreign workers. A few weeks ago, he flew all the way to the Black Sea, to the Bulgarian city of Burgas, to find trainees for his county.

When he spoke to 70 graduates of local high schools at the city's Marine Casino, Bernreiter's sentences were filled with expressions like "welcome," "we need," "we offer," and "a future in Germany."

There is a German-language Goethe high school in Burgas, and young people also learn German at vocational specialty schools for tourism, electronics and mechatronics. This is Bernreiter's third trip to Burgas. His county is running out of young talent. By 2028, the number of young people between 16 and 19 in Deggendorf is expected to have declined by a third. Last year, almost a third of the roughly 3,000 training positions in the Deggendorf Employment Agency district were left unfilled.

Before he went to Bulgaria, says Bernreiter, he looked around just across the border in the Czech Republic, but the area's ambitious young people had already left for Great Britain, Ireland or France. "It was a mistake to assume that the foreigners would show up when we needed them," says Bernreiter. "And why should they, after hearing for years that we don't really like them here?"

Thirty-six trainees from Burgas have moved to Deggendorf since 2011. Dimitar Menchev, 19, arrived last August and is currently installing electric cables in the Golden Angel pub on the Deggendorf town square. "I want to stay in Germany," says Menchev, an electrician's apprentice. He takes six hours of German every Saturday.

Menchev is paid €660 ($867) a month in Deggendorf, which is as much as the combined salaries of his parents at home. His mother works in a bank and his father is an electrician. The company also pays for his language course and two flights home a year. He misses his family and the Black Sea so much that he has already used up his two free flights for this year. There are photos on the wall in his room in Deggendorf, showing Menchev sailing a yawl, as well as the medals he won in regattas. Deggendorf residents organize bicycle trips, barbecues and football matches for the new arrivals. Menchev isn't really participating yet, preferring to spend time with fellow Bulgarians than local Germans. "I have to get my bearings first," he says.

His story is reminiscent of the first wave of recruits 50 years ago, when Germany brought foreign workers into the country. Ordinary German workers were to be trained to become skilled workers, and "to be able to achieve that," said then Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard, "we have to have the relatively primitive work done by foreign workers, as long as this economy continues."

A Perception of Immigrants as Poor Have-Nots

By 1955, Germany had already signed its first recruitment agreement with Italy. Seven other agreements were signed over the years, with Spain, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia. East Germany also imported foreign workers from countries like Vietnam and Cuba. The guest workers were given a right of residence limited to a few years. When their time was up, they had to return home and were replaced by new people from their country.

Italian guest workers wait in this 1970 archive photo for a train to take them from their homes in Stuttgart back to Italy for a short vacation.

Italian guest workers wait in this 1970 archive photo for a train to take them from their homes in Stuttgart back to Italy for a short vacation.

By the 1970s this system began to fail. Once they had trained workers, companies didn't want to let them go, and the workers themselves were loathe to give up their jobs. Nevertheless, they were still viewed as "guest workers."

When the oil crisis arrived in 1973, the economy collapsed and Germany imposed a moratorium on recruitment. The guest workers were no longer needed. They had been brought in as a human production factor, and Germany treated them the same way when it decided to get rid of them.

The recruitment freeze proved to be a momentous boomerang. The guest workers knew that they had to stay in Germany to keep their residence permits, so many decided to bring their families to live with them. The new immigrants were not as well educated and had more trouble gaining a foothold in the employment market than those who had come before them.

These experiences shaped the perception of immigrants as poor have-nots, people who didn't support society but in fact became a burden on it. Shortly after winning the 1983 election, then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl delivered the German politicians' response to immigration, when he said: "The number of foreigners must be cut in half." His administration passed a law that offered immigrants willing to leave a bonus of 10,000 deutsche marks if they agreed to leave the country for good.

In the early 1980s, 15 conservative, right-wing university professors wrote a "Heidelberg Manifesto," in which they lamented the "infiltration of the German people by the influx of many millions of foreigners and their families, and the foreign infiltration of our language, our culture and our national character." For them, a person was German because of the blood of his parents, not his place of birth. For the left, the fact that people from other countries were able to move to Germany was an act of mercy for the needy, while the right saw it as a threat.

A Culture of Mercy

After the recruitment freeze, there were few opportunities remaining for people from non-EU countries to move to Germany and work in the country. During this time, most new immigrants came because their families were already here, or they were ethnic German immigrants, asylum seekers or refugees. Germany didn't want to be an immigration country, and yet it became the world's third-largest, behind the United States and Russia. In total, almost 11 million people have immigrated to Germany, more than the number of immigrants to Canada. After the recruitment freeze, it wasn't that fewer people were coming -- just fewer qualified people.

Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was the first to attempt to change the status quo. The goal of his "Green Card Initiative" in 2000 was to recruit IT specialists from non-EU countries to come to Germany for at least five years. Nevertheless, the number of applicants remained relatively small.

To address the problem, then-Interior Minister Otto Schily, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), created a commission of experts headed by CDU politician Rita Süssmuth. In July 2001, she unveiled a revision of Germany's immigration policy. The introduction to the document began with the words: "Germany needs immigrants." Two months later, after Sept. 11, 2001, the document disappeared into a drawer. The immigration act that the government and the opposition agreed to three-and-a-half years later retained the recruitment freeze and merely created a few exceptions for university graduates and the self-employed.

A "culture of mercy" has prevailed in Germany until recently, says immigration expert Klaus Bade. When a person asked whether he could immigrate to the United States, he was first told "yes!" and then told what the conditions were. But when a person asked the same question in Germany, he was long told "no, but there are exceptions here and there."

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