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02/28/2013 06:16 PM

The New Guest Workers

A German Dream for Crisis Refugees 

By SPIEGEL Staff

A new generation of highly qualified immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe is seeking a future in Germany. Young, well-educated and multilingual, they are precisely what the German economy needs to ensure success in the future. The country has its work cut out if it wants these "godsends" to stay.

Half a century after her grandfather took the train from Seville, Spain, to Germany, Carolina López, 28, bought a ticket on a budget airline to Berlin. It was the dismal situation in Spain that prompted her to make the move in the late summer of 2012. The Spanish economy is reeling, and one in four Spaniards is unemployed. Joblessness is especially rampant among young people. López went to Germany looking for work and, most of all, a future.

It was a similarly distressed situation at home that prompted her grandfather to go to Germany in 1961, because he couldn't make enough money in Spain to feed his family.

When López talks about her grandfather, though, she still thinks of more differences than similarities. The Germany with which she is familiar from his stories no longer exists. The only German her grandfather Juan remembers is the foreman at the Continental tire factory in Korbach, who was constantly shouting at him. Juan, whose goal was to make money quickly, returned to Spain as fast as he could.

Carolina López is indistinguishable from other young women in Berlin. She wears a loose shirt over her skinny jeans, and skateboard shoes on her feet. She laughs readily and often, and she takes life seriously, but not too seriously. López lived in a shared apartment in Berlin for half a year when she studied marketing there in 2009. Berlin seemed free-spirited and international to her, says López, and more modern than Spanish cities. Now she's back, and this time she wants to live and work in Berlin, and even make it her home.

A new generation of immigrants is coming to Germany: Europe's crisis refugees. They are young, well-educated and multilingual. Many feel that their prospects at home disappeared when the European financial system began to falter, followed by the collapse of domestic labor markets in a number of countries. They are now going to Germany, just as their grandparents did a half-century ago, in search of a new future.

In the 1960s, guest workers from Southern Europe were the first large immigrant group to move to West Germany to find work. Now their grandchildren are following suit, forming the next major wave of immigrants coming to Germany for jobs. Like their elders, they are in Germany to find jobs and opportunities that their native countries cannot provide.

Elite Immigrants

This time, members of the new wave of immigrants are working in university laboratories rather than on assembly lines. Instead of doing the work that others won't, they are moving into corner offices, becoming senior physicians and designing products for others to assemble. They have better educations and are more self-confident than previous immigrant generations, and for this reason see themselves as neither guests nor workers. Instead, they feel that they are European citizens and take it for granted that they belong anywhere in Europe, and that they will leave again if they find that they like it better someplace else. They constitute an elite that is now immigrating and changing society's image of immigrants.

Immigrants who came to Germany in the past were significantly less qualified than those who chose other countries as their new homes. Now, for the first time in postwar German history, almost half of new arrivals have college degrees or a form of higher education, and they are coming in big numbers, the largest since the 1990s. There were more than a half-million in the first half of 2012 alone.

Once here, they are encountering a society that is slowly realizing that immigrants don't threaten prosperity in Germany, but in fact preserve it. "The new quality of immigration is a godsend," says Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen. "It helps our country, making it younger, more creative and more international. Everyone benefits. The young people benefit, because they are able to get started in their careers, and so does our society, because professionals are filling open positions." These are unusual words for a politician with the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party. A little over a decade ago, one CDU member was famously quoted suggesting Germans should have children rather than allow in immigrants from India to fill tech jobs. But now, even the CDU is recognizing that the country has to change with its immigrants if it hopes to preserve its position as one of the world's top economies, whose wealth is primarily derived from the minds of its citizens.

This wealth would surely dwindle without the new immigrants. As the population ages, a shrinking workforce must support a growing number of retirees. Even if more women and older people were to work full-time in the next decade, the workforce still wouldn't be large enough to keep the economy running successfully, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Demographers make a simple calculation: Germany can only preserve its economic strength if immigration exceeds emigration by 400,000 people each year. This would have to continue for several years. Otherwise, as the OECD warns, the working population will shrink more dramatically in Germany than in any other industrialized country.

A Struggle to Find Qualified Workers

The first members of the baby-boomer generation, the children of Germany's Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle, are now entering retirement. The country will lack about 5.5 million skilled workers by 2025. Companies in Germany's booming regions are already feeling the shortage today. According to a poll by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, three out of four owners of small-to-midsized businesses say that they are having trouble finding qualified workers. One in three has already had to turn down contracts because of labor shortages, reports the Federal Association of Small and Mid-Sized Businesses.

Not long ago, politicians and journalists decided that Germany was not an immigration country, and that German society couldn't handle any additional immigration. Immigrants were treated like a plague, a threat or at least a burden. The main goal of immigration policy was to prevent immigration.

It was successful. In 2008 and 2009, more people turned their backs on Germany than chose to go there, turning it into a country of emigration. According to a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the think tank aligned with the multinational German media giant, academics and business executives were especially prone to leave the country.

There has never been a culture of attracting people to Germany, inviting them and making it as easy as possible for them to feel at home there. Now demographics and the shortage of workers are forcing the Germans to overcome their suspicions and actually woo immigrants. Instead of asking immigrants "When are you leaving?" Germans should be saying: "Please stay!"

Living Proof of the Idea of a United Europe

Carolina López found a room in Berlin's Kreuzberg district in May 2012. She threw her clothes on the bed, put a photo of her boyfriend on the shelf and went out in search of a language school. She lived from her savings during the first few weeks. Soon, she was taking the subway to a German course every morning and writing job applications in the afternoon. She and her boyfriend, who had remained in Spain, kept up via Skype.

López studied in Seville and Cardiff, in Wales, and spent the last two years working for a public relations firm in A Coruña in northwestern Spain. The company went into debt as a result of the euro crisis, projects were cancelled and salaries were cut. When a dozen of her coworkers were let go, López left her job and moved away. After three months in Berlin, she signed a contract to work as a marketing manager for Twago, an Internet company. "I'm living the German dream," she says.

López is part of a new European mass migration. In the first half of 2012, 27,056 Spaniards made the same trip as she did. They were joined by 32,633 immigrants from Italy, 26,382 from Greece and 9,914 from Portugal -- and these are only the official numbers. The actual immigration figures could be three times as high, says Vassilis Tsianos, a migration researcher at the University of Hamburg. He points out that many immigrants don't register with authorities when they come to Germany.

Back at home, many of them had thought long and hard about leaving, asking themselves whether their native countries would gain the upper hand in the crisis, or whether they'd be better off leaving. Now it is the young people, the well-educated and the bold, who are coming to Germany. The average age of these new immigrants is 32. "They're making a bet on their own future," says Herbert Brücker of the Institute for Employment Research.

It appears to have been a good bet for Italian Enrico Orselli. Every morning, the 33-year-old drives his Ford from Cologne to the Bayer plant in nearby Leverkusen, puts on his lab coat and protective glasses and goes into the laboratory. He heads a team at the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant that is developing plastics that change their shape when subjected to an electric charge. Orselli has moved four times in the last nine years. He studied chemistry in Bologna, Italy, spent a year doing research in Amsterdam, did his doctorate in the northwestern German city of Münster and worked in Brussels for four years.

He met his current girlfriend Astrid at a party in Münster, organized for students participating in Erasmus, the largest European exchange program for university students, in the fall of 2005. They had a long-distance relationship between Brussels and Münster, until Orselli found the job at Bayer. Now they live in Cologne, where Astrid is writing her dissertation. He has no plans to return to Italy for now, and says that he wants to grow old in Germany.

Calling an Entire Continent their Home

The new generation of economic migrants will change Europe. "Ideally, the European labor market will become a hub for professional knowledge and prosperity," says Labor Minister von der Leyen. "Then young Germans will also go to Spain to work on advances in solar technology."

Many no longer call one country their home, but the entire continent, working or studying abroad for a period of time. The Erasmus program alone places some 200,000 young Europeans a year. They learn new languages, gain experience, make friends and, after a while, return home -- and often go back abroad again. Today, they are living proof of the idea of a united Europe, even more so than the founding fathers of the European Union could ever have dreamed -- even if it was the euro crisis that fueled this development.

From their perspective, the European consciousness that German President Joachim Gauck invoked in a keynote address on Europe last Friday has long been a reality. "Your very first pocket money was in euros, you are learning at least two foreign languages, your school trips go to Paris, London, Madrid, maybe Warsaw, Prague or Budapest," Gauck said. You really do get to experience 'more Europe' than any generation that has gone before." Budget airlines like EasyJet make it possible for members of the Erasmus generation to get together, they communicate via Skype and Facebook, and Berlin is currently their dream destination.

Emilia Cincu, 28, a biologist at Humboldt University in Berlin, says she doesn't feel homesick. When she misses someone, she doesn't travel to her native Timisoara, the third-largest city in Romania. Instead, she buys a ticket to London or Budapest, the places where her friends live today.

Although immigration from Southern Europe has increased dramatically in the last two years, Germany is even more popular among Eastern Europeans. In 2011, more than two-thirds of all immigrants from other EU countries to Germany hailed from Eastern Europe, mostly from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Some are extremely poor, and after being lured to Germany by shady brokers, they work for starvation wages in construction or even become homeless. Last week, after a debate over a new wave of poverty migration, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), promptly threatened to create an "entry barrier" for "the kinds of people" who are trying to abuse Germany's social welfare benefits.

But it's also true that almost one in three Eastern European immigrants is college educated. These are not people who come to Germany to live on the fringes of society -- they are at its center or at the top.

Emilia Cincu's parents -- her father is an engineer and her mother a librarian -- have rarely left Romania. They never had the opportunity to live the kind of life their daughter now enjoys. Cincu was only five when the Iron Curtain fell. After finishing her degree, she began to travel, study, work and, above all, live where she pleased. Before coming to Berlin, she worked in research in Budapest and Vienna. She only goes to Timisoara two or three times a year, usually on holidays, to visit her parents.

She found her post-doctoral position on the Internet. She sent an email with her curriculum vitae to various colleges, and Humboldt University was the first to respond. Just after arriving in Berlin, she wrote down a list of the places she wanted to see immediately: the Botanical Garden, the Spandau Citadel, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. With a map of the city in hand, she explored Berlin's streets, and in the end she got lost on purpose. The same ritual has worked well for Cincu in every new city she has visited.

She came to Germany because it offered her a job, a salary and time to do her research. Will she stay? It depends, she says. She is submitting her dissertation this summer, and if she receives a better offer after that, she'll move on.

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.

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."

'Germany Greeted Me with Open Arms'

Starnberg. Starnberg sounded good, 36-year-old anesthesiologist Alexandra Mani thought to herself. A year ago, she applied for a job at the Starnberg Hospital, but she didn't realize she would be living in one of the most expensive parts of Germany. She had lost her job in Athens during the crisis. She is married and has a 6-year-old son and a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Her husband is also a doctor, but his salary was cut in half. The mortgage on their condominium, the car, the private school for their son -- they wouldn't have been able to pay for all of this without Mani's full salary.

Doctors are needed in Germany, especially outside the big cities. Mani promptly received a job offer, partly because she is fluent in German. She studied in Innsbruck, Austria, for six years. The hospital administration found an apartment for her, and she bought the furniture at IKEA. She sees her family every night on video chat, and she flies home to Athens every three weeks.

"Germany greeted me with open arms," says Mani. There is a large Greek community in Munich, but she hardly interacts with fellow Greeks, preferring to spend her free time with German friends on Lake Starnberg. Her husband and the children have already visited her here twice. Now they want to learn German. If Mani doesn't receive an attractive offer in Greece, they will move to Germany as soon as possible.

'We Still Have a Long Way to Go'

Starting out in Germany is rarely as smooth as it was for Mani. Politicians like Labor Minister von der Leyen like to say that Germany has to learn to be a "welcoming culture," and must have something to offer to the newcomers. "We will only be able to attract highly qualified professionals if we can say to them: Your partner and your children are also welcome, and they'll have good prospects and career opportunities in Germany," says von der Leyen. In her view, this means good daycare facilities and schools, as well as better information and support for families. "We still have a long way to go," says von der Leyen.

German companies also have a long way to go. They complain about not being able to find qualified candidates, but are they making an effort to attract Europe's young elite? According to an OECD study, nine out of 10 German companies had unfilled positions between July 2010 and July 2011, but only one in four companies searched for candidates outside Germany. In the case of small and mid-sized companies, only 15 percent consider looking abroad. "There is a widespread belief that recruiting personnel abroad is complex and unreliable," writes the OECD. Dieter Hundt, president of the German Employers Association, urges businesses to be more open-minded. "We have to send a clear message to people in other countries that we urgently need them and that they're welcome in our country. In this regard, we certainly didn't take advantage of every opportunity in the past."

Many economic migrants from Southern European countries set out for Germany on a wing and a prayer, without a work contract or any social connections. They often turn to communities of people from their native countries already in Germany. To make ends meet while looking for work and learning German, they try to find menial jobs in places like the kitchens of Greek and Spanish restaurants. But those kinds of jobs are in short supply, at least in big cities.

There are also few government-run help centers, and when they do exist they are largely unknown, says immigration expert Bade. He advocates establishing welcome centers where immigrants can receive counseling on important practical issues, such as how to find a job and where to find an apartment.

Germans Sometimes Make Life Hard for Immigrants

The example of Schwäbisch Hall shows how difficult Germans sometimes make life for immigrants. In early 2012, a Portuguese journalist wrote an article about the small city in Baden-Württemberg, about the peace and quiet, the beautiful half-timbered houses -- and the available jobs. One sentence stood out, in particular: "Get to the know the German city that wants to put Portuguese to work." Soon afterwards, employees at the Schwäbisch Hall Job Center received more than 2,500 job applications from Portugal in their email inboxes.

One was from Lisbon native Isabel do Espírito Santo. She was turned down immediately, but Espírito Santo wasn't about to give up that quickly. She gave away her furniture to friends and neighbors, canceled her apartment lease and booked a flight to Stuttgart. In Portugal, she and her husband had built up an automotive supply company with 40 employees. The company lost its contracts during the crisis and went out of business. The marriage also ended in divorce. Espírito Santo took a job as a dental assistant, earning €600 a month.

At first she thought Schwäbisch Hall looked like the photos in the magazine article. She went to the city hall to ask about places to stay. She was told that she had to find a job before they could help her. She went to the employment agency to ask about jobs, saying that she had come from Portugal. An employee gave her a piece of paper that said, in Portuguese: If you are here from Portugal, please go back home. Unfortunately, we don't have a job for you.

She was finally sent to an interview with a trucking company, where she was told: "The work is too hard for you." But she took the job anyway, and now she drives a forklift and packs crates. She earns €8.50 an hour, or about €1,000 a month, after taxes. It's enough to support herself, but no more than that. The only items in her room are the suitcase and clothing she brought with her.

Still, Espírito Santo wants Germany to become her new home and not some kind of temporary way station. She says she wants to "participate in this society," doesn't want to be a traditional guest worker and has taken a second job working in a restaurant kitchen.

One of her sons joined her in November and now works at the trucking company. Espírito Santo would like to improve her German. But her coworkers speak either Russian or Turkish, and she can't afford a language course at the Goethe Institute or adult education center. At first, the trucking company paid for one hour of instruction per week, when the story about Schwäbisch Hall and the Portuguese was still in the papers.

For few years now, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees has been offering German courses for people from non-EU countries. But citizens of EU countries, like Espírito Santo, can only attend the courses if there are available slots, and are required to pay a fee.

About two-thirds of the immigrants arriving in 2011 came from EU countries. In the long run, however, Germany will only be able to satisfy its demand for qualified immigrants if it becomes attractive for people from all over the world. "Germany has to set its sights beyond Europe," says Christine Langenfeld, the chairwoman of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration.

Merkel's Government More Progressive Than It Appears

The country is much further along than it appears. Ironically, the conservative coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) has quietly and persistently removed one hurdle after another for immigrants, while others were busy deriding immigrants as "social freeloaders."

The German government introduced the so-called EU Blue Card in August 2012. The program allows non-EU immigrants to work in Germany, as long as they can furnish proof of a job offer with a minimum annual salary of €46,000. A university degree is also required. The minimum salary requirement is lowered to €36,000 for professions in which there are few domestic candidates. Foreign university graduates can apply for a six-month visa to look for a job. According to the OECD, the reforms have turned Germany into "one of the countries with the fewest restrictions" for highly qualified immigrants.

Universities are also helping to recruit qualified young professionals from abroad. In 2011, almost 73,000 young people who had finished high school abroad began attending German universities -- the largest number ever. A quarter of the young academics have already decided to stay, including many Chinese and Russians. But Germany still needs more highly qualified workers.

Labor Minister Von der Leyen is also convinced that it isn't just foreign university graduates that Germany needs. She also wants to introduce a new employment regulation for consideration in Chancellor Merkel's cabinet before national elections in September that would also make immigration easer for skilled workers.

The city of Hamburg also wants to make things easier for prospective immigrants. It has established a "Welcome Center" where various bureaucratic requirements can be addressed at the same time. Newcomers to Hamburg can go there to apply for a residence permit, register a place of residence or receive advice on how to secure a place for their child in a daycare center -- all in one place. Almost every employee speaks English.

The center is in a classical building in downtown Hamburg, with high ceilings, comfortable armchairs and glass walls. Visitors are greeted with a friendly handshake instead of being told to take a number and wait. They are asked a few questions by an accommodating advisor, and in the end they are given the documents they need and sent on their way with best wishes. Hamburg is already trying out a new German approach, by telling its qualified immigrants: Please, stay here!

REPORTED BY SVEN BECKER, MARKUS DETTMER, MARKUS FLOHR, ÕZLEM GEZER, SIMONE KAISER, ANN-KATHRIN NEZIK, CHRISTOPH PAULY, MAXIMILIAN POPP AND JANKO TIETZ

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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