Tepid Welcome Germany Struggles to Lure Skilled Workers

Christian Burkert/ DER SPIEGEL

By and

Part 2: Tale of Demoralization

Last June, Martin Zeil (FDP), who was then Bavaria's minister of economic affairs, took part in a panel discussion at the University of Passau titled "Study and Stay in Bavaria." He praised Bavaria's excellent institutions of higher education and the outstanding conditions for foreign students. After Zeil's speech, Carlos García, 27, a student from Venezuela, stood up and nervously took hold of the microphone. He said the authorities treated him as if he were unwanted, adding that they did everything they could to get rid of him.

García had come to Passau 10 years earlier as an exchange student. He said he spent a so-called "voluntary year" working in the community, attended a preparatory university course in Munich, and started studying economics in Passau. He noted that he felt at home in Bavaria and had made friends.

But García said the harassment that he suffered at the hands of immigration authorities had "demoralized" him. His residence permit was extended for only a few months at a time. Otherwise -- at least according to the authorities -- he could have taken advantage of German generosity and tried to work in the country. García said that when he applied for permission to do an internship, he was told that he was in Germany to study, not work.

García sent a letter to the mayor of Passau. He wrote that he dreamed of becoming a German citizen and establishing a company. "For me, the future is here," he wrote. "I would like to be able to move about freely and earn a living." The mayor -- who is a member of the SPD -- responded that he unfortunately could do nothing for García. He said students like him were expected to return to their home countries.

Reluctant Companies

The fourth reason that the country has not attracted more foreign workers is that German companies have been reluctant to recruit them. According to an OECD study, between July 2010 and July 2011 nine out of 10 German companies had vacant positions, but only one in four extended their search for personnel outside of Germany. When it comes to small and medium-sized companies, only between one and two out of 10 considered looking abroad. Many companies feared that it would be difficult, risky and expensive to recruit employees from foreign countries.

"Small and medium-sized companies can't afford this kind of thing," says Volker Steinmaier from the Südwestmetall employers' association in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg. He represents companies like manufacturers and small engineering firms that are currently having difficulties filling vacancies for skilled workers. It's far too difficult and costly to look abroad, says Steinmaier. He says that there are "hardly any companies that have the resources" to attend job fairs in foreign countries, build networks with foreign colleges and universities and establish contacts with foreign employment agencies.

Big companies like Allianz have less trouble doing so. The insurance and financial services giant organizes "Welcome Days" at its Munich headquarters. New employees are assigned so-called buddies who help them settle in and get acquainted with the firm. "Companies and politicians have to improve the general conditions for those who can contribute to Germany's competitiveness with their knowledge and expertise," says Werner Zedelius, who is a member of the board at Allianz.

Germany has to learn to woo immigrants. This requires nothing less than instilling a new culture in German society -- in government agencies and among politicians and personnel managers.

Allianz executive Zedelius says this includes marketing Germany's advantages. That "has perhaps not yet been properly" done, he admits. "The German government is acting far too defensively," agrees Christine Langenfeld, the SVR chairwoman. She says the country lacks modern "immigration marketing," and argues that far too little has been done to get the word out about programs that make it easier to work in Germany, like the EU Blue Card. "The reforms belong in the display window," Langenfeld says, "and not under the counter."

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen.

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Kamran Z. 12/12/2013
I find this article to be so true. But there's one thing which it fails to mention. German companies have many unfulfilled positions but they don't tend to fill those positions with the best candidate they can find out of the ones interviewed. They're always waiting for that Mr./Ms. Perfect to come along. They don't take the best candidate out of the ones who come for the interview and then train him/her for the criteria he/she couldn't fulfill for the job. For instance a "specialization course". The companies could sign binding contracts with these people so they have to stay with that company for many years. Trust me, as a foreign student here in Germany, I can tell you most of us would be willing to do that. On another note, I can totally identify with Mr. Garcia and his complaints. Germany is such a nice country with the majority of people being very open-minded. But you really have to fight the system to stay here and work. Even if you're already here.
kcrocker112 12/12/2013
2. optional
Germany has far too many rules and regulations on everything. When I looked into hunting, while stationed there, the things you have to go through is just ridiculous. No one is going to that much trouble to hunt game. Just money lost to the government. Their problem, not mine.
ucantava 12/13/2013
I also had same problems. I first went to Germany as an engineer than get fired from the job before i got the proper visa. Later I applied for other vacancies around Germany but i got very opposing answers from the HRs. Nobody exactly knows what is going on when they employ a non-EU citizen. I went to Auslanderbehorde and they told me I have to apply for engineering jobs only. I finally got an internship offer from a start-up firm in Berlin- that is like my life goal- than was told by HR that I can't get a work permit as an intern because I already have a major(!); I talked with Auslanderbehorde and officers told me I need to go back home and apply again from the embassy.No single company will wait/struggle for me for 2 months to get a work permit- this stuff works way too slow in Germany. And I talked with engineering agencies and they said they can't hire non-EU citizens( it is disappointing since lot of engineers work as contractors at this time globally). Also yes, they don't speak English at Immigration offices! I was lucky to have a friend to translate- but not everyone does! I admire Germany a lot, and will keep on struggling for the work permit; but buroucracy is getting on nerves even though I am a qualified engineer speaking 3 languages.
M_Osgood 12/13/2013
4. Your making some wrong assumptions kcrocker
The point of a hunting license is MUCH different in Germany than the US. In the US we have VAST tracts of land that are just about overrun with game and we use a hunting license to basically be the "yes I certify that I understand the applicable hunting laws and will abide by them" document. In Germany they have a land mass of little larger than Montana and almost a third of the population of the CONUS living in it. They dont have an abundance of game here and what they do have is not govt regulated but HUNTER regulated. The govt basically just audits the hunters, they dont really get involved in how the hunters do things. Hunters have to buy the hunting lease rights for any area of land they control but that also means they have to manage all game inside of that lease. The leases cost a LOT of money, and the hunters usually make that up by selling the game to local restaurants and butchers. Thats why they will "give" you the trophy, but you still have to buy the meat from your kill if you want it. Which is the main reason I dont bother hunting here if Im going to have to pay for the meat anyway.
spon-facebook-597589854 12/13/2013
5. Where's easy?
Germany is not especially difficult to work in. It just seems that way to those who expect it to be simpler. France is no walk over.
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