Germany is urgently seeking workers from abroad — at least 400,000 each year. But is it an attractive destination for highly qualified foreigners? For some, it seems, having to learn the German language puts them off.
Jessica James is 31 years old, holds a degree in business administration, and has nine years of work experience at various banks. She seems to be the type of professional Germany could use, in view of its tight labor market. She currently lives in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, but would like to leave. “I am a Christian and Pakistan is a Muslim country. That is the main reason I want to come to Europe,” she told DW by phone.
Perhaps she could move to Frankfurt am Main, one of the world’s most important financial centers? No, James said. Germany is out of the question. To find a job, you need to learn the German language, which is difficult. “Aside from that, Germany is also rather strict with issuing visas. And I have heard that the Germans are quite harsh toward people with brown skin, and to immigrants in general.” That is why the young banker would rather emigrate to the Netherlands.
OECD sees great potential
Unfriendly people, a difficult language, tricky to get a visa? It sounds as if hardly any skilled workers would want to move to Germany.
On the contrary, says Thomas Liebig — Germany is attractive. The migration expert from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) sees “great potential for highly qualified workers from abroad who are interested in Germany.” In past studies and surveys of international professionals, Germany has mostly scored very well, even though it often came in behind English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada, or the US.
Liebig and his colleagues have recently surveyed about 30,000 people who visited the German government’s website for skilled workers from abroad. That means people who are currently interested in a job in Germany and are researching possibilities. Their biggest hurdle is that they don’t know how they can get a position in Germany because they cannot read German job advertisements.
Most of them can envisage coming to Germany because there are good work and career opportunities. Of those surveyed, two out of three said the high quality of living was the reason for their interest.
People like Adrian Oku. “I am looking for work here because I would like to live in Germany,” he told DW. “I like Germany. Germany is my dream.” Oku comes from the city of Kavaje in Albania, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the capital Tirana. After completing his training, he worked there as a plant mechanic and installed heating, sanitary engineering, and air conditioning.
Now the 24-year-old is sitting in the “Welcome Center Hessen” in Frankfurt am Main. As a central point of contact for the German federal state of Hesse, the center provides advice to foreign professionals in German, English, Spanish, and Kiswahili. Oku has kept his denim jacket and woolen hat on — German offices are trying to save on heating. With neon lights on the ceiling, gray carpets, and canary yellow painted walls, the Welcome Center looks about as inviting as any government agency.
But Alberto Coronado knows how to charm away this impression. One of three project coordinators here, he hurries from office to office with a smile. He wants to do everything possible to enable foreign skilled workers to enter the labor market. “Everything always seems new when coming to a new country,” he said. “Even the smartest people are overwhelmed at first. We are here to make it easier for them.”
German: ‘Difficult, but beautiful’
Coronado examines Oku’s resume. “You should write here that you worked as an electrician for this company,” he tells the young man. He can immediately think of two businesses in the region that might be interested in Oku. His skills are in high demand. Germans are modernizing their heating and many want to have heat pumps installed to replace gas heating; so qualified staff is needed to install them. “First we need to send off your resume,” Coronado says, looking at Oku, “but it looks good.”
Oku’s biggest hurdle is the German language. He takes his time with his words and thinks very carefully about what he wants to say. German is indeed very difficult, he eventually said, “but also very beautiful.”
In the OECD study, four out of 10 respondents said the language was an obstacle to taking up a job in Germany. People still mostly speak German in the country’s workshops, laboratories, and conference rooms. It is something most Germans take for granted — but does it weaken Germany in the international competition for workers?
Chris Pyak has a clear answer to this question: yes. Pyak advises applicants who are searching for a job in Germany — what Coronado does for the state of Hesse, Pyak does as a sole trader based in Düsseldorf, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
His newsletter for international professionals has 25,000 subscribers, he told DW. “The main barrier for them coming to Germany isn’t the immigration rules or the recognition of their qualifications,” he said. “It is the fact that across Germany only 4% of jobs are advertised in English.”
‘We need to make the effort’
Most of the jobs that are in demand in Germany today can be done well by anyone with good English, he says, citing software developers as an example. “In thousands of companies around the world, this is a matter of course.”
Germany needs a new culture towards immigrants, Pyak believes. “If we want the best to come to us, then we also need to make an effort for them. Otherwise only those who have no other choice will come.”
The “tinkering” with immigration laws, on the other hand, is less important, according to Pyak. It is intended to allow candidates to take up work in Germany without recognized qualifications and catch up on that process later.