The German Bundesrat recently approved a long-awaited and controversially debated immigration legislation, implementing several European directives dating back more than ten years. The “Skilled Immigration Act (“Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz”) intends to attract qualified professionals from around the world. Further, the Act aims to improve labour market efficiency, prevent skill shortages and offset regional imbalances in order to sustain competitiveness and economic growth. The Skilled Immigration Act provides clear requirements for “qualified professionals” which, for the first time, includes academics as well as persons with vocational qualifications.

To enter the German labour market, highly qualified third-country professionals must present a valid work contract and a recognized higher professional qualification. Limitations apply for applicants of more than 45 years of age: They must provide evidence of a minimum salary or an adequate pension provision. Under certain conditions, IT specialists can also be given access to the labour market without a formal qualification.

Existing hurdles were reduced: First, the removal of so-called “bottleneck professions” which were particularly affected by the shortage of skilled workers, i.e. no more than three statistically recorded unemployed people available. As long as their qualification is officially recognized, qualified professionals will be eligible to work in Germany in the qualification for which they are qualified, no matter their specific profession. Second, the obligatory priority check which required vacancies to be filled by German or EU citizens, has been abolished in principle. Finally, the recognition of qualifications is speeded-up. However, the new Act does not offer any new opportunities for unqualified or low-skilled workers to gain access to the German labour market.

Furthermore, applicants with a professional education are allowed to come to Germany for up to six months to search for employment provided they have sufficient German language skills. During that time they are not entitled to receive social benefits and are required to prove that their livelihood is secured.

Whereas immigration for vocational training purposes was only allowed if qualification entitled applicants to take up studies in Germany, it is now sufficient if the diploma entitles the individual to study in the country of origin. Lastly, the Act ameliorates opportunities to come to Germany in order to undertake training. Recognition procedures will be able to be carried out within Germany from start to finish provided that the Federal Employment Agency has agreed a placement.

The new legislation will enter into force on 01 March 2020, accompanied by further measures to accelerate and foster efficient administrative and recognition procedures.