In response to a pronounced shortage of skilled workers, particularly in critical sectors like IT, technology, medical care, contracting, and logistics, Germany has undergone a significant overhaul of its immigration regulations. The German parliament, the Bundestag, passed a revamped Skilled Immigration Act during the summer, aiming to simplify and expedite the entry of skilled professionals from countries outside the European Union.
The first phase of this groundbreaking legislation, effective from November 18, 2023, focuses on modifications to the EU Blue Card scheme, ushering in key changes to enhance opportunities for skilled workers entering Germany. These changes include lower salary thresholds for various occupations and bottleneck professions, making it more accessible for new entrants, recent university graduates, and IT specialists without a university degree.
Moreover, mobility and family reunification processes have been streamlined to provide skilled workers with easier access to residence permits and facilitate short-term and long-term mobility for EU Blue Card holders. The Federal Employment Agency has been directed to streamline procedures to expedite the approval process for foreign workers.
The second wave of changes, set to take effect from March 1, 2024, eliminates restrictions tying individuals to jobs directly related to their professional qualifications. Additionally, the approval process for professional drivers from third countries has been simplified, removing checks related to driving licenses and language skills.
Further innovations in the reworked Skilled Immigration Act introduce flexible pathways for qualifications and training. Individuals undergoing training to attain a German-equivalent qualification can now work part-time, fostering a more inclusive approach to work-study arrangements. Skilled workers seeking recognition of foreign qualifications can commence work directly with German employers, even during the recognition procedure, provided they possess a minimum of two years of professional experience and a minimum A2 level proficiency in German.
Family reunification processes have also been simplified, particularly for spouses, underage children, and parents or parents-in-law. The focus shifts from providing sufficient living space to demonstrating the ability to support livelihoods.
Looking ahead to June 1, 2024, Germany plans to introduce an “opportunity card” based on a points system. This card will grant individuals with an equivalent foreign qualification a one-year opportunity to seek employment in Germany, contingent upon demonstrating financial self-sufficiency. Holders of the opportunity card can engage in employment for up to 20 hours weekly, with the option to extend the validity for up to two additional years based on securing a contract for qualified employment.
These comprehensive changes reflect Germany’s commitment to attracting and retaining skilled workers, fostering a more dynamic and inclusive approach to immigration in the face of evolving workforce needs.