Olaf Scholz's proposal does not address the root causes of migration
In a planned reform of its immigration system, Germany has decided to make it easier for its migrant population to become German citizens. Call it a reverse-Sweden, if you will. At first glance, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s proposal seems quite reasonable — the country’s bureaucratic apparatus is tedious and makes it difficult to integrate new arrivals, even if they possess skills valuable for the labour market.
After all, research institutions have estimated that the German economy would need approximately 400,000 qualified immigrants each year to keep the industry going and — probably even more importantly — to ensure the sustainability of the pension system.
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But, as so often with German politics, one needs to ask whether this sudden offensive for easier migration is a vision of the future or an attempt to paper over mistakes of the past. Since the great migration wave of 2015 local communities have struggled to manage the influx of people into their jurisdictions, something that has not abated in the following years.
Many still remember how politicians and economists alike promised then that a million refugees would kick-start a second Renaissance for the economy. This Renaissance never materialised, not least due to the fact that the number of skilled workers in these migration waves was small, while almost 17% of newcomers can neither read nor write, making integration, both economically and culturally, ever trickier.
As a consequence, over 300,000 people are currently stranded in Germany, their asylum claims denied, with no access to the labour market. Yet the government in Berlin has neither the will nor the means to return them to their home countries. The newly proposed law package would offer a “second chance” to these immigrants, most of whom come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia, Iran or Turkey.
The promise is that, this time, things will be different: an overhauled immigration system will resemble those of Canada or the United States, only attracting the best of the best. This would be a necessary course correction, especially since over 50% of the recipients of unemployment benefits have a non-German background.
The new law is supposed to grant more power to potential employers who know better than the state whom they need to hire; and factors like education, age, work experience and language skills could lead to residency permits even if the person in question has neither a job nor an income in Germany. While this would most certainly lower entry barriers, a lot of decision-making still rests with the federal government, leaving room for interpretation that could once again reinforce the mass-migration of unskilled labour.
Despite all its ambitions, the new proposal does not present a detailed strategy explaining why, for example, a highly educated citizen of India should prefer Germany to the United States or Canada. While Germany does suffer from a labour shortage, much of this is not due to a lack of qualified people, but rather a system that creates incentives to work as little as possible while collecting government support. A key part of this is the constantly increasing tax burden, including a current discussion of an additional energy-levy on the top 20% of German taxpayers. None of these prospects makes the country attractive for potential high-income earners. As a consequence, it remains questionable whether the new law will really address the root causes of the migration question.