The Reasons Skilled Expats Don’t Relocate To Germany
Europe’s biggest economy can’t get the talent it desperately needs.
Germany faces a fundamental migration dilemma. Refugees from war-torn countries flock to it as a haven while skilled professionals from outside of the EU that Germany sorely needs are shunning it. Germany has made efforts to become more appealing to skilled expats albeit against deep-seated cultural affinities, which explains why it is listed as the 15th most attractive country for foreign workers—just behind Portugal, Denmark, and Ireland and way behind front-runners New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Yet being a country with a declining native population and struggling labor market, Germany needs qualified workers. In some cases, qualified just by speaking German to fill approximately 778,000 vacancies. The list of sectors crying out for help, according to Germany’s foreign ministry portal, are:
- Information Technology
- Raw Material Extraction
- Production and Manufacturing
- Natural Sciences
- Air Transport
- Energy Technology
- Agriculture, Horticulture and Forestry
- Animal Husbandry
- Architecture, Surveying and Building Technology.
The list above doesn’t even cover all vacancies in education, child care, tourism, gastronomy, and retail. Parents of school-age children in Berlin are furious about the normalised reoccurance of cover of teachers. School kids’ schedules are perforated with gaps left by missing—some temporarily, some permanently—staff weekly. It is estimated that two-thirds of German school are suffering teacher shortages. Hotels, restaurants, and department stores now operate with the bare minimum of staff, in many cases less than that judging by the number of “help wanted” signs in windows and the time it takes to be served.
While all EU members countries are currently experiencing more deaths than births—Germany’s fertility rate of 1.58 children per woman as of 2021 (according to Statista) is just above the EU average of 1.53 that same year, but it is still far from the 2.1 birth rate necessary for population growth—the entire continent now realises young foreign workers are vital for their economies to thrive as populations age and the downward demographic curve steepens. In Spain and Poland, people are having even fewer babies than Germans. This means that in the near future, Germany will not be so free to draw from the European pot as it currently does.
Think tanks forewarn that the German labor market could be short as many as 7 million workers by 2035. “We need labor and skilled worker immigration from third countries,” Vanessa Ahuja of the German Federal Employment Agency told the media. The goal being 400,000 new professionals a year. It should be clear, however, that this offer isn’t meant for the often impoverished, usually undereducated refugees fleeing countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. These nationalities constituted most of the nearly 250,000 asylum applicants last year. That’s approximately 28 percent more than 2021.
Across the pond in Canada, which has a long history of immigration and streamlined migration processes, obviously doesn’t have this problem. In 2021, Canada welcomed 139,459 new expats through its high-skilled worker programs and more than 645,000 people in the first 10 months of 2022. It intends to accept more than 1.5 million more people by 2025—numbers Germany can only dream of.
Other factors which affect the desire to Germany for many expats are bureaucracy and the lack of welcoming culture. The unique system of dual vocational training system and rules for recognising foreign qualifications in Germany are not very transparent and take far too long. Additionally, learning the German language is a daunting hurdle for every person seeking work skilled or unskilled.
When it comes to wages they may be much higher than in the global south, but compared to many European and North American countries, they are low in Germany and taxes are high, schools are overcrowded, and the urban housing market is very tight.
In conclusion, Germany is a beautiful country with great infrastructure and is indeed one of the legacy countries in Europe historically, economically and in the political arena. However the country has a lot of work to do to attract skilled expats not just business wise but in creating social and financial incentives that many skilled expats would be unable to resist.