Germany looks outside EU for nurses, other professionals

International

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

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BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with German business and union officials Monday to work out strategies to attract skilled workers from outside the European Union as the country tries to tackle a shortfall of qualified professionals.

In her video podcast over the weekend, Merkel said the first two pillars of her government’s approach to the problem would be providing more training for Germans and working to attract professionals from other EU countries.

But, recognizing those steps will not be sufficient, Germany needs to recruit workers from outside the trade bloc, she said.

Legislation due to take effect March 1 will make it easier for non-EU nationals to get visas to work and seek jobs in Germany. Arrangements currently applied to university graduates are being expanded to immigrants with professional qualifications and German language knowledge.

Sectors such as information technology and nursing have complained of labor shortages.

“Many companies in Germany are urgently seeking skilled workers, even in times of a weaker economy,” Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told the Funke newspaper group. “For more than half of companies, the shortage of skilled workers is currently the biggest risk to business.”

He called for “unbureaucratic and effective implementation” of the new legislation.

According to a draft of the proposals discussed Monday, the government hopes to increase use of its “Make it in Germany” information portal for skilled workers, which includes a hotline and jobs board, German news agency dpa reported. The plan also calls for companies offering more jobs targeted at foreign workers, dpa said.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas promised to increase his office’s capacity to process visas and to digitize the process.

“The German government is showing today that it is serious about eliminating the shortage of skilled workers,” Maas said in a statement.

Ahead of Monday’s talks, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil told RBB Inforadio said participants would discuss which countries German business leaders want to focus on “and we will cut out the bureaucratic hurdles.” Heil named as examples the process of recognizing professional qualifications, language ability and visa procedures.

Like many other European countries, Germany is trying to strike a balance between the needs of its labor market, an aging native population and concern about immigration.

Heil said the aim isn’t to undercut German wages, and “our problem at the moment is rather that we are not being overrun, that we are not getting qualified workers.”

The far-right Alternative for Germany party has made gains in recent years with an anti-immigrant platform. The party’s co-parliamentary leader, Alice Weidel, spoke against the new labor policies, saying the focus should instead be on preventing qualified professionals from leaving Germany.

“The planned recruitment of skilled workers from abroad will further exacerbate the problem of immigration and the social systems,” Weidel said. “In the end, it will turn out that when we call for specialists, we get welfare recipients.”

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