Many Germans are rolling out a cheering, red carpet welcome for refugees that few could doubt is genuine. To the many thousands fleeing war, who wanted more than anywhere to end up here, Germany is returning the compliment, saying ‘we want you, too’.
But there is a political pragmatism in play. Europe’s foremost economy needs capable hands and brains. The unemployment rate is just 6.4%, and the population is ageing, overall. The country will need an immigration top-up for several years to come. Employers are even lobbying to get the newcomers streamlined access to the labour market.
Births are being outnumbered by deaths by around 200,000 per year [670,000 and 870,000, respectively]. The fertility rate is one of Europe’s lowest, at 1.36 per woman. Just 22% of the population is under age 25, while over-65s are at 20% and projected to represent one third of all Germans by 2060.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a labour shortage spawned a recruitment programme to supply industry with Turks, Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Portuguese, Moroccans and Tunisians of limited qualifications, supposedly on a temporary basis, but millions wound up staying — the guests who stayed.
Today, what Germany needs is quite different. It is short of about 140,000 engineers, programmers and technicians, according to the employers’ federation. And if nothing is done to make up that shortage the projection is the country will be in the hole by 1.8 million qualified workers within five years and more than double that by 2040.
Skilled trades and service sectors such as tourism and health are also eyeing the resource pool. Some 40,000 traineeships this year are missing takers. Local initiatives are gearing up to hire foreigners.
For the moment, the law demands proof that a German candidate can’t be found for a going job, before an asylum-seeker is offered it. This means Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis or Eritreans.
Germany is expecting a record 800,000 asylum request this year.