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Merkel's conservatives call for broader immigration debate

Friday, 09 January 2015

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are calling for a broader debate and changes to immigration law after criticism that her government has not done enough to explain to Germans the need for immigrants and let too many unskilled workers in.

The call comes at a time when hostility towards foreigners and Muslims is on the rise, with a new movement named PEGIDA -- Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West -- holding weekly protests against the influence of Islam.

In an interview, Peter Tauber, general secretary of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), called Germany an "Einwanderungsland", or country of immigration, but said work was needed to bed this idea down among the population and to ensure the right kinds of immigrants were being lured.

"We need to talk about a new immigration law that spells out what immigrants must bring with them in terms of skills, education and willingness to engage in our country in order to become Germans," Tauber said.

In the decades after World War Two, West Germany encouraged immigration as a way of dealing with labour shortages, but it described those who came from countries like Turkey, Italy and Greece as "Gastarbeiter" or "guest workers".

Although many ended up staying permanently, many Germans do not see their country as a melting pot.

With a demographic crisis looming, the government is trying to change that. With one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, Germany's working-age population is expected to shrink by 6.3 million over the next 15 years. Increasing the inflow of immigrants is seen as crucial for the future of the economy.

Germany has made previous attempts to reform its immigration policies and in 2012 introduced a "Blue Card" scheme for highly-skilled workers and academics, but its impact has been limited.

Only 18,000 have been granted residency under the scheme and most were already living or studying in Germany.

In a recent newspaper editorial Hans-Werner Sinn, head of Germany's influential Ifo economic research institute, criticised the government for lacking an immigration plan.

He also dismissed the notion that all immigrants were a "gain" for Germany, estimating that on average, each immigrant was costing the state 1,800 euros.

 Bemoaning the lack of qualified immigrants, he cited OECD data showing less than a quarter of foreign-born immigrants to Germany in 2013 were highly educated, compared to 57 percent in Canada, 46 percent in the UK and the OECD average of 31 percent.

Other senior members of Merkel's CDU backed Tauber's suggestion.

"It is important to find a solution for the immigration of non-EU citizens and I think that the Canadian points system is the best solution for that," deputy parliamentary floor leader Michael Fuchs told Reuters.

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