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German parties consider immigration law reforms

Monday, 12 January 2015

Politicians in Germany are pushing for a new immigration law. They argue the rise of the anti-Islamization group PEGIDA is a sign the public has lost faith in the regulation of immigrants.

 Is immigration good or bad for Germany? Given the electoral success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) over the past year, and a growing PEGIDA movement against the purported Islamization of the country, it's a question that could threaten to divide society.

It's a concern that has been vocalized by Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) in the Bundestag, the lower house of German parliament. The debate surrounding the alleged Islamization in Germany is about "in reality a great unease about immigration," Oppermann said, following a closed meeting of the SPD parliamentary group in Berlin earlier this week.

"I don't think it's good for peaceful coexistence in our country, if further sentiment is stirred up, if it escalates, and scapegoats are sought out," he added. "We cannot let that happen."

PEGIDA, which stands for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West," has attracted thousands of Germans in weekly marches held in cities across the country. Those marching against immigration shouldn't feel embarrassed, Oppermann said, but it should be known that "immigration also protects your jobs."

Means to lure skilled workers

Immigration needs to be seen as something that is good for Germany, Oppermann said. "We are an immigrant society and we are dependent on immigration. That's why we need to have a positive attitude towards immigration and that takes the whole of society."

 Thomas Oppermann

Thomas Oppermann: 'We are an immigrant society'

The conference of 193 elected representatives voted in favor of an immigration law to be introduced in the current parliamentary term, which runs until 2017. Their aim is to establish a basis for recruiting skilled immigrants from around the world. Oppermann stressed that skilled workers needed to be given an opportunity to immigrate to Germany, conditional on their language skills and qualifications. He also said immigrants would need to learn the German language quickly, and that qualifications from overseas should be more readily recognized by employers.

One possibility, he said, is implementing a points system, as is the case in Canada. "It is conceivable, but it's not the only way."

The Canadian example

Canada's immigration policy applies mainly to qualified workers, apart from provisions for refugees and family reunion. Qualifying for immigration to Canada is determined by a point scoring system. Language skills and literacy are crucial, and those who want to immigrate legally must score at least two thirds of the possible number of points to qualify. Anyone who has committed serious crimes, or has significant financial or health problems, is disqualified.

Recent data shows that around 1 million workers from European Union countries have come to Germany in the past two years - 40 percent of them university graduates. The German economy has performed well and this has led to the creation of more jobs, "our problem, though, is that the EU immigrants could leave again one day," Oppermann warned.

Aging population

Changes in Germany's demographics mean that in the future more people will be retiring from the labor market than new workers coming in. The balance would be skewed now if it weren't for immigration from the EU, Oppermann said. He said he also sees the SPD initiative for an immigration law as "a response to the doubters."

"In my experience, many of my colleagues in politics quietly enjoy the fruits of immigration we're seeing at the moment, but don't speak openly about it or aggressively campaign for it," he said. "We have to make up our minds."

This appeal seemed to be directed mainly at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which heads a grand coalition government with the SPD. CDU General Secretary Peter Tauber recently made a push for reforms to immigration legislation, but has so far failed to attract much support from within his own party.

Convincing to be done

 Angela Merkel

Merkel: Immigration questions need to be debated

On Saturday, CDU leader and German Chancellor Angela Merkel stopped short of addressing the call for an immigration law, but announced that a review of the current rules regulating the supply of skilled labor from abroad would be carried out: "We agree that besides a debate about asylum seekers and civil war refugees, we also need to have a debate to address the issue: Are we prepared for skills shortages?"

Speaking after a meeting with the CDU leadership in Hamburg, Merkel said there were already a number of legal measures in place, but that the immigration "question will be discussed further."

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU), premier of the western state of Saarland, said the existing legal provisions for immigration needed to be looked at.

"Germany is a country of immigration," she said in an interview with "Die Welt" newspaper on Saturday. "That's why we need strict procedures for dealing with refugees and for the immigration of skilled workers."

Others within the CDU, including German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, instead voiced their opposition to reforms. A spokesman for Maiziere said that there were already "appropriate rules" on immigration that were "comprehensive and sufficient."

A resounding 'no' from Bavaria

The CDU's sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has also strongly rejected any reform to the immigration rules. At the close of the party's winter conference, party head Horst Seehofer said there was a "pretty unanimous opinion" within the CSU, "that we don't need an immigration law because we have immigration rules."

Most of Germany's immigrants come from other EU countries, Seehofer said, adding that there were further rules applying to asylum seekers that had been significantly improved in recent years. He said the German economy was capable of regulating its skilled labor needs using existing laws.

Deutshe Welle

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