02.06.2004 Diaspora (Germany)

Germany edges open door to foreigners

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Lawrence Nii Annang Arbenser, from Ghana, is just the kind of skilled worker that business leaders say is in short supply in Germany.

He is doing a PHD in international trade and development at Berlin's Humboldt University.

Once he completes his degree, he hopes to get a research position in a financial institution or at a university.

But until now it would have been almost impossible for him to stay in Germany after finishing his studies.

Germany's strict migration laws mean that it has been effectively shut for decades to foreign workers from outside the European Union.

But now that looks set to change.

Landmark law

After months of deadlock, the German government and opposition parties announced an agreement last week on a landmark immigration law, which will open the gates to highly-qualified foreign workers.

The draft says that foreign professionals such as engineers, computer technicians and researchers will have the possibility of getting unlimited residency permits.

And foreign students, like Lawrence, will now be able to apply for work permits once they finish their degrees.

Lawrence says the move is long overdue.

"Up to now foreigners have felt a bit unwelcome, because there is pressure on you to leave as soon as you finish," he says.

"Germany is using taxpayers' money to educate people who are then thrown out and go to other countries.

"I've got a lot of experience and contacts here.

"If I get the chance to work in Germany, I'm going to use what I've learned here to give something back."

Growing old

Business leaders, though, say the deal does not go far enough.

Oliver Heikaus, from the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, says more flexibility is needed, given Germany's aging society.

"Today there are more people retiring from their jobs than young people joining the workforce.

"Germany can now compete for the best candidates worldwide, but in the mid-term we will also need immigrant workers with average skills.

But immigration is a hot political issue in a country with an unemployment rate of 10.5%.

For some people, like Berlin pensioner Rudolf Gorisch, a suspicion of foreigners remains.

"Shame on German companies for not producing their own highly-qualified workers," he says.

Bitter debate

There has also been controversy over security issues included in the new deal.

A major sticking point in the negotiations was a demand by the opposition conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) that the law should include tougher measures against terror suspects.

They were concerned that higher levels of immigration would let in foreign extremists.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, of the Social Democrats (SPD), had to put considerable pressure on his coalition partners, the Greens, to drop their objections to the CDU's security demands.

Party leaders now have to finalise details of the proposed law, and are due to present parliament with a draft by 17 June.

Chancellor Schroeder has there cannot be any more negotiations.

Given the bitter debate so far, though, few here expect the process to run smoothly.

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