Mr. Jäger, you yourself recently returned to Germany from the United States for a job. How attractive are we to immigrants?
In an international comparison, Germany is definitely attractive: We have a strong job market, there is a demand for skilled workers, and unemployment is low. Germany can also score with a functioning rule of law and social cohesion. But we are in competition with many other countries that are vying for skilled workers because of demographic change: our European neighbors, Canada, the USA and Singapore. That’s why we have to be careful not to get stuck in a kind of guest worker 2.0 debate.
What do you mean?
We are currently considering how we can bring skilled workers to Germany – without giving enough thought to the extent to which we can offer these people long-term perspectives in our society. From my point of view, social participation is the decisive prerequisite for successful immigration and also plays an important role in the decision to immigrate. A lot of potential can be wasted here with negative signals.
In what way?
International professionals are very sensitive to social debates that take place in potential target countries. You are also internationally networked and are very aware of experiences of discrimination from colleagues – in everyday life, at work or with the authorities. And of course that can also be an important factor in the decision for or against Germany. This should be borne in mind in debates such as the current one about “selling” citizenship.
How important is the prospect of naturalization for successful immigration?
Especially for people who do not come from the EU, it is an important factor that they can get German citizenship. We know from scientific studies that naturalization has major effects on social and political integration, on participation. The facts are very clear, both for Germany and for neighboring countries such as Switzerland. This continues even in the second generation, in the children’s educational careers.
Does it also play a role after how many years immigrants can be naturalized?
Research from Switzerland shows that the positive effects on social and political integration are greater when naturalization occurs earlier. This also applies to marginalized groups, who tend to be more affected by discrimination.
Canada, Australia and New Zealand are often cited as role models for modern immigration law. What can we learn from them?
It is not enough to copy solutions. We have other disadvantages than these countries – for example the language barrier, which is not nearly as high in English-speaking countries. If we want more immigration of skilled workers, then we should ask ourselves what we can do better ourselves.
In which areas do we most urgently need progress?
The administration and time required for issuing visas is very high. And the requirements for the equivalency assessment of professional qualifications are very restrictive. The Skilled Immigration Act has loosened it up a bit, but the hurdles for recognition remain high. The Economic Advisory Council also criticizes this. All in all, we have to ask ourselves how we can shape immigration law in such a way that it is less bureaucratic, so that we can hold our own better in international competition. How can we ensure positive economic and social effects through immigration, from which people who already live in Germany also benefit?
What is your answer to these questions?
For example, the immigration system could be completely de-bureaucratized and it would be possible for people to come to Germany with a job offer, regardless of their language skills or whether their degree is comparable to a German one. Individual local employers can best assess whether this is relevant. One could combine this with the requirement that this radical simplification only applies to those companies that are bound by collective bargaining agreements in Germany – in the key issues paper by the traffic light coalition, collective bargaining coverage only applies as a criterion in certain cases. In this way, growth through immigration would be combined with social equality, so you would get a double dividend. Companies would then have an additional incentive to get more involved in collective bargaining – and local employees could possibly also benefit from higher wages and better working conditions in general.