Germany says immigrants won't solve demographic woes
By Erik Kirschbaum
Wed 19 Dec 2007, 14:25 GMT
BERLIN, Dec 19 (Reuters) – Germany is a high-tech nation with an insatiable appetite for skilled foreign labour but immigration is not the tool to counter its declining population, the government's coordinator for migration said on Wednesday.
Maria Boehmer told a news conference to present a report on migration the focus instead had to be on better integration and improved training for the 15 million people in Germany who had immigrated since 1950 or who had at least one immigrant parent.
But the door for high-skilled foreigners is open, she said.
“We're not going to solve our demographic problems with immigration,” Boehmer said.
Even though preliminary data released last week showed births in Germany could rise this year for the first time in a decade, Germany has a population of 82 million and low birth rates mean average ages are creeping up.
“Germany is a high-tech nation and there is a demand for highly skilled workers,” she said.
Boehmer's report came as a survey was published by the Bitkom industry association saying two-thirds of German high-tech firms say their operations are being hampered by a lack of IT experts.
Bitkom — whose more than 1,000 members include Deutsche Telekom, Microsoft Germany and SAP — says the German IT and telecoms sector has 43,000 vacancies for skilled workers.
Germany agreed in August to relax immigration rules for engineers from eastern Europe but has rejected a European Union plan to encourage migration of skilled workers into Europe to ease labour shortages caused by a declining, ageing population.
“This German government has clearly taken a new route,” Boehmer said. Previous conservative-led governments had insisted Germany was not a country for immigrants even though millions of so-called “guest workers” moved in after World War Two.
“When we're working to improve integration in Germany now we're talking with each other instead of about each other.”
Boehmer nevertheless presented some bleak statistics about foreigners living in Germany. About 40 percent of the foreigners have no training or job skills and the risk of being unemployed is twice as high among the migrants.
She noted, however, that foreigners in Germany have an above-average entrepreneurial spirit. There are 582,000 companies owned by foreigners employing 2 million people.
“That positive message needs to be underscored to show that foreigners do not only mean problems,” she said.
Boehmer said there were also about half a million foreigners in Germany with academic degrees but unable to work in their professions because their credentials were not recognised.
She said that the percent of immigrants in some cities in Germany had already risen to 40 percent and said that by and large integration was improving.
“These people are welcome in Germany,” she said. “They're an enrichment for our country. We're welcoming them to take part.” (Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in Frankfurt)