A growing number of German lawmakers from across the political spectrum agree on one thing: It’s time for the country to be a little more like Canada.
Canada has emerged as a model as Germany grapples with a new wave of unease about its approach to immigration. Last fall this disquiet burst into public view when thousands began attending controversial anti-migrant, anti-Islam marches. These marches tapped into a broader dissatisfaction with the country’s immigration policies.
Now politicians have begun looking at reforming the law in ways that help the economy in the long-run and also address the immediate political mood. Canada is seen as an inspiration, despite the significant and still untested changes to the Canadian immigration system implemented by the Conservative government that began in 2015.
Last week, the centre-left Social Democrats, the junior party in Germany’s governing coalition, proposed a plan to reform the country’s immigration law with a heavy emphasis on the Canadian example. In particular, the plan envisages imitating Canada’s use of specific criteria – like education level and work experience – to tally a number of points to evaluate candidates for immigration.
However, it’s precisely that system which Ottawa has overhauled. The new process tilts heavily in favour of those who already have a job offer in Canada. It also gives bureaucrats discretion to move candidates to the front of the line. Both are distinct breaks with past practice and some have criticized the new system as being less compassionate and more prone to interference.
Managing immigration effectively is critical to Germany’s future. The country is facing a demographic diide as the population ages and families shrink. According to the proposal by the Social Democrats, the working-age population will contract by nearly seven million over the next 10 years. Businesses are already complaining about the difficulty of finding highly skilled employees.
Currently, Germany is the strongest major economy in the region, and as such has drawn in skilled workers seeking opportunity from the rest of the 28-member European Union. But if other major European economies start to rebound, such flows will diminish, which will mean Germany will have to look beyond the EU for future sources of immigrant talent.
After the U.S., Germany has become the second-most popular destination for immigrants worldwide. The country absorbed 437,000 immigrants in 2013, the highest such total in more than 20 years.
Yet there is a sense in Germany that the country’s approach to immigration is neither transparent nor efficient. Most new arrivals come from other EU countries, whose citizens face no restrictions on entering Germany or working there. The number of refugees flowing into the country is also rising. Last year the number of new applications for asylum jumped nearly 60 per cent from 2013 to 173,000.
While a majority of Germans say they embrace diversity, immigration remains a sensitive topic. A poll released last month by the European Commission found that 61 per cent of Germans held negative views of immigration from non-EU countries. One new way of expressing that unease came in the form of Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West – or PEGIDA, after its German acronym – a previously unknown right-wing movement that began drawing thousands to its weekly demonstrations.
Looking to Canada, German politicians see an immigration system that is open about its priorities, attracts a large pool of qualified applicants and enjoys widespread domestic support.
The Social Democrats, the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, have formally proposed adopting a points-based system for would-be immigrants. A group of young legislators within Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party have also voiced support for such a system, as have the Greens, with some variants. Even a new, conservative euro skeptic party, Alternative for Democracy, says it endorses the Canadian approach. (The far left party in Germany’s parliament, however, rejects it.)
A council of migration experts has asserted that Germany doesn’t actually need a points system like the one Canada has. There is already a way for highly skilled workers from non-EU countries to immigrate, through what’s known as the EU’s “Blue Card” program.
However, Germany needs a more welcoming image. To that end, an overhaul of Germany’s immigration law might be a good idea.