EU refugee flow finds echo in India

India and Germany's opposing demographic challenges make labour migration a natural objective, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during her visit last week.

India and Germany's opposing demographic challenges make labour migration a natural objective, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during her visit last week.

During her visit to India last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel explicitly expressed her wish to bring skilled workers from India to Germany, but questions remain whether a mounting refugee crisis at home could delay the effort.

Ms. Merkel and Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to re-launch an initiative to offer German as an additional foreign language at 1,000 Indian state schools. The German government had already invested €2 million in the programme when it was temporarily shelved in 2014.

During a visit to the facilities of manufacturing giant Bosch in Bangalore, Ms. Merkel referenced the nearly 12,000 Indian students now enrolled at German universities. “I would be happy if many of them made Germany their main place of residence after graduation,” she said, adding India’s and Germany’s opposing demographic challenges pointed to labour migration as a natural objective.

Germany is facing a labour market shortfall, especially in the engineering, manufacturing and IT sectors, that could threaten growth in its export-driven economy. As a consequence of one of the world’s lowest birth rates — 1.38 births per woman, as compared to India’s 2.4 — Germany’s population is ageing rapidly. According to the Federation of German Employers, the country will lack 1.7 million workers by 2020.

India, meanwhile, does not have enough jobs to accommodate its growing working-age population. According to the World Bank, 10.5% of Indians aged between 15 and 24 were unemployed in 2013. But plans to overhaul Germany’s immigration laws to make it easier for non-EU citizens to get work and residency permits were recently put on the back burner.

“The refugee crisis is dominating public consciousness in Germany at the moment,” says the New Delhi-based Guido Christ of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce. “It’s no wonder that voices calling for more immigration at a time when we are taking in more refugees than we can cope with are much quieter now than they used to be.”

Deft handling

Ms. Merkel has been lauded around the world for her handling of a refugee crisis that is likely to see more than 1 million asylum-seekers arriving in Germany over the course of 2015. At home, her welcoming stance has prompted a backlash from within her conservative political base and an increasingly immigration-wary electorate.

As a result, controversial plans to simplify the existing immigration laws — which included introducing a system similar to the one in Canada, where applicants are awarded points depending on their language and professional skills — have been postponed until after the 2017 general election. Long-term efforts to make Germany an appealing destination for young Indians are under way, nonetheless. According to the Goethe Institut — also known as Max Mueller Bhavan — about 1,10,000 children are currently learning German at Indian secondary schools, and an increasing number seem to be expressing an interest in moving to Germany for higher education and jobs.

“Germany is a technological giant and many students would like to study and work there,” says Kajal Semwal, a 17-year-old student who has been learning German for four years at a Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan school in Noida.

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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 11:27:47 pm |