German Opportunity Card opens up job market for skilled migrants

The third stage of Germany’s Skilled Immigration Act, passed in 2020, includes the provision of Chancekarte or Opportunity Card, a system that allows skilled professionals from non-European Union countries to search for work in the European country while legally living there for up to a year

Published - June 17, 2024 06:00 am IST

 The new regulations will make the path easier for skilled migrants who can leverage their professional experience in Germany

 The new regulations will make the path easier for skilled migrants who can leverage their professional experience in Germany | Photo Credit: AFP

Swapnil Naik, 39, is the head of operations at a financial company in Mumbai. Having worked in India for over a decade, Mr. Naik wanted to expand his horizons and has been eyeing European shores. After being unsuccessful with a job visa for France earlier this year, Mr. Naik started the process to apply for Germany’s job-search visa. 

A recent change in German regulations will make the path easier for applicants like Mr. Naik, who can leverage their professional experience.   

On 1 June 2024, the German government released the third stage of its Skilled Immigration Act — passed in 2020 but started coming into effect only in 2023 — with the Chancenkarte or Opportunity Card. This allows skilled professionals in non-EU countries to search for work while legally living in Germany for up to a year. The Opportunity Card was made possible by awarding points if certain conditions were fulfilled. This practice has been common in Canada and Australia for many years.  

“The Opportunity Card has come at the right time for me. I have already completed my police verification for this. I will be enrolling in a German language course soon as I continue my search for jobs in Germany,” said Mr. Naik.  

“The Chancenkarte is an interesting addition to the German labour migration system, which has evolved over the last twenty years. It is becoming more liberal but also more complex. In principle, it sends a good message to potential migrants,” noted migration analyst Dr. Marcus Engler.  

Points system for skilled professionals

 The major requirements when applying for the Opportunity Card are a minimum of two years of vocational training or a university degree or work experience, entry-level German knowledge or fluency in English , and a blocked account of €12,324 per person per year.  

One is awarded points based on German language proficiency, professional experience, age, experience in regulated professions in Germany (such as teacher, nurse, or engineer), and more. Those who are over 40 years are at a disadvantage as the Opportunity Card is targetted more at a younger professional profile. A prospective candidate must acquire at least six points to qualify for the Opportunity Card.    

Unlike the job search visa (which would let one look for a job for six months in Germany without any option to work part time in this duration), the Opportunity Card allows one to work part-time (20 hours per week) during the job search. The job search period can be extended by another two years (only once), depending on exceptional circumstances. Applicants must be able to secure a job with an annual gross salary of at least €40,770 to continue staying in Germany.  

“With the Opportunity Card, we are creating a new innovative and points-based residence permit that will contribute to the overall success of the reform of the Skilled Immigration Act. Following the Canadian model, we are focusing on an unbureaucratic, comprehensible and digital solution that companies and associations in Germany have long wanted,” said Misbah Khan, a member of the German parliament from the Green party, in a statement.  

Plugging the skilled worker shortage

 Germany has been reeling from a skilled worker shortage as its population aged rapidly. According to German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil, Germany would need 7 million skilled workers by 2035, with sectors such as nursing, the food and beverage industry, and information technology experiencing the greatest shortage. As of April 2024, the Federal Employment Agency reported 7,01,000 vacant jobs. 

Based on trends in the last few years, Germany has been an attractive destination for Indian professionals. In 2022, Germany granted the most work visas to Indians, with 17,379 approved visas. In February 2023, when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited India, he stressed the need to simplify the issuing of visas to Indian professionals, especially in the IT sector.  

The German economy has been slowing down for a few quarters. The economic output had shrunk by 0.3% in the last quarter of 2023 with fears of Germany entering a technical recession. This hasn’t come to pass. Also there wasn’t much of an impact on the IT professionals being hired remotely from India by German companies as per economy experts.  

The latest Bundesbank (German central bank) economic forecast claimed that the economy is slowly regaining its foothold. According to the forecast, real gross domestic product (GDP) will rise by a calendar-adjusted 0.3% this year, with the Bank’s experts anticipating economic growth of 1.1% next year and 1.4% in 2026. However, employment growth is still expected to be slow.  

“Employment growth is expected to weaken slightly as supply bottlenecks increase, coming to a halt in the course of 2026. This is because the slight decline in unemployment in 2025 and 2026 will no longer open up any substantial scope for additional employment,” noted the report.  

  

Sonali Chowdhry, a trade economist at DIW Berlin believes the Opportunity Card is a step in the right direction as it relaxed several constraints faced by foreign workers.  

“Prospective applicants should be prepared for entering a labour market facing sluggish economic recovery, subdued business investment and relatively high costs of housing in major German cities like Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin,” said Ms. Chowdhry highlighting the major challenges facing job seekers in Germany. 

Challenges with the Opportunity Card 

One of the requirements of the Opportunity Card is to have a blocked account, just like it is for the students who opt for higher studies in Germany.   

“The requirement of over €12,000, comes to around ₹11 lakh. I don’t have that much liquid balance. Most of my savings are spread out over mutual funds, deposits and share investments. I’ll have to withdraw money from these investments, whereby I will lose out on the interest I could’ve earned,” said Mr. Naik while appreciating the prospect of doing part-time work when in Germany, till he secures a job.  

Mr. Engler agrees that this requirement could be a challenge for many and there has to be a prospect for flexibility with the regulations.  

“One of the challenges is what happens if you get a lot of applications for the Opportunity Card. Then, you need to have a system of prioritisation for selection, but there is no clarity on that. The administrative processes have to work smoothly for this to be a success. We will have to wait for more evidence-based discussion,” said Mr. Engler.  

According to many experts, German bureaucratic processes can get tedious.  

“The Opportunity Card could more readily attract skilled workers in high-demand industries with labour shortages, such as digital technologies and renewable energy, by removing bureaucratic obstacles,” noted Ms. Chowdhry. 

The German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) sees little positive effect from the Opportunity Card. In a statement to local media, DGB stated that one of the obstacles in the process is the lack of state-approved vocational training in many non-EU countries where young people pick up skills via ‘on-the-job’ informal training without graduating in the field.  

The point system in Canada offers the chance of permanent residency, whereas the Opportunity Card system in Germany does not. In Germany, permanent residency involves many more steps in addition to securing the Opportunity Card.  

The anti-immigrant right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which emerged as the second-largest party in Germany in the recently concluded EU parliament election, has said the Opportunity Card will lead to “wage dumping and more welfare state burden.” But some of the objections raised such as there being no minimum level of earnings, are patently false as the government has mandated Opportunity Card holders to find a job with a minimum gross salary of €40,770. 

“Potentials instead of populism – that must be our motto. Only as a pragmatic country of immigration will we ultimately prevent a situation in which we simply lack the staff to care for our grandparents, teach our children or master the energy transition,” noted Ms. Khan in her statement.  

(Nimish Sawant is an independent journalist based in Berlin)

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