Kolb, H.: German and Canadian Labor Migration Policy Compared, 2013

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Not only but particular in terms of labor migration policy Germany and Canada widely are perceived as opposites per se. Whereas Canada has been enjoying a reputation of being one or even the role model for a country with a flexible and welcoming immigration scheme which at the same time is responsive enough for the scarcities and demands of specific sectors of the national labor market, the German system has been suffering from the suspicion of being not only structurally hostile towards immigrants but also of featuring a structural one-sidedness as far as its steering, control and recruitment instruments are concerned. Against the background of major immigration reforms in the segment of labor migration in both countries the paper describes and analyzes the core of these recent policy reforms and argues that Canada and Germany in 2012 display more similarities than differences. Both countries departed from extreme and one-sided steering approaches and now run ‘hybrid systems’ that aim at making use of the advantages of different steering and recruitment approaches.

Canada and Germany: More differences than anywhere else?

In his price-winning spadework “Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany” Rogers Brubaker (1992) described both countries as classic antagonists with regards to their respective understanding of the principles of belonging to a nation and suggested that as a consequence of these fundamentally differing and deeply rooted philosophies any convergence with regards to naturalization would never occur. In the same way as Brubaker constructed France and Germany as counterparts in the field of citizenship and nationhood Canada and Germany constitute – as least as far as the public perception is concerned – the most differing cases in terms of labor migration policies and more specifically in terms of the respective national attraction schemes for highly skilled migrants. Whereas the Canadian approach, which first and foremost is based on a point system, is widely appreciated as a flexible, welcoming and efficient tool to attract highly qualified migrants from all abroad, Germany enjoys dubious fame for being a notoriously defensive, narrow-minded and restrictive country in terms of labor migration in general and of their attempts to become an attractive destination country for the skilled and highly skilled migration elite specifically. This judgment, however, is based on experiences from the past, recent reforms in both countries have initiated a process of policy reformulation in Canada and Germany which challenge the conventional wisdom of Canada and Germany as being so different.

Employer-Based Programs, Occupation-driven Schemes, Human Capital-Approaches: A Typology of Labor Migration Schemes

In order to defend the claim of a process of convergence between the two countries, which for a long time have been perceived as structurally too different to converge at all, it is necessary to site and classify both cases within an analytical typology. Given the increasing number and case studies of state approaches to attract larger numbers and shares of highly skilled migrants, literature that strives for a systematical and more abstract frame of comparison has been mounting for the last years. The overview of typologies provides – without any claim to be complete – some of the prevalent analytical differentiations in terms of state approaches to labor migration. In particular the approach of Papademetriou/O`Neill (2004), which has been also used in a slightly modified way by SVR (2011), provides a heuristically useful differentiation between different principles of the screening and selection of labor migrants: Whereas employer-based systems make the admission first and foremost dependent on the question whether an applicant already has found an employer, occupation-driven systems capitalize on the detection of labor shortages in specific occupations and/or sectors of the national economy and establish ‘fast track schemes’ with eased access for persons with qualifications in those occupations and/or sectors.

Overview: Typologies of different labor migration policy approaches

- Chaloff/Lemaitre 2009: Supply- vs. Demand-driven
- Thränhardt/Doomernik/Koslowski 2009: Human capital-driven vs. Neocorporatist vs. Market-based
- Hailbronner/Koslowski 2008: State vs. Market/ Explicit vs. Implicit
- Steinhardt et al. 2005: Quantity vs. Price Rules
- McLaughlan/Salt 2002: New Regulations vs. Exemptions from existing Rules
- Berlin-Institut 2012: Human capital orientied vs. labor market driven
- Papademetriou/Sumption 2011: Points-Based vs. Employer-led Selection
- Papademetriou/O`Neill 2004: Employer-based vs. Occupations-driven vs. Human capital-driven
Source: Own Compilation, SVR 2011

Categorically differing from these approaches are human capital-driven schemes which usually not only abstain from any built-in requirement of arranged employment but also are not restricted to specific occupations and/or sectors of the economy. This philosophy of screening and selection applicants instead decides on the basis of an assessment of the observable characteristics of any individual applicant. A very popular method of this assessment is the allocation of points.

Employer-based vs. Human capital driven: Different Strategies in Germany and Canada

For a long time Germany and Canada followed indeed fundamentally different tracks with regards to labor migration policy as can be exemplified by a very brief comparison between the long time institutional backbones of labor migration systems in both countries. In Germany the attraction of highly skilled migrants from outside the European Union traditionally was organized based on the provisions of the ordinance on exemptions from the recruitment ban (Anwerbestoppausnahmeverordnung - ASAV) or the employment ordinance (Beschäftigungsverordnung - BeschV) respectively. These ordinances served as a kind of exception list for circumstances under which the recruitment ban and the general impossibility to recruit labor migrants from outside the European Union could be abrogated. In any case the decisive condition, however, for granting access was the existence of a work contract which made the German system a role model for an employer-based recruitment model. In the same way as the long time German way of organizing labor migration was exclusively fixed on employer-based considerations the Canadian philosophy of screening and selecting institutionalized in the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) at least after the major reform of 2002 (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act – IRPA) solely relied on the human capital approach. Whereas Germany used the existence of a work contract and the derived security of successful labor market integration as the central necessary (but not sufficient) condition for granting access Canada pursued a strategy of just checking the characteristics of the individual applicant, barely took into account the specific needs of the domestic labor market and relied on the assumption that qualified immigrants will find their way into the different realms of society anyway.

The Triumph of Hybrid Models and a Process of Convergence in Canada and Germany

Recently both Germany and Canada witnessed major reforms in terms of their migration policy instruments and approaches which both did not only fundamentally change the traditional principles in both countries but which are also barely known on the respective other side of the Atlantic. Whereas German media and politics still praise the Canadian point system - among other things - for its openness and flexibility ministerial instructions in 2008 actually removed the ‘human capital core’ of the system and severely restricted access to the system by installing and preceding two ‘entry conditions’: In order just to be considered as applicant in the point system the Canadian government has ruled that any applicant must either dispose of arranged employment or of job experience in one of specific and state-defined shortage occupations. The listed occupations ranged from highly-skilled professionals (engineers, doctors) to managers of various sorts (construction managers and financial managers) and even lower skilled trades (plumbers, electricians, and cooks). This means that unless applicants “have Canadian job offers in hand, new applicants who do not qualify for the posted list of occupations in demand are not eligible for processing; their files are returned and their application fees refunded” (Picot/Sweetman 2012: 20). The trigger of this significant renunciation from the Canadian human capital tradition was the backlog of applications within the FSWP which was thought to be reduced by the introduction of these entry conditions. As a matter of fact these ministerial instructions diversified the Canadian steering principles by adding employer-based and occupation-driven considerations to the formerly pure and one-sided Canadian human capital system with the result “that the program as a whole is now more connected to labor market demand than was the case with the original IRPA scheme” (O`Shea 2009: 22). According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada revised FSWP selection criteria will come into force in 2013.

In Germany the last reform step in the area of labor migration so far was the implementation of the EU directive 2009/50/EC of 25 May 2009 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment (Blue Card). At least for the time being, the implementation of the directive generally can be interpreted as a finalization of a long process of liberalization of the existing rules of labor migration which came into force into 2005 in the context of Germany’s immigration act (Zuwanderungsgesetz – ZuwG). Conditions for obtaining the EU Blue Card are a German or recognized foreign or comparable foreign higher education qualification, evidence of an annual minimum gross salary of currently EUR 44.800. In the case of an EU Blue Card being awarded to scientists, mathematicians and engineers or to doctors and IT specialists, a lower salary limit (EUR 35.000) applies. When the immigration came into effect in 2005 the initial annual minimum gross salary for obtaining a high-quality residence permit was more than EUR 80.000. Of more relevance for the comparison between Canada and Germany in this context is a new feature in the German immigration system which was not postulated from the EU directive but which fundamentally changed the very nature of the formerly one-sided employer-based system. The new article 18c introduced for the first time in the history of immigration legislation in Germany a residence permit for job search which is not only a turning away from the ‘No immigration without labor contract’-dogma but also nothing less than the introduction of a very basic, simply constructed and binarily coded (yes/no) point system with only two accession criteria, academic qualification and adequate means of subsistence for the planned duration of the stay.

The basing point for a process of convergence between Canada and Germany thus is the diversification of the respective steering principles and the emergence of hybrid models (Papademetriou/Sumption 20112) in both countries which tend to combine the screening and selecting mechanisms of different labor migration policy approaches. Both countries decided for a renunciation of pursuing a ‘pure’ strategy and rather aim at a flexible combination of elements of all the three basic strategies. In this regard Canada and Germany are coming from very different starting points, the ‘pure’ human capital-approach in one country and the similarly one-sided employer based-model in the other, but are now in a process of convergence and approximation.

The Remaining Differences: How to Sell a Product?

The market for highly skilled migrants is increasingly becoming an asymmetrical market resulting in a shift of power from the mutually competing accession states (demanders) to a mobile and highly skilled workforce (suppliers) and in an institutional ‘race to the top’ as it has been described convincingly by Shachar (2006). Only loosely coupled with the institutional and legal design of immigration and accession rules, however, is the way the different immigration states ‘sell’ and communicate these increasingly liberal and generous options. In this regard Canada and Germany, the two comparison countries in this article, remain very different. Whereas Canada has a long experience of professionally and successfully selling the country as one of the most attractive immigration countries in the world (Berlin-Institut 2012: 35) and runs an informative and clearly arranged website for potential immigrants the German communication attempts to actively establish the country as attractive destination for the highly skilled global workforce are still in the fledgling stages though the new established website make-it-in-germany.com seems to be a promising first step.


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Dr. Holger Kolb, Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration, 2013