With unemployment in Germany now standing at 5 million, it might appear counterintuitive to argue that Germany needs more labour migration.
But many experts and employers are increasingly concerned about current and future gaps in labour supply, especially of qualified labour. They argue that shortages in areas such as health care, engineering and a variety of services will become more acute because of ageing populations and the growing importance of the knowledge-based economy. Such shortages could hamper growth and productivity, or impede the delivery of key social services. Labour migration programmes, many would argue, can help meet these gaps, and are therefore essential for maintaining current levels of prosperity and welfare.
This view, however, is highly contested in German political debate. Opponents of more liberal policies question the need for new labour in a situation of mass unemployment. They argue that gaps should be filled by matching unemployed workers to vacancies. This position often goes hand in hand with a concern to avoid potential problems with the socio-cultural integration of large numbers of new labour migrants.
This dossier aims to sift through the evidence in support of these different positions. How acute are labour shortages, and which sectors and occupations do they affect? How are they likely to evolve in the coming decades? Can they be filled through domestic workers, or is labour migration required to address shortages? Clearly, analysing the economic evidence will not provide any clear answer to the question of how much migration is desirable. This will also depend on broader questions about the sort of society one wants to live in. But given the level of confusion and misinformation that characterises public debates, clarifying the scale and nature of shortages should help inform choices.
Dr. Christina Boswell is head of the Migration Research Group. The Migration Research Group is based at the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWA/ HWWI).
Prof. Dr. Thomas Straubhaar is the President of the HWWA/HWWI, and Professor of Economics at the University of Hamburg.