Germany looks to Canadian model for immigration policy inspiration

March 9, 2015

By Joanna Slater, Globe and Mail |

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. The disquiet burst into public view last fall, when thousands began attending controversial anti-migrant, anti-Islam marches.

The marches, which have since ebbed, 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.

One place they’re looking at carefully for inspiration is Canada, despite the significant and still untested changes to the Canadian immigration system implemented by the Conservative government starting this year.

Last week, the centre-left Social Democrats, the junior party in Germany’s governing coalition, put forward 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.

For Germany, the debate over how to manage immigration is critical to its future. The country is facing a demographic chasm as the population ages and families shrink. The working-age population will contract by nearly seven million over the next 10 years, according to the proposal by the Social Democrats. Businesses are already complaining about the difficulty of finding highly skilled employees.

For now, Germany is benefiting from a stroke of luck, say immigration experts. As the strongest major economy in the region, it 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. And that means Germany will have to look beyond the EU for future sources of immigrant talent.

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