Virginia, US

The German Government, the Federal Employment Agency (FEA) and the State Government of Baden-Württemberg have announced a plan called PUMA (“Punktebasiertes Modellprojekt für ausländische Fachkräfte”, “point based model project for foreign skilled migrants”) to introduce a new immigration option for third country nationals with a vocational training degree and further qualifications which allows applicants to gather up to 100 points as a threshold to obtain a work permit for Germany.

The areas for which points can be accumulated are German language skills,   English or French language skills, previous stays in Germany or other EU countries, and relatives in Germany. Please see also our client alert dated March 1, 2016 on this topic.

The government says it intends to test a new immigration pathway which has proven to be successful in Canada and could serve as a blue print for a new immigration code. Also, it aims at attracting skilled immigrants to Baden-Württemberg, the powerhouse of the German Mittelstand. Ever since the political debate on immigration and skilled migration in particular has become vocal, points based systems and Canada as a role model have been continuous companions of the discussion. But so far, they never made it into the German immigration system. The introduction of PUMA is therefore seen as a move towards a policy of controlled migration.

A closer look on the project shows that PUMA is only set free in a quite small preserve which may just not be big enough a habitat for PUMA to successfully hunt for foreign talent.

As a start, it is limited to employers in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Even though the state is home to some of the most successful economic hubs in Germany and to many world leader firms, it is still only one eighth of the German population.

Secondly, it only applies to foreign nationals with an apprenticeship degree ("Berufsausbildung") which means at least a two years formal education program. This degree must be comparable to a German apprenticeship degree, a threshold that only few countries and schools will be able to reach as the requirements are oriented strictly at the very formalised German vocational training system. The degree recognition process, which requires an additional application to be filed with specific German recognition authorities, can be lengthy and is difficult to handle from abroad. Once again, degree recognition turns out to be the new playing ground for de-facto immigration restrictions after the actual immigration system has been cleared from many obstacles of the past.

As holding a degree is a must, an applicant cannot gather any points by years of experience. A 19-year old who just finished apprenticeship school may qualify, someone with two decades of relevant learning by doing experience will not. The market opinion about such an applicant, manifested by an employment offer and a potentially high salary will still not be trusted under PUMA.

From those foreign nationals that are in possession of such a degree, most will be able to use the existing apprenticeship holder immigration option anyway. This option allows for immigration into shortage occupations that have been determined in a white list (“Positivliste”) by the FEA. The list contains dozens of professions, mostly in the technical and construction field. The most demanded jobs are likely to be covered by the list anyway. The new option will only be relevant for those migrants who are trained in non-white list professions.

Also, PUMA still follows the employer demand driven German immigration concept. A job offer still is a necessary requirement to get a work permit under PUMA. This, however, is per se not a bad step, as applicants will be able to put their profiles into a talent pool run by the FEA where their profiles can be accessed by employers. Only if a job offer is placed, a work permit application can be filed. This will avoid migrants come to Germany without a job, a scenario that would give PUMA much unwanted bad publicity.

PUMA will also not be able to serve as a means for university graduates who intend to take up a medium skilled job, a phenomenon which is commonplace for first generation immigrants as an easier access to the labour market in a new country. Again, it must be an apprenticeship degree comparable to the German system.

Compared to the existing local hire immigration system, PUMA rather adds eligibility criteria than make things more transparent. The current system works on two criteria only: recognized degree and job offer with adequate salary. Those two are mandatory requirements for PUMA as well, and then other requirements must come on top.

Whether PUMA will be able to prey successfully on the existing German immigration system and play a role for a move towards a point based immigration system will have to be reviewed in the years to come. If you have any questions about German immigration please contact Marius Tollenaere.