Germany's Social Democrats press for new points-based immigration rules

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, will announce a plan on Monday for a points-based system to regulate immigration, a top party official said.

Parliamentary faction leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) Thomas Oppermann attends a session of the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Thomas Oppermann, who leads the Social Democrats in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, said the goal was to pass the new law governing migration by skilled workers from outside the European Union before national elections in September 2017.

“The core of the law is a point system modeled on the Canadian system,” Oppermann told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. The law would not change rules on refugees and migrants applying for asylum in Germany, he said.

Oppermann said the plan would assess immigration applications based on age, education, work experience, language skills and ability to integrate into German society, with a target of allowing 25,000 immigrants to enter in the first year.

The proposal comes as Germany reassesses its immigration policies after the influx of nearly 900,000 migrants last year, most fleeing war and violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and struggles to fill jobs given its aging workforce.

German businesses are having trouble finding skilled workers despite the influx of migrants, most of whom must first learn German before entering the labor market.

The targeted number of skilled migrants would be re-evaluated each year, depending on the needs of the German labor market, Oppermann told the newspaper. Migrants who earn enough to support a family would be allowed to bring spouses and children. But migrants accepted under the new scheme would be excluded from receiving welfare and other social benefits for the first five years after entering Germany, unless they had paid in enough contributions.

Economy ministers from all 16 German states view integration of migrants into the labor market as an opportunity to tackle skill shortages, the Tagesspiegel newspaper reported, citing a survey of the ministers.

The paper quoted Joerg Felgner, economy minister for the state of Saxony-Anhalt, as saying that regions and cities had to combat anti-migrant sentiment to attract migrants as workers.

“As long as migrant homes are being torched and anti-migrant slogans are being flung around marketplaces and parliaments, the foreign workers we urgently need will give a wide berth to our state and eastern Germany as a whole,” said Felgner.

Merkel said last year Germany needed to learn from its mistakes in dealing with “Gastarbeiter” or guest workers in the post-war period and integrate refugees and asylum seekers from the moment they arrive in the country.

Her government has been under fire for its “open door” refugee policy, with her Christian Democrats suffering losses in a series of regional elections as voters switch to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The SPD’s public support dropped one percentage point to 22 percent - its lowest rating in three months - in a new poll conducted by the Emnid group for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Merkel’s Christian Democrats remained in the lead with 34 percent, with the AfD getting 12 percent, the pro-environment Green party 11 percent, the Left party 10 percent and the libertarian Free Democratic Party five percent.

German unemployment fell more than expected in October, pushing down the jobless rate in Europe’s biggest economy to 6.0 percent, the lowest level since German reunification in 1990, and the number of job vacancies to a record high of 691,000.

Experts estimate Germany’s working age population, whose pension contributions support a growing number of retirees, will shrink by up to 6 million by 2030.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ros Russell