Germany needs drastic migrant influx to fill looming labour deficit

Germany will need to dramatically increase its intake of skilled migrants in order to meet the huge labour deficit caused by the country having the world's lowest birth rate and as a result an ageing population.

A study by auditor BDO and the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI) found that over the past five years, Germany's birth rate was just 8.2 children per 1,000 inhabitants, below Japan's 8.4 births. The downward spiral means the country's working- age population – between 20 and 65 – would drop from 61% to 54% by 2030, leaving thousands of vacant posts.

Almost 21% of Germans are aged 65 or older, making it the world's second oldest population, and on average German women do not have their first child until age 30.

Germany is not alone in facing the economic trauma of an increased elderly population and fewer young professionals. The study found Portugal and Italy to have similarly low birthrates at 9.0 and 9.3 children respectively, while the International Organisation for Migration estimates that the EU's working-age population will plummet by 45 million over the next 50 years.

Germany is the most popular European destination for migrants, with 400,000 permanent arrivals in 2012 – 38% up on 2011. However the country still has a skills crisis in sectors, such as healthcare and the automotive industry.

"We see a danger that the capacity of Germany to innovate, to develop new products and to compete on the world market might decline over the next 10 or 20 years," says the study's co-author Dr Andre Wolf. He adds that the country's pension system could collapse as the number of young professionals paying into it continues to plummet.

A 2011 study by the Nuremberg-based Institute for Employment Research estimates more than 400,000 skilled immigrants per year would be required as Germany's labour force shrinks by seven million in the next 10 years.

Angela Merkel's government has adopted several measures to recruit competent migrants and promote population growth, including adopting the Blue Card scheme in 2012, which simplifies immigration procedures for highly qualified non-EU nationals.

The government also offers a generous child benefits scheme, with parents receiving €184 per month for the first child. But it appears inevitable that Berlin will have to look outwards.

"If Germany wants to stay a leading economy it will need to rely on increased immigration," says Pawel Swidlicki, policy analyst at Open Europe.

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