How attractive is Germany to qualified immigrants?

The OECD recently released their second ever “Indicators of Talent Attractiveness” (ITA) study. The study examines how attractive each country is to qualified migrants based on a variety of categories. While Germany still occupies the upper mid-field, it has slipped down from 12th to 15th place compared to the 2019 ranking.

The Indicators of Talent Attractiveness

The survey covers all thirty-eight OECD member countries and evaluates their attractiveness to highly skilled workers based on seven distinct categories: quality of opportunities, income and tax, future prospects, family environment, skills environment, inclusiveness and quality of life. It is unique from other studies in that it divides up the immigrants into categories of highly educated workers, entrepreneurs, and university students. Unlike the 2019 iteration of the study this version also added start-up founders as a limited category for twenty-four of these countries.

The seven categories the OECD used to rank talent attractiveness, with health being an optional category. Source

In these four immigrant categories, Germany was only ranked as part of the top ten countries for international students. In the other three categories it floats in the upper midfield, despite having lost points compared to the 2019 study, especially in the entrepreneur category. This is not to imply that circumstances for entrepreneur immigrants have become worse. Other countries have simply caught up by improving conditions for entrepreneurs.

Where Germany still stands out positively is in its top two position among international students. The results summary speculates that there is a variety of factors at play here. Part of it was due to the relatively high number of top universities, combined with a low cost of study and the increasing availability of high-level programmes in English. On top of that, international students are allowed to work significant hours alongside their studies and conditions to stay are good even after they finish.

The complete results for the study can be found on the OECD website, alongside a more in-depth analysis of the results.

Creating a Social and Economic Framework

“Attractive conditions for foreign specialists cannot be created by a legal framework alone, but instead by a whole range of economic and social factors.”

OECD Indicators of Talent Attractiveness 2019 Results Summary

It would be easy to dismiss these results, but calculations by the Institute for Employment Research indicate that Germany is attracting far less highly skilled migrants than it needs. Accounting for oncoming demographic shifts, we might see as many as 3.6 million people missing in the labour market in the next years.

The pandemic has also negatively impacted talent mobility and international recruiting, and on a more granular level, made it more difficult for new arrivals to integrate and create social connections.

There is no catch-all policy that could fix this – especially considering that attracting immigrants is only half the battle. While many people come to work here, a good portion of them only stay for a few years rather than settling here long term. A survey by the Tübingen based Institute for Applied Economic Research has highlighted some of the reasons why people leave. The language barrier is a major hurdle, as well as a high cost of living and legal issues surrounding residency. Some of the interviewees also encountered difficulties in bringing their families to stay with them.

The other part of the challenge then, is to create an environment that is socially and economically welcoming to immigrants. To create support structures which can help with employment, legal queries or even in allocating childcare spaces. And to improve bureaucractic processes, in terms of digitisation as much as rearding visa and admissions policy.


Germany falls behind in international competition for top talent

OECD ITA 2019 Results Summary

OECD ITA 2023 Results Summary

Talent Attractiveness 2023 – OECD

Why Germany isn’t attractive for foreign workers