Eastern, Southern Europeans flock to Germany seeking work

Polish migrant workers harvest white asparagus from an asparagus farm on April 26, 2013 near Klaistow, Germany.

Germany has been attacked by some of its European partners for promoting austerity as the best way to deal with the debt crisis.  But Germany seems to be providing a lifeline for the hardest hit euro zone countries: It’s become a magnet for migrant workers.

More than a million foreigners flocked to Germany for work last year, the biggest influx since 1995. Most of the migrants were  from Eastern Europe, but many came from recession-hit countries elsewhere in the euro zone. And it’s easy to see why.

In countries in crisis, like Greece and Spain, more than a quarter of the workforce is unemployed. Meanwhile in the more buoyant  German economy, the jobless rate has fallen to around 5 percent.

The immigrants are a boon for Germany which has one of the lowest birthrates in the world; the homegrown population is shrinking. 

“German unemployment has reached the level where German companies find it difficult to find the skills they require for certain jobs," says Christian Schulz of the German bank Berenberg. “They have to look to immigrants to fill these positions.”

But Germany faces further criticism from some its southern neighbors. They argue that they are losing some of their brightest young workers, and they accuse the German government of triggering the recession by insisting on austerity while German industry now benefits  from the brain drain.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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