Communications and Marketing

Making labor migration sustainable: H-BRS research team presents solutions

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Germany is looking for skilled workers. And skilled workers from abroad are looking for suitable jobs. So it could be quite simple. A research team at H-BRS has investigated why this is not the case. The researchers examined various projects involving regulated labor migration. Their conclusion: there are good approaches, but also a considerable need for optimization with regard to the needs of companies, potential immigrants and their countries of origin.

At the end of the research project, they are now presenting their findings to representatives from politics, business and civil society in Berlin.

When is a migration story considered a success? Researchers from the Department of Social Policy at H-BRS addressed this question in the “Sustainable labor migration” project. The team conducted interviews with various stakeholders who were organized in international pilot projects in Georgia, Vietnam and Kosovo: with migrants, company representatives and state actors from Germany and the respective countries of origin. The result: “If all partners agree on the design of the migration process, the costs and benefits are fairly distributed and the modalities are contractually agreed, we speak of successful or sustainable migration,” says Professor Michael Sauer, project manager at the university.

In order to achieve this goal, it is not enough to focus solely on the economic needs of the destination country. Instead, the interests and goals of migrants and their countries of origin should be given greater consideration than has been the case to date. Sauer is certain that this would ultimately benefit everyone involved: “We have spoken to many migrants. Most of them would like to stay and work in Germany in the long term. However, many can also imagine returning to their home country for a certain period of time and giving something back there, for example in further vocational training. However, such solutions are currently not very politically opportune,” says the researcher.

Symbolbild Migration Arbeit Pflege
There is a shortage of skilled workers in the healthcare sector, particularly in geriatric and nursing care. Photo: Colorbox

In many areas, the primary aim is usually to recruit as many skilled workers as quickly as possible and keep them in Germany for as long as possible. However, in the long term, only a commitment to an ethical form of recruitment is truly sustainable, also for the target country. This is comparable to a rule from forestry, according to which you cannot remove more trees from the forest than can be replanted. “Applied to migration, this means that we should only recruit as many skilled workers from a country as will not cause any economic or social damage there,” says Sauer. Ideally, positive effects could be generated for the countries of origin so that migration also pays off for them. Sauer advocates recognizing and utilizing existing potential. It is therefore important to structurally anchor findings from successful pilot projects. The researchers focused on three such lighthouse projects in their work. It is also important to further develop already established tools. For example, the “Fair Recruitment Care Germany” seal defines concrete standards for the recruitment of care workers from non-EU countries. So far, however, only German organizations in the healthcare sector can be certified; recruitment agencies from the countries of origin are excluded, as are recruitment agencies from other sectors, such as the skilled trades.

Ultimately, Germany must decide what signals it wants to send to foreign skilled workers with its migration policy. “The shortage of skilled workers is not a German problem, we are in competition with other countries. If we show potential migrant workers that we value them and offer them fair opportunities, this can be a competitive advantage,” says Sauer.

On May 21, the researcher will present the results of the project to representatives from politics, business and civil society at the final conference of the Think Tank for Transnational Skills Partnerships. Development Minister Svenja Schulze will also be in the audience when Professor Michael Sauer makes the case for more sustainable labor migration.


Prof. Dr. Michael Sauer (DE)

Michael Sauer

Head of Programme Bachelor "Sustainable Social Policy" (BA), Professor for Social Policy


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