Ten years of the Recognition Act
A transparent and low-threshold structure of provision has been the key success factor
Johanna Elsässer, Daniela Wiemers
The Recognition Act was described as a “milestone of integration policy” when it entered into force in the spring of 2012. The aims of the new statutory provisions were to help people with foreign professional and vocational qualifications to obtain appropriate employment and contribute towards securing a supply of skilled workers. To what extent has success been achieved? This article mainly focuses on the support structures that have been put in place to implement the law. It concludes by outlining the possible future development of these structures.
The right to recognition – significant changes since 2012
Since 1 April 2012, any person who has completed a professional or vocational qualification abroad has been able to seek assessment for equivalence with a German reference occupation. Such a general right to a recognition procedure had previously only been available to persons classified as “late resettlers” pursuant to the Federal Expellees Act. The EU Professional Recognition Directive had also enabled EU citizens to obtain recognition in a number of regulated professions. But the Recognition Act vastly expanded the group of persons entitled to apply for vocational recognition. For the first time, the law created a general legal right to a recognition procedure in non-regulated occupations. It now no longer matters what nationality the applicant is, where a person completed their training and whether they are already resident in Germany or still abroad. The new statutory provisions have also largely standardised the procedures.
The Recognition Act had long since been keenly awaited within specialist circles. A study entitled “Brain Waste” (Müller/Englmann 2007), which was published within the context of the “Integration through Training” (IQ) Funding Programme, showed that the areas of responsibility and processes relating to recognition resembled a “bureaucratic labyrinth” (p. 33). One of the study’s key recommendations was the establishment of a statutory basis for recognition procedures that would apply in all occupational and professional areas and to third country nationals (cf. Ibid. pp. 201 ff.). This objective was subsequently achieved via the recognition acts passed by the Federal Government and the federal states.
The significance of recognition within the context of the immigration of skilled workers received a considerable boost when the Skilled Immigration Act entered into force in 2020. Entry to Germany and employment for third country nationals is linked in almost all cases to recognition of the foreign qualification, regardless of sector. The immigration of skilled workers from third countries had previously been limited to predefined shortage occupations.
Support measures aimed at facilitating implementation
Even before the Recognition Act came into effect, there was a general consensus that relevant support structures would need to be introduced to ensure that as many people as possible would learn about the legal options available to them and would thus be able to benefit. The recognition procedure is complex. Although areas of responsibility and process sequences are clearly defined, they are not contextually self-explanatory for applicants. Publicly financed projects have therefore been initiated to provide guidance and assistance to those seeking advice. There are also support structures for the competent bodies responsible and information campaigns for employers. The latter are provided at national and federal state level by the lead management ministries in particular. The main focus in the initial years was on putting support structures in place for persons interested in obtaining recognition who were already living in Germany. The first locally based guidance provision abroad was introduced in 2015. More support services for qualified skilled workers were added once the Skilled Immigration Act entered into force.
Establishment of support structures for skilled workers in Germany
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research launched the “Recognition in Germany” portal to coincide with the enactment of the Recognition Act in 2012. This site now offers all key information relating to the recognition procedure in eleven different languages. Its “Recognition Finder” tool acts as a signpost through structures which are complex in some instances and guides the way to the right advisory centres and to the body which is responsible for each respective application.
These online services are backed up by the information and guidance available from the “Working and Living in Germany” telephone hotline operated by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and the Federal Employment Agency (BA). The hotline deals with enquiries relating to topics such as professional recognition by telephone, via email and via a chat function in German and English.
The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) has been helping migrants find employment which is commensurate with their qualifications since 2005 by providing guidance services via the “Integration through Training” (IQ) funding programme. The work of the IQ funding programme is characterised by low-threshold points of access, by good networking with job centres and employment agencies, and by measures undertaken to raise awareness of the specific needs of the migrants amongst such bodies. IQ projects also offer training measures which applicants are able to complete in order to compensate for substantial differences with the German reference occupation. This provision is highly significant to the skilled workers, especially in instances where full recognition is mandatory for commencement of work in Germany, such as in the healthcare professions. Financial support measures for applicants have also been established in order to supplement the information and guidance on offer. Financing opportunities are available via employment agencies or job centres, and individual funding instruments exist at a federal state level for applicants living in Germany. A nationwide “recognition grant” introduced in 2016 can cover procedural costs up to an amount of €600. Since the beginning of 2020, it has also been possible to use the recognition grant to finance training measures. Financial support for participation in skills analyses comes from the “Skills Analysis Special Fund”. A skills analysis offers equality of opportunity in the event of the absence of documents and applies to occupations which are governed by federal law (primarily occupations which are under the auspices of the chambers of commerce and industry and the chambers of crafts and trades). It allows attestation of equivalence with the German reference occupation to be achieved via practical demonstration of relevant skills and knowledge. This is another area in which projects have helped to develop the procedure and to establish it within the scope of guidance and implementation. Since the skills analysis is a guidance-heavy procedure, the latest project Net-QA (2019–2022) places the focus on supporting the competent bodies. This is an area in which there are points of reference to aspects such as recognition of non-formal and informal competencies, something which was strengthened following the EU Council Recommendation of 20 December 2012.
Recognition acts of the Federal Government and federal states
The “Law to improve the assessment and recognition of professional and vocational education and training qualifications acquired abroad” has been in force at a national level in Germany since 1 April 2012. It is a so-called “composite act” which encompasses the Professional and Vocational Qualifications Assessment Act (BQFG) and amendments to the specific laws governing the professions. The Recognition Act relates only to occupations and professions which lie within the area of responsibility of the Federal Government, e.g. the dual training occupations and regulated professions such as doctor, dispensing chemist or qualified nurse. Certain statutory stipulations are attached to the tasks performed in regulated professions. Professions and occupations not regulated under federal law are governed by federal state laws (federal state professional and vocational qualifications assessment acts and specific legislation covering individual professions). Many important regulated professions such as teacher, nursery school teacher, social education worker, engineer, architect and specialist doctor all come under federal state law. Examples of non-regulated occupations governed at a federal state level include technical assistant (training at a full-time vocational school).
Guidance and support for skilled workers abroad
Ten German chambers of commerce and industry located abroad have been advising skilled workers about professional recognition since 2015. The “ProRecognition” project supports those seeking guidance throughout the process. Assistance is provided with establishing contact with visa offices and Immigration Departments as well as with the recognition procedure itself.
When the Skilled Immigration Act entered into force in 2020, the prognosis was that the need to provide support to applicants from abroad would increase. With a view to reducing the pressure on structures, BMBF funding was used to set up the Service Centre for Professional Recognition (ZSBA), a pilot project housed at the Federal Employment Agency’s Central Foreign and Specialist Placement Agency (ZAV). A team of 30 staff provides guidance on the prerequisites of the recognition procedure, on place of work and on issues relating to residence permits, and supports skilled workers abroad throughout the whole of the recognition procedure right up until their arrival in Germany.
Vocational recognition structures under constant continuing development
Even after ten years, the area of professional and occupational recognition is still in a phase of further development during which its structures are being reinforced. Support mechanisms have a key role to play in this regard.
Apart from the declines caused by coronavirus in 2020, the number of applications made for recognition under federal law have risen steadily (10,821 in 2012, 31,536 in 2020, cf. BIBB 2021). An independent evaluation report on the Federal Recognition Act published in the summer of 2017 acknowledges the positive impact of professional and occupational recognition from the perspective of the applicants. Official recognition leads to more successful career entry and advancement, and completing the recognition procedure is also worthwhile financially (cf. Ekert et al. 2017, pp. 85 ff.; Brücker et al. 2021).
But the road to these outcomes may sometimes be a rocky one. Advisory centres regularly report on cases in which those seeking guidance need to run something akin to a “marathon of the authorities”. Not everyone is able to stand the pace. Across the process as a whole, many institutions frequently become convoluted within their own logics (e.g. labour administration, advisory centres, continuing training providers or visa offices). Better networking between the institutions has become more significant in recent years, the establishment of the ZSBA being one case in point. Effective networking between the stakeholders is essential in order to ensure that persons interested in obtaining recognition receive holistic assistance and support and that they retain their bearings during the guidance and application phase. The guidance and networking approaches which have been tried and tested via the projects stated above should be developed further, the best-case scenario being that they will then be firmly established within existing regulatory structures. Nevertheless, information and guidance services are still failing to reach certain target groups on occasion. Further “touch points” with these groups will need to be identified. The “Professional Recognition Round Table”, which was launched in 2021 by the BMBF and BIBB in conjunction with migrant organisations and other multipliers in the field of recognition, may be able to generate new impetuses in this regard. However, the procedures themselves still contain too many hurdles and obstacles. Much has happened over the past ten years, and the new Federal Government has also set itself the objective of simplifying and accelerating the processes involved. The procedures can sometime be very protracted and expensive. In individual cases, for example, the direct and indirect costs incurred can amount to several thousand euros, especially when translation costs, travel costs, training measures and living costs are taken into account (cf. Best 2018, pp. 12 ff.). These costs, and possibly also submitting an application for funding, represent a hurdle for some applicants (cf. Brücker et al. 2021, p. 10). For this reason, continuation of the financial funding programmes including target group-specific marketing and assistance and support with funding applications will be sensible future measures.
Best, U.: Individualförderinstrumente zur Finanzierung der Anerkennungsverfahren. Ergebnisse des BIBB-Anerkennungsmonitorings. Bonn 2018 – URL: www.bibb.de/dienst/veroeffentlichungen/en/publication/download/9580
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Ekert, St.; Larsen, Ch.; Valtin, A.; Schröder, R.; Ornig, N.: Evaluation des Anerkennungsgesetzes. Endbericht. Berlin, Frankfurt am Main 2017 – URL: www.anerkennung-in-deutschland.de/assets/content/Medien_Dokumente-AI/evaluationsbericht.pdf
Müller, M.; Englmann, B.: Brain Waste. Die Anerkennung von ausländischen Qualifikationen in Deutschland. Augsburg 2007 – URL: www.netzwerk-iq.de/fileadmin/Redaktion/Downloads/IQ_Publikationen/Thema_Anerkennung/2007_Brain_Waste.pdf
(All links: status 1/3/2022)
Academic researcher at BIBB
Academic researcher at BIBB
Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2022): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin