New programme provides work permits for domestic staff

In December 2001, the German government enacted a decree which will offer limited employment permits to domestic staff from several central and eastern European countries. Following a so-called 'green card' programme, which was introduced in March 2000 to attract foreign specialists to the German information technology industry, the new initiative seeks to help German families to provide home care for elderly relatives.

On 19 December 2001, the 'red-Green' coalition government passed a decree which will offer employment permits to domestic workers from Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Permits will be issued with a duration of one to three years and applications will be accepted until 31 December 2002. To qualify as potential employers for such migrant domestic staff, a household must be taking care of a relative and be receiving benefits from the statutory long-term care insurance system. The government hopes that by the time the deadline for applications expires, the decree will have been replaced by a more comprehensive immigration law (DE0105223F) which is still pending in the legislative process.

This initiative to enact the decree followed several searches conducted on the order of the attorney in charge of the Frankfurt district. The searches revealed that numerous households who were taking care of elderly relatives were illegally employing undocumented immigrants from eastern European countries. Subsequently, the searches resulted in the deportation of 200 nurse assistants, the prosecution of several families who employed them, and severe problems in managing the care of those elderly persons affected. Experts estimate that the situation in Frankfurt is not exceptional and that there are between 10,000 and 100,000 foreign employees who are (illegally) working in this particular occupation.

The new decree acknowledges the special needs of those families who provide home care for elderly relatives, but also seeks to consider the situation on the labour market. To protect the interests of German nationals who are trained nurses and home care employees, work permits are to be granted to household helpers but not for occupations related to nursing and home care. According to a statement by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, it is the intention of the government not to put at risk the high quality of nursing and home care by bringing in untrained foreign workers.

The new decree follows an earlier government initiative, in March 2000 (DE0003252F), which provided up to 30,000 limited work permits for non-EU experts in the information technology (IT) sector. While this earlier so-called 'green card' model focuses on highly qualified specialists, work permits are now being made available for low-skilled occupations too. As in the case of the IT sector, work permits are to be granted in the course of a consultation process with the institutions in charge of employment administration in the central and east European countries. Employees are to be hired on a full-time basis. Working conditions and pay are to be based on the Germans standard for the specific occupation.

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