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Easier recognition of foreign professional qualifications in Germany

Ralf W. Maier and Bernd Rupprecht, LL.M.

Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Department 325 Integration through Education

Translated by: Martin Kelsey (Global Sprachteam)

"Easier recognition of foreign professional qualifications in Germany"

In March 2011, the Federal Government published a draft bill for a law to improve the assessment and recognition of foreign vocational and professional qualifications. This draft bill is currently being debated in the Bundesrat (the legislative body that represents the federal states) and in the Bundestag. The so-called "Recognition Act" will make it considerably easier for immigrants and Germans who have learned an occupation abroad to exercise employment appropriate to their qualifications in Germany.

Demographic development in Germany will bring about a strong increase in the demand for qualified skilled workers over the course of the coming years. The latest prognoses from the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) suggest that, if no immigration takes place, the number of potentially employed persons will decrease by around 7 million by the year 2025, i.e. by an average of 390,000 people per year. A study conducted by the German Institute for Business Research in Cologne in March 2011 indicates that there is already a shortage of some 117,000 skilled workers with higher education qualifications in the so-called "MINT" subjects (a German acronym for "Mathematics, Information Technology, Science and Technology"). For this reason, all areas of skills potential - especially including the potential offered by immigrants - need to be more strongly activated and used in a more targeted way. Calculations prepared by the Federal Employment Agency show that managed immigration of between 400,000 and 800,000 skilled workers from non-EU states (third countries) will be needed over the next 15 years in order to cover the requirement for qualified workers.

Many immigrants to Germany and many Germans acquire good vocational or professional qualifications in other countries. These are in urgent demand on the German labour market. The absence of evaluation procedures and standards means, however, that such people are often not able to make the best use of these qualifications. The "Recognition Act" will provide a remedy for this. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research estimates that around 285,000 people already living in Germany could benefit from this law.

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The new Recognition Act - a milestone for evaluation practice in Germany

The draft "Recognition Act" is a comprehensive legal construct comprising a total of 62 articles. Article 1 is central to the Act: a new federal law on the assessment of the equivalence of professional and vocational qualifications. This Professional Qualifications Assessment Act (Berufsqualifikationsfeststellungsgesetz - BQFG) primarily applies to so-called non-regulated occupations, i.e. the training occupations, approximately 350 in number, included in the German dual system. It also applies in a subsidiary manner to regulated occupations insofar as specific professional laws do not contain any provisions for equivalence procedures. The most important new aspect is the creation of a right to an equivalence procedure. The focus is, therefore, on ensuring that no one's claim to an equivalence procedure can be rejected rather than on the immediate recognition of all qualifications.

The following articles contain amendments to 60 occupational and professional laws and ordinances for the regulated occupations in particular, including revisions to the Craft and Trades Regulation Code (Handwerksordnung), the Federal Medical Code (Bundesärzteordnung) and the Nursing and Long-Term Care Act (Kranken- und Altenpflege). In addition to existing opportunities already introduced within the scope of the implementation of the EU Directive on the Recognition of Professional Qualifications, new legal rights are being established for groups of persons and professions to which no equivalence assessment procedure was previously available. Regulations linked to the nationality of applicants are in particular being repealed or modified. The content and quality of the qualifications are now the only factor determining access to the procedure. A Turkish doctor may, for example, be licensed to practise medicine (Ärzte-Approbation). This was not previously possible, even if he or she had studied in Germany.

Professional regulations which fall under the remit of the Länder (federal states), particularly those which relate to teachers, nursery school teachers and engineers, are not included. Notwithstanding this, the Länder have announced their intention to amend their regulations in line with the federal law and in as parallel a way as possible.
For the 350 non-regulated occupations, the Professional Qualifications Assessment Act (BQFG) establishes for the first time a general right to a procedure to investigate whether foreign qualifications are equivalent to German training. Such a process was previously only available to resettlers (immigrants of German origin from Russia and Eastern Europe). For these training occupations, the question of the equivalence of a qualification brought to Germany will be determined on the basis of standardised criteria and procedures. This constitutes a milestone in evaluation practice in Germany.

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The high quality of German training will be maintained

The main focus of the following remarks is on the new procedures for training occupations in the German dual system. One of the central objectives of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research is to continue the successful international model of dual training at the highest level. This is also reflected in the draft bill. The high standard of German qualifications and domestic vocational trainers form the reference for the assessment yardstick. This means that equivalence can only be ascertained if the foreign training qualification certifies the competence to carry out occupational activities which are comparable to the relevant German reference occupation. The crucial question is whether there are essential differences between the foreign vocational qualification and the German reference qualification with regard to content and duration of training. This will particularly apply in cases where the foreign training is considerably shorter than the German period of training or in circumstances where significant parts of the training are simply missing. In order to assist the competent bodies, the Federal Government is supporting for example the establishment of a database which will encompass occupationally specific information on foreign vocational education and training systems, training institutions and vocational qualifications.

If the equivalence assessment shows that significant differences exist, it may also take existing and evidenced professional experience into account. Although this may prove difficult on an individual case basis, dual training in Germany represents a unique system which combines school-based training with practical experience. For this reason, it is virtually inevitable that consideration will also be accorded to existing professional experience - including with regard to foreign qualifications.

The draft bill avoids additional bureaucracy by placing a much greater emphasis on using existing and functioning structures. In the area of training occupations within the dual system, for example, the competent bodies already defined in accordance with the Vocational Training Act (Berufsbildungsgesetz - BBiG) will be deployed. These are primarily the chambers (Chambers of Industry and Commerce and Chambers of Crafts and Trades). These bodies enjoy the trust of employers and companies, something which will be crucial to successful recognition in practice. Notwithstanding this, the bill also expressly provides for the bundling of competent bodies. Such bundling is an important stage towards achieving standardisation of decision-making practice and more efficient enactment of the law.

In overall terms, the law ensures a rapid procedure. A decision on equivalence must in all cases be made within three months of submission of all necessary documentation. This deadline may, however, be suspended or extended in special cases.

The investigative process concludes with a decision which is appealable in law. If equivalence is granted, this means that the same legal consequences will occur as would be the case with a pass in an initial and advanced training examination pursuant to the Vocational Training Act (BBiG) or in a journeyman examination in the craft trades. Even if equivalence is not granted, the bill provides an advantage for the applicant and the companies. The reasons given for the decision must portray the existing qualifications and any significant differences ascertained in a positive light. This enables applicants to make job applications to companies or adopt a targeted approach towards the completion of updating training.

For further (German language) information, please visit:

The draft bill is available at:

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Last modified on: July 4, 2011

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