German tourism sector: Foreign staff face visa strains
March 29, 2023
Many hotels and restaurants in Germany are short on staff. Help could come from abroad, if only the administrative processes weren't so slow.
From Cameroon to a small town in Bavaria: This journey was recently made by three young men who came to Eilsbrunn to participate in a training program to become cooks. They were hired by Muk Röhrl, owner of the Gaststätte Röhrl restaurant, a family business that's been in operation since 1658. "German trainees are hard to find," he says. "Nobody wants to work in the restaurant business anymore." So Röhrl looked abroad, and found staff members in Africa.
Eight months until the visas arrived
Although the staff members have now started their training in Germany, if all had gone according to plan, they would have started as early as September 2022.
The application for their visas had been submitted to the respective German diplomatic mission in June 2022, but the documents weren't granted until February of this year.
"When things go like this, of course you can't plan," says Röhrl. The unexpected delay was a problem for others involved, too. The owner of the apartments where the trainees were to be housed, for example, threatened to rent them out to others instead of waiting. Months of delays, as in this case, also leads to organizational problems for the vocational school doing the training.
This is not an isolated case. Although the need for personnel in the hotel and catering industry in Germany could easily be filled by job seekers in many countries who are willing to relocate, the gap in the labor force can only be reconciled sluggishly. "A very important sticking point is the issuing of visas," says Sandra Warden, managing director of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA).
In some Balkan countries, for example, demand for visas exceeds the number of appointments offered by German diplomatic missions by a factor of 150. "There are tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people there who have already found an employer in Germany who wants to contract them, but they have no way to submit the appropriate visa application."
Employment future in a lottery
The German embassy in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, is now cooperating with a private service provider to meet the high volume of applications. And because the "very high demand," according to the embassy, "far exceeds" the available appointments, these are allocated monthly in a lottery — a practice that started in December 2021. The procedure is similar at the embassy in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Those who are unlucky are left out.
"Of course, this is a particularly extreme example," Warden says of the situation in the aforementioned Balkan countries. "But there are other areas of the world where the problem crops up, in India, China and Southeast Asia, for example." At the core is a recurring pattern, says Warden. She says German authorities abroad simply don't see themselves as the agencies responsible for creating a welcome culture in Germany and for dealing with low-bureaucracy visa issuance: "A defensive attitude prevails, like 'Oh God, they all want to come to us in Germany?!'"
No change before summer
Although the shortage of personnel in the hotel and catering industry is not a new phenomenon, the situation has worsened dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the catering industry. Last year, the personnel deficit there was still 11.8%, according to a recent report published by the German Federal Statistical Office.
Working conditions are very demanding, and many jobs in this area are "mentally and physically grueling," Warden says. She notes, however, that some wage increases were in the double-digit percentage range last year. Still, her association expects many positions in the hospitality industry will remain unfilled this summer. The gaps could be filled by unskilled and skilled workers from abroad. If only the process to submit the appropriate paperwork wasn't so challenging.
Foreign Office says it's doing what it can
The German Federal Foreign Office confirms that it is aware of the difficulties. "We have already addressed the problem of the sometimes long waiting and processing times for visas for skilled workers and employment visas," it said in response to a query by DW. "In recent months, we have developed a visa expediting action plan within the Foreign Office, in which we have noted what measures would be necessary to remedy the situation."
The representative also added that the Foreign Office is currently dealing with all issues that are under its sole responsibility, including making application processes digital. The Foreign Office also referred to the revision of the Skilled Immigration Act, which is currently underway. The three political parties in Germany's governing coalition agreed to make it faster for visas to be issued and make the processes more digital. The law aims to make it easier for skilled workers with vocational, non-academic training from non-EU countries to migrate to Germany in order to work.
For restaurateur Muk Röhrl from Eilsbrunn, however, it's not just about speed, but also about transparency. There is simply a lack of reliable information about the expected duration of the visa issuance process. It's difficult to reach embassies — inquiries by e-mail remained unanswered. "It's not just that it [the process] has to be faster," Röhrl says. "It needs to follow a planned schedule. If I know it's going to take half a year, then yes, I can adjust to that."