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Schroeder: Germany needs immigrants

Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder plans to encourage immigrant workers without loosening asylum laws  

BERLIN, Germany -- Germany is to focus on immigration next year, according to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Schroeder said Germany needed to open its gates to immigration and tackle the explosive issue head-on in 2001.

Germany's immigration population has shot up from four million to seven million in the past decade, representing about 10 percent of the country's population.

Racist attacks have received wide publicity recently, and the main opposition party is considering the terms in which immigrants can come into the country.

"We have to resolve the question of immigration," Schroeder told Bild am Sonntag newspaper, according to an advance text of an interview to appear on Sunday.

Schroeder's Social Democrats want to attract highly trained workers, a move away from the recent influx of unskilled labourers.

But pollsters warn it is a risky path because two Germans in three want fewer immigrants.

"We must remain generous about granting asylum to political refugees," Schroeder said.

He rejected demands from some conservatives to impose tougher restrictions on the estimated annual intake of 90,000 refugees.

The country's powerful economy serves as a beacon for migrants from around the world. But they are mostly tolerated as "guest workers" and face great hurdles in obtaining German passports.

"Our asylum laws will not be touched," Schroeder added. "But we have to have clear policies on the immigrants...We simply need them. We will have some concrete proposals in a few months and will quickly turn them into law."

No room for 'U.S.-style immigration'

Schroeder had originally hoped to keep the volatile issue of immigration reform off the agenda until after the 2002 election.

But a newly assertive conservative opposition, hoping to tap into the vein of anti-immigrant sentiment, has forced him to act.

He has said Germany needs to be more modern and flexible, and that was why it must open up to immigration. The conservatives fought any reform of the 90-year-old citizenship laws based on bloodlines, saying there was no room for U.S.-style immigration.

Schroeder said work on the European Union's eastern enlargement would also be at the top of his agenda next year.

But he repeated warnings that Eastern European workers would have to wait for a transition period of up to seven years before they could work without restrictions in Germany.

"The EU's expansion will open up a fantastic market for Germany. But we will have to keep an eye on the German job market.

"We can't just throw open the doors because we don't want the best and brightest to leave Poland and the Czech Republic because they are needed there. We need a flexible transition phase where limited numbers can come in."

Reuters contributed to this report.



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