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German parties edge towards compromise deal on immigration law

FILE PHOTO: German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer attends the ARD- Sommerinterview in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Joachim Herrmann/File Photo/File Photo


BERLIN (Reuters) - German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Monday some refugees should be allowed to shed their asylum seeker status if they find a job and learn German, signalling his readiness to compromise in a coalition dispute about a new immigration law.

Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to help companies struggling with massive labour shortages by lowering the hurdles for skilled workers from outside the European Union.

But the planned immigration law, due to be discussed at high-level coalition talks on Monday, risks angering those voters who feel neglected after Merkel's 2015 decision to admit more than a million refugees and migrants, mostly Muslims from the Middle East.

While a growing number of the refugees are finding jobs, the process is slow given the urgency of the need for skilled workers. It takes up to five years for a low-educated Syrian or Iraqi to learn German and get a professional qualification.

The coalition parties disagree over whether refugees who are already living in Germany should be allowed to shed their asylum status if they have found a job and learned German.

Seehofer, head of Merkel's more conservative Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said he had worked out a compromise deal with Labour Minister Hubertus Heil from the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) ahead of Monday's talks.

Seehofer insisted that asylum seekers whose request had been rejected would have to leave Germany, regardless of whether they had found a job and learned German in the meantime.

However, there should be an exemption for those asylum seekers who cannot be deported because they would face a threat such as torture in their home country, Seehofer said.

"People say: Before they sit around, let them work," said Seehofer, whose CSU fears losing voters to the far-right in a regional election later this month.

Employers' associations and the centre-left SPD want the new immigration law to include the possibility for refugees to shed their asylum status once they have found work and learned German.

"It's about preventing a situation where we send back the right people - and then have to painstakingly search for skilled workers abroad," Heil told Reuters in an interview last month.

Seehofer had previously opposed the 'Spurwechsel' (lane change) proposal because he feared it would encourage immigration by asylum seekers without the right skills.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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