A central hotline will be set up in Germany to assess qualifications for foreign nationals in a bid to combat severe skill shortages in some professions.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet has approved legislation to recognize foreign academic qualifications, making it easier for non European Union professionals to work in Germany but it still needs to be approved by parliament.

The move comes at a time when Germany needs more foreign workers with specific qualifications. The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce estimates that there is a shortage of 400,000 skilled workers. The doctor's association Marburger Bund says Germany needs 12,000 hospital doctors and there is a shortage of around 3,000 general practitioners.

The Association of German Engineers said there were more than 76,000 unfilled engineering vacancies in June, up from 30,000 in 2009. The Federal Labor Office says the shortages have spread to include pharmacists, IT specialists, social workers and other healthcare professions.

It is also thought that there are thousands of foreigners living in Germany unable to work in their chosen profession because their qualifications are not recognized.

‘We're competing worldwide for the best brains. So, we have to optimize the potential of everyone who lives here. Our order books are full, things are looking great for us, so we need people such as technicians and engineers,’ said the education minister Annette Schavan.

She also said that it is estimated that around 250,000 foreign workers have a vocational degree, 23,000 a masters or a technical qualification and 16,000 a university degree that cannot at present be recognized.

The new law would apply to 500 different professions and German states are considering changing the rules for other jobs such as teaching, which are regulated at a state rather than a Federal level.

Schavan said the government would also relax the rule requiring everyone working in certain professions such as doctors, to have a German passport.

But industry expert have warned that the change won’t suddenly solve recruitment problems. ‘We are not going to suddenly discover 300,000 highly qualified people,’ said Sybille von Obernitz of the German Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

Herbert Bruecker, an economist and immigration specialist with the Federal Labor Office, advocates a points system using such criteria as education, work experience and language skills, as exists in Canada.

‘These measures for doctors and engineers will not lead to mass immigration. We would be doing well if we could attract even 1,000 workers like this each year,’ he added.