Germany needs 400,000 immigrants per year to fill the workforce of Europe’s biggest economy, the head of its national labour agency said.
Detlef Scheele said Germany’s ageing population meant that the number of working-age people was likely to decline by nearly 150,000 this year.
His comments come less than five weeks before a general election, with some politicians insisting there must be no new migrant surge into Germany.
But Mr Scheele said immigration needed to rise compared with recent years to plug gaps in the workforce.
He said it was not about asylum seekers, but “targeted immigration for the gaps in the labour market”.
“We need 400,000 immigrants per year, so significantly more than in recent years,” he told the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“From nursing and climate technicians to logisticians and academics, there will be a shortage of skilled workers everywhere.”
Addressing the potential political fallout, he said: “You can stand up and say, 'we don’t want foreigners,' but that doesn’t work.”
His comments were criticised by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which rose to prominence after a refugee surge in 2015.
Rene Springer, an AfD member of parliament, described his comments as “incomprehensible” and accused Mr Scheele of being a “mouthpiece for companies that want to push down wages further”.
Konstantin Kuhle, an MP from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), said Mr Scheele was right and called for reform of immigration laws after the election.
“Without more immigration, growth and prosperity in Germany are in danger,” he said.
Germany has 83 million inhabitants. Last year, the number of foreign nationals living in the country grew by about 204,000.
This was the lowest growth rate in a decade. Mr Scheele said the working-age population was likely to decline more quickly in the coming years.