Germany first practiced something akin to civic integration toward its ethnic Aussiedler, immigrants from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, who, due to their German ancestry, are considered as "returnees" under German law. Since the 1990s, Germany has offered language courses to would-be ethnic migrants in their countries of origin, which are to prepare them for a "status test" that has to be passed before being entitled to immigrate to Germany.
Aussiedler policy has always provided for a range of measures – including language instruction – to facilitate the integration of Aussiedler after their arrival, which were not open to other immigrant groups such as the guest workers.
The new Integrationskurse, which were introduced in the Immigration Act of 2004 (Zuwanderungsgesetz)
However, there is reluctance in Germany, rooted in the country's racist past, to follow the obligatory and coercive tilt of the Dutch and French models. Since the idea of Integrationskurse was first introduced in the so-called Süssmuth Commission of 2001 (which prepared the grounds for the 2004 Immigration Act), the "right" to participate was stressed, though it was never in doubt that attendance of an integration course was also to be obligatory. The Süssmuth Commission phrased it thus: "(T)he courses should be obligatory; however, penalties in the case of non-attendance ...cannot be implemented and are not practicable." How can there be an obligation without penalties? The same logic is visible in the few clauses of the 2004 Immigration Act that deal with the "promotion of integration" and lay out the design of the integration courses. Section 44 creates an "entitlement" to participate for non-EU newcomers. Section 44a, in turn, creates an "obligation" to participate for those who are "entitled" according to the preceding clause but who "cannot lead a simple oral conversation in the German language" (this obligation extends to settled migrants who are dependent on welfare). According to this construct, certain newcomers are "entitled" and "obliged" at the same time to enroll in an integration course.
If there was debate surrounding the new policy, it focused on the question of sanctions (positive or negative?) and who is to pay (the migrant or the state, and if the latter, the federal government, the states (Länder), or the municipalities?). The dividing line on both questions was the usual one, with the conservative camp (CDU/CSU) pushing for a hard line of negative sanctions (mostly the reduction of social benefits) and user fees, and the majority in the then-ruling SPD and the Greens, in line with the recommendations of the Süssmuth Commission, opting for positive incentives (such as reducing the minimum residence time for naturalisation) and wanting the federal state and the Länder to pay. In the end, a compromise was reached on both questions. With respect to sanctions, an element of positive sanction remains, in that, in case of successful participation in an integration course, the residence requirement for naturalisation is lowered from eight to seven years. There is a larger catalogue of negative sanctions. With respect to financial penalties, there is a modest cutting of social benefits in the case of non-attendance. With respect to the denial of residence permits, an elastic formula was inserted in the 2004 Immigration Law (Section 8.3) which states that non-compliance "can" lead to non-renewal of a temporary or denial of a permanent residence permit, provided that these permits are discretionary. This is a "can" with significant strings attached (particularly that existing family and other social ties in the Federal Republic have to be considered), so that it is not likely to have much impact.
However, the German policy is rapidly moving in a more coercive direction. In May 2006, after intense debates on so-called "honor killings" in the Turkish immigrant milieu and ethnic violence in a Berlin public school, the German federal interior minister and the interior ministers of the Länder agreed on making the attendance of civic integration courses and the passing of standardised language tests a prerequisite for naturalisation. It appears logical to apply to citizenship what is already required for ordinary residence, and this German innovation is likely to spread to other "civic integration" countries too. However, the application of civic integration requirements to citizenship acquisition reverses a previous trend toward liberalisation across continental Europe, which was incidentally crowned by Germany's great citizenship reform of 1999. Moreover, an "integration from abroad" clause for family migrants has recently been introduced, as part of the 2007 reform of the Immigration Act. Again, this followed developments in Ausiedler policy, which since 2005 requires that non-ethnic-German family members of ethnic German applicants acquire basic knowledge of German in order to be included in the application. With this latest reform, family migrants in general (except those from developed countries like the United States or Australia) are required to prove basic knowledge of German language at the point of entry. This has been criticised heavily by representatives of Germany´s large (mainly Muslim) Turkish immigrant community, who feel that they are the main targets of the reform.