The maxim that Germany is not a country of immigration, upheld until the turn of the century, stood in the way of conceptual integration policies. Instead, the government delegated integration efforts to welfare organizations for a long time and ignored any criticism from science and politics. Such criticism noted the urgency of active integration support as early as the 1970s. Integration was only defined as a governmental task with the Immigration Law which came into effect on January 1, 2005. To this end, the Federal Authority for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees (BAFI) became the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and was commissioned with regulating measures for integration support. Such measures include the integration courses introduced in connection with the Immigration Law, for example. These courses consist of language classes for a total of 600 hours as well as a 100-hour orientation class to acquire knowledge about the country, for example regarding Germany's legal system, history and culture (as of 2017).
The integration policies follow the principle of support and demand. Immigrants are obligated on the one hand to acquire German skills and respect the fundamental values of German society, especially the free democratic basic order. On the other hand, German society is obligated to "ensure equal opportunity and treatment access to all important aspects of society, business and politics by recognizing and removing existing obstacles" (loose translation).
In 2006, the annual Summit on Integration in the Federal Chancellery as well as the German Islam Conference were initiated, the latter at the initiative of the Minister of the Interior. Both initiatives are intended to demonstrate that German politics not only talks about immigrants but engages in active dialog with them as well. Therefore, both initiatives have symbolic significance. Moreover, a "National Integration Plan" and a ‘National Action Plan for Integration’ resulted from the Summit on Integration. Reviewable target specifications and regular evaluations are supposed to make integration policy in Germany more binding, and determine the progress and deficits of integration support. The focus is on structural integration into the employment market. The Expert Council of German Foundations for Integration and Migration (SVR) recommends including indicators in integration monitoring which measure the social and cultural participation of immigrants and their descendants. This demand represents a recent development: For the last few years, the aspect of cultural integration has (again) moved to the center of the integration debate. There are particularly discussions about the "German Leitkultur" and the question of whether 'Islam' is reconcilable with European values and ways of living. However, the perception of the heterogeneity of Muslim life in Germany is lost throughout this debate. The recognition that Islam is part of this country and its society because of its Muslim population of approximately four and a half million can (also) be interpreted as a central result of the German Islam Conference. Its successes also include finding solutions for the introduction of Islamic religious instruction in schools as well as the creation of five centers (so far) for Islamic theology for training and educating Islamic religion teachers, theologists and Imams.
The integration policy progress of recent years also included a law from 2012 which is intended to improve the opportunities for immigrants to have their foreign university and apprenticeship degrees recognized more easily in Germany. This used to be quite difficult due to a non-transparent recognition system and caused many immigrants in Germany to work well beneath their qualification levels – a loss not only for the German economy but also for the immigrants themselves whose (life) achievements were not recognized. However, the recognition law only applies for professions regulated on a federal level. That is why the 16 states were obligated to create their own recognition laws for professions regulated on a state level (for example, educators and teachers) which by now has occurred comprehensively. Five years after the recognition law came into effect, education transfer experts are still criticizing the lack of standardization in implementation. According to them, this leads to the recognition system remaining non-transparent.
Due to the high influx of asylum seekers in 2015, an Integration Act was passed in 2016. Unlike one may suspect from its name, it does not provide a framework for extensive integration policies but instead contains only technical provisions dealing primarily with the labor market integration of asylum seekers with good prospects of being granted a residence permit and recognized refugees. In doing so, it follows the principle of support and demand. It facilitates access to the labor market for asylum seekers and allows those with leave to remain to complete an education program they may have started. But it also stipulates that benefits will be cut for those who do not participate in integration measures. And unlike before, recognized refugees will no longer be granted a permanent residence permit after three years but only after five years. This right is also conditional upon proof of basic German skills and integration achievements. Moreover, a residence requirement for recognized refugees without employment subject to social insurance contributions or enrollment in university obligates them to reside in the state to which they were assigned. Refugee aid organizations criticize the fact that the residence requirement stands in contrast to free mobility which must be granted to recognized refugees according to the Geneva Refugee Convention.
In addition to the federal integration measures, integration policy is also executed on state and municipal level. All states have developed an integration concept and/or corresponding guidelines. Three states – Berlin (2010), North Rhine Westphalia (2012) and Baden Wurttemberg (2015) – have adopted integration laws which are intended to increase the commitment to migration policy efforts. Several municipalities have created their own integration concepts as well.
The integration policy efforts in Germany are assessed as positive. The Migrant Integration Policy Index (2015) which applies 167 indicators to investigate the social participation opportunities of migrants over time has ranked Germany in the top 10 of the 38 countries studied.
However, people with a migration background still do not have the same participation opportunities in central social areas, such as education, employment market, residence and political involvement. This situation was also caused by years without a coherent integration policy. But various statistics show that the structural integration has improved in some areas. People with a migration background still do not finish school or an apprenticeship as frequently as those without such a background (cf. Fig. 4). However, they do attain their Abitur to the same ratio as people without a migration background and the share of university graduates among immigrants is somewhat higher than in the population without a migration background. In 2015, 64.6 percent of the population with a migration background were employed, while this proportion was 76.3 percent for people without a migration background. Members of immigrant families are more frequently unemployed than those without a migration background. They are also at a higher risk of poverty. So far, only European Union citizens living in Germany are able to partake in municipal elections. Members of third states are excluded from voting, even if they have been living in Germany for decades. Many municipalities have created foreigner or integration councils to be able to represent their interests.
Integration measures are only intended for immigrants with right of residence. Estimates based on the police criminal statistics state that 180,000 to 520,000 people lived in Germany without right of residence in Germany in 2014. It should be assumed that the high number of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 will lead to an increase in people living in Germany without proper documentation: As the number of completed asylum proceedings increases, so does the number of those without protective status who then are obligated to leave the country. At the end of 2016, 54,437 people living in Germany were "immediately obligated to leave the country". Another 153,047 people were living in Germany with an exceptional leave to remain. Parts of both groups may opt for an irregular stay by going into hiding and thereby avoiding (potential) deportation. It is also not certain how many of the rejected asylum seekers who voluntarily return to their home country indeed actually leave Germany. Moreover, tightening of the asylum laws in 2015 and 2016 regarding people from the Western Balkan states may lead to citizens of those countries foregoing applications for asylum due to the negative prospects of the application and instead remaining in Germany illegally.
The aspect of illegal stays was not of central significance in the discussions about migration for many years. The discussions about the deportation of rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin have recently become more virulent. This aspect is frequently linked to questions of interior security, especially since it became known that the man who, in 2016, drove a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin for Islamic motives, killing 12 people in the process, was a rejected Tunisian asylum applicant who could not be deported to his country of origin on account of lacking documents.
This text is part of the Interner Link: Migration Profile of Germany.