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Current developments | Germany |

Germany Historical and Current Development of Migration to and from Germany Germany's Migration Policies Integration and Integration Policies in Germany Refuge and Asylum in Germany Current Challenges and Future Developments

Current developments

Veysel Özcan

/ 8 Minuten zu lesen

Immigration policy

Current developments in German immigration policy are rooted in the reform process which began with the reform of the Nationality Act after the red-green federal government assumed office in 1998.

This legislative reform triggered a general debate about immigration and integration. When the opposition parties refused to permit naturalised German citizens to hold multiple citizenships, immigration and integration began to emerge as highly controversial social and domestic policy issues. This was confirmed in the process leading to the adoption of the new Immigration Act.

A special committee was set up, known as the "Süssmuth Commission" , to develop recommendations for structuring immigration and promoting integration. In 2001, the first draft of the law, based on the Commission's report, contained a points system along the lines of the one in place in Canada. However, this passage was ultimately removed from the bill following heated discussions between the government and the official opposition.

In 2004, the red-green federal government, the official opposition and the federal states agreed on an Immigration Act, which came into force on the 1st January 2005. The law contains provisions on the immigration of foreign workers, the reception of refugees and asylum-seekers and the integration of immigrants. Moreover, it covered aspects relating to security in the fight against terrorism, such as the deportation of those deemed "preachers of hatred". Even without the points system, the Federal Republic´s first Immigration Act was groundbreaking in its focus on promoting the integration of the immigrant population and on increasing the number of highly-skilled and self-employed immigrants.

In the intervening period, however, the provisions relating to the immigration of highly-skilled persons in particular have proved relatively ineffective. According to the Immigration Act, highly-skilled persons are "scientists with special technical knowledge", "scientific personnel in prominent positions" or "specialists and executive personnel with special professional experience" who earn a high salary. These persons may immediately receive an unlimited settlement permit. It is estimated that some 700 to 900 highly-skilled persons received a settlement permit on the basis of this regulation in 2005; in 2006 (up to and including November), the unofficial number was 421 persons, of whom the majority had already been residing in Germany before 2006. The current debate, accordingly, revolves around lowering the hurdles for the permanent immigration of highly-skilled persons.

The fact that immigration to Germany could also be controlled by a points system is shown by the regulation governing the admission of Jewish immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union, which was agreed by state and government officials, the Central Council of Jews and the Union of Progressive Jews in 2005. According to the regulation, Jewish immigrants from this region require, among other things, a positive integration prognosis based on such criteria as linguistic fluency, qualifications, professional experience and age, before they are permitted to immigrate. This procedure was developed by the government, the federal states and Jewish associations, in response to the growing difficulties Jewish immigrants were experiencing in integrating into German society.

Integration policy

There is now consensus that knowledge of the German language is an essential prerequisite for the professional and social integration of immigrants. The new Immigration Act takes this fact into account by providing for mandatory integration courses. Since 2005, new immigrants from non-EU countries must take part in integration courses. These consist of a 600-hour course in German, plus a 30-hour orientation course in which participants are instructed on Germany´s legal system, history and culture.

Alongside the importance of language fluency, the education system plays a major role in the debate on integration. The PISA study has shown that first and second-generation immigrant children are less successful in the German education system than their German classmates. In this context, discussion has focused mainly on the abolition of the three-tiered school system, but also on the necessity to promote language at an early age, as well as the need to introduce a compulsory pre-school year and to expand all-day schools. Educational researchers have indicated that pupils in the German school system are separated into the three tiers too soon (after the fourth or sixth grade, depending on the federal state). Along with children from the lower social strata, above average numbers of children with a migrant background are sent to the Hauptschule (the lowest tier of secondary education) on account, among other things, of their poor knowledge of the language. This division makes social contact and friendship between young people from different social strata more difficult, if not impossible, and, quite apart from the early restriction of professional prospects, contributes to the social segregation of children with a migrant background.

Just how important the subject of integration has become in politics was shown by the integration summit, which took place in July 2006 at the invitation of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union, CDU), and under the direction of the Integration Commissioner of the German Federal Government, Maria Böhmer. The summit brought together state and government officials, town councillors, employers and trade union representatives, welfare organisations, religious communities, the media, charitable foundations, scientists and migrant organisations. Participants in the integration summit are meeting until summer 2007 in different thematically grouped working parties in order to draft a national plan for integration. However, it is not clear to what degree the results will be integrated into the federal government's integration policy.

Integration of Muslims

Just as PISA brought the relevance of education onto the agenda, the 11th September 2001 helped turn the socio-cultural integration of the more than three million Muslims living in Germany into a subject of intense discussion. The issue of Muslim integration is particularly reflected in discussions about such topics as forced marriages, honour killings, the wearing of headscarves, Islamic religious teaching in state schools, and the appointment of Muslim political representatives. Moreover, the terrorist attacks in the United States were taken as grounds to tighten security measures in the Immigration Act, such as by facilitating the deportation of so-called "hate preachers".

Shortly after the new federal government (lead by the Christian Democratic Union, CDU; the Christian Social Union, CSU; and the Social Democratic Party, SPD) assumed office in the autumn of 2005, the Federal Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), initiated the German "Conference on Islam". The first meeting, between state and government officials and representatives of the Muslim community plus other individuals who were not members of any Muslim organisation, took place in September 2006. In future years, the Conference on Islam is to establish measures to clarify the relationship between the state and Islam and to improve the integration of Muslims.

Movement is also apparent among the Islamic associations who claim to represent the Muslims in Germany. The state is pushing for a single point of contact in dealing with issues such as Islamic religious teaching. Various associations are therefore currently working within the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM) to guarantee a central, representative voice for Muslims. The Coordination Council began its work in April 2007; however, it is debatable whether the Council can serve as a representative organisation, as it does not reflect the diversity of the Muslim population in Germany.

Role of the European Union

The European Union (EU) is playing an increasingly important role in developing Germany's immigration policy. Until now, EU legislation has centred above all on asylum policy. It is in this area that the various regulations and directives introduced over past years have made the most impact on member states so far. Whereas until 2005 Council decisions were still taken unanimously, the principle of adopting resolutions based on a qualified majority now prevails in this policy area, along with a joint decision-making procedure between the Council and the European Parliament.

The ability of the EU to influence integration policy is still limited; nonetheless, the EU (or the Council with a unanimous decision taken by the ministers concerned) has passed directives affecting this area of policy in recent years. The influence of Brussels is exemplified in Germany by the General Law on Equal Treatment (Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetz, AGG) which has been in force since 2006 and which is based on EU requirements , and by the directive concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents. This directive grants third country nationals who have lived in a member state for at least five years the right to permanent residence in EU member states and entitles them to take up an occupation or to study within the EU.

One important aspect of EU integration policy is the provision of financial means to support integration policy measures and programmes in the member states. This is the purpose, for instance, of the European Integration Fund, which will provide EUR 825 million for integration activities from 2007 to 2013.

Although the Commission presented a "strategic plan on immigration" in December 2005, the regulation of legal labour migration and control over the inflow of labour migrants will likely remain in the hands of the member states. In its report, the Commission announced that in future years it would be submitting legislative proposals relating to the minimum rights and conditions of immigration and residence applicable to labour migrants from third countries.

In its programme for its EU presidency in the first half year of 2007, the German federal government signalled that the discussion about joint measures for legal migration is to continue. At the same time, however, it stressed that the member states should continue to be able to pass flexible national regulations. Where integration policy is concerned, the emphasis is on the dialogue with Islam. Overall, however, it is apparent that the German EU presidency is increasing its focus on the security aspects of migration. It is the federal government´s view that the central challenges are to fight irregular migration, to extend cooperation in the repatriation of third party nationals and to protect external EU borders. The latter is to be achieved above all by providing personnel and material reinforcement for Frontex, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders. To this end, Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) are to be deployed to secure borders. These are to be made available to the relevant member states in the event of particularly burdensome irregular immigration.



  1. Red and green are the colours associated with the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party, respectively.

  2. The "Süssmuth Commission" is officially called the "Unabhängige Kommission Zuwanderung" (Independent Commission on Migration)

  3. In a points system, points are awarded to an immigration applicant according to certain criteria such as qualifications and age.

  4. For more information on the Canadian immigration system, see Elrick, J. (2007): Canada. focus Migration Country Profile No. 8.

  5. The law requires these persons to have a salary "corresponding to at least twice the earnings ceiling of the statutory health insurance scheme". When this document was being prepared, twice the earnings ceiling amounted to approximately EUR 85.550.

  6. For foreigners, the settlement permit is the safest residence status and can normally only be applied for after a stay of five years. It has unlimited validity, no geographical restrictions, and entitles the holder to assume gainful employment. Moreover, it allows the applicant to bring family members into the country who, in turn, also receive the right to work in Germany.

  7. See Steinhardt (2007).

  8. See Guth (2007) and Steinhardt (2007).

  9. Secondary education in Germany is divided into three hierarchical tiers (Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium), which are often taught in separate schools, and which lead to different diplomas.

  10. The General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) satisfies the EU´s Racial Equality Directive and Employment Framework Directive, which prohibit any discrimination on grounds of "race", ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, ideology or religion. The prohibition of discrimination contained in the AGG, and exceptions from it, are applicable to employment law and civil law.

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