A German Policy Shift? Immigration and Integration Policy in the 21st Century
30 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 30 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
The first decade of the 21st century has been a time of major changes in German immigration policy and a new focus on immigrant integration. Since Germany finally acknowledged in the late 1990s that it is a country of immigration, a variety of laws have shown policy convergence with other European countries. For example, a law giving Germany its first-ever regulated immigration system was passed in 2004 and came into effect in January 2005. This law included not only the development of new regulations on labor migration, but also focused on integration and family reunification with an emphasis on language acquisition and civic integration, similar to laws passed in Britain, France and the Netherlands. Much of this convergence is due to the regulation of immigration policy at the EU level (Geddes 2010), but policies in countries like Britain, the Netherlands and France are also having a clear impact on the approach to immigration and in particular immigrant integration.
The road from guest workers to immigrants was long and twisting. In the early 1970s, about 2/3 of the foreigners in Germany were employed wage and salary workers; by 2000, only 1/4 were. Thus, a German migration policy that began as a way to increase the percentage of residents in the work force wound up reducing the employment-population ratio. The gap between German government migration goals and outcomes during this time period arose from the fact that the number of guest workers was not limited, in part because there was no expectation that they would unify their families and settle, even though laws and regulations allowed family unification and settlement. In short, the migration policy gap in Germany arose from the failure to anticipate the internal dynamics of migration, including employer and guest worker interests in prolonging stays in Germany and the desire of workers to live with their families.
On July 4, 2001, an Immigration Commission that included representatives of all major political parties as well as employers, unions and churches issued an historic report, "Organizing Immigration - Fostering Integration," that declared: “Germany is and should be a country of immigration,” thus removing the not from the previous policy: “Germany is not a county of immigration.” The Commission noted that, in addition to the 75,000 foreigners who move to Germany each year to join family members, some 100,000 asylum seekers arrive, and another 100,000 ethnic Germans who are considered German citizens upon their arrival enter the country. The Commission recommended that Germany welcome an additional 50,000 foreign professionals a year, and that the Federal Office for the Recognition of Refugees be transformed into the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees to manage migration in 21st century Germany. In the 2000s, with the acceptance of migration came a new focus on immigrant integration in Germany. But Germany has also made moves to restrict family reunification, mainly through visa requirements and integration policies that have indeed discouraged or restricted the entry of family members. In this sense, integration policies have become proxies for immigration control. These developments indicate that despite the change in rhetoric, Germany is still very much a reluctant country of immigration (Thraenhardt 1995).
The picture of immigration in Germany has changed a great deal since the end of the guest worker era. As shown in Table 1, the numbers of asylum seekers have dropped dramatically since they hit their peak in 1992. Family migration increased initially, but then began to decline as new restrictive rules were implemented in 2005. These numbers also indicate that a new “gap” has developed between policies attempting to recruit skilled workers and the low numbers of those workers who are actually entering the country. As an article in Der Spiegel noted, the Merkel government “has no plans to revise its approach to regulating the immigration of highly qualified foreign nation[als]” while employers are pushing for an easing of the thicket of regulations governing the recruitment of skilled workers.
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