E.g., 09/23/2023
E.g., 09/23/2023
Germany Strives to Integrate Immigrants with New Policies

Germany Strives to Integrate Immigrants with New Policies

As Germany concluded its six-month European Union (EU) presidency in June, Germany's federal policymakers passed a reform package to update the 2005 law on migration and integration. These reforms are an important indicator of the federal government's newfound responsibility to the immigrants who live in Germany.

But the government is using means other than policy reform to address the needs of immigrants. On July 12, Chancellor Angela Merkel will unveil the National Integration Plan (NIP). This plan will provide local and state officials with a federal framework for conducting immigrant integration programs.

The reforms and the development of NIP have taken place while the European Union is urging its Member States to share best practices when devising their national integration policies. In order to calibrate its policy, the German government has continually looked to the European Common Basic Principles (CBPs) on immigrant integration for guidance.

Now, with the new reforms and the unveiling of NIP, Germany expects to come one step closer to developing an integration policy within the European framework.

The June Reforms

Most notably, the reforms regularized the status of "tolerated" asylum seekers (see related article), raised the minimum age of family reunification for spouses from 16 to 18, and required those wishing to naturalize as German citizens to vow that they accept the rule of law and democratic norms of German society. Anyone wishing to immigrate to Germany must now also pass a basic German-language test.

Policymakers also incorporated a recommendation from the Interior Ministry's evaluation of the 2005 law when they reduced the minimum investment level for entrepreneurs wishing to immigrate to Germany from 1 million euros to 500,000 euros. Also, these immigrants will need to create five new jobs instead of 10 as previously required. The changes are intended to make Germany a more attractive destination for foreign entrepreneurs.

A second set of reforms updated Germany's integration program for immigrants. Notably, these reforms will increase the maximum number of hours of German language instruction from 600 to 900, decrease the amount of federal subsidies offered to those immigrants who cannot fully afford to pay for the courses, and impose financial penalties for immigrants who are required to take the courses but fail to enroll. Although the subsidy structure will change, the federal government also has decided to increase the integration course budget by 14 million euros to 154 million euros starting in 2008.

The Makings of a National Integration Plan

Shortly after Chancellor Merkel took office in 2005, she announced that the German government would conduct a long-term dialogue on integration. In order to do so, Merkel commissioned the Integration Minister Maria Böhmer to devise working groups, which would regularly meet to compile information and conclusions about the ways government could better serve immigrants.

In March 2007, Böhmer presented the working groups' conclusions to the chancellor. The conclusions included several recommendations from the Rambøll Management firm, which evaluated the integration courses for the German government in a December 2006 report.

The outcome of the evaluation's recommendations and the working-group conclusions led to the creation of language courses geared toward the specialized needs of targeted immigrant groups, including youth, women, women with children, and those with limited abilities to read and write.

Practicing Muslim women, for instance, will have the ability to participate in female-only language courses. Additionally, the courses will focus more specifically on the language and cultural needs of immigrant women and offer child care during the hours of language instruction.

The working groups also identified the importance of better educational opportunities for immigrant youth with a specific goal of insuring that more immigrants enter the upper educational tracks, which leads to the Abitur diploma. The Abitur offers better chances to study at the university and to enter the professional job sector.

In terms of workforce integration, successful initiatives at the local level have provided immigrants the means for gaining the relevant skill sets to enter specific economic sectors, including further education and language instruction if needed. The working groups have endorsed these programs at the national level.

In addition to NIP, the Islamkonferenz (Islamic Conference) has contributed to the integration dialogue by informing the government about specific needs of the Muslim communities in Germany.

The Islamkonferenz gathered for the first time in September 2006 when Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble invited 15 Muslim leaders with different ethnic backgrounds and relationships to Islam to meet with him. This first discussion focused primarily on what the German government could do to improve the position of Muslims in Germany society.

While the conference has not produced any concrete results, a public debate about whether to include a veiled Muslim woman among the participants of the Islamkonfernz emerged prior to the second meeting in May 2007. This public debate illustrated how the conference has initiated a constructive social discourse about Islam's future in Germany. Despite the controversy's salience in the media, Minister Schäuble decided to invite only the original group of 15 back to the second conference.

The importance of successfully launching NIP extends beyond Merkel's promise to Germans to continue conducting a multilevel dialogue on immigrant integration. As part of the 2004 Hague Program on Strengthening the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (see related article), the EU's Member State governments agreed to share best practices on integration and to incorporate the CBPs into their national policies.

Do Germany's Plans Measure Up to the Common Basic Principles?

Germany was a leading advocate of the CBPs and has given impetus to the development of a European-level strategy on immigrant integration. The latest reforms and NIP are noteworthy because Germany has come ever closer to instituting Europe's CBPs into its national framework for integration. What follows is an assessment of how well Germany is meeting the 11 CBPs.

Principle 1. Integration is a dynamic two-way process. Yes.

Chancellor Merkel often cites the ongoing dialogue about integration as being part of a two-way process that occurs at all levels of society.The composition of NIP working groups — which include national, state and local officials, representatives from Muslim communities, representatives from Jewish organizations, pedagogues, and academic experts, among many others — substantiates the chancellor's claim that Germany operates under the assumption that integration is a two-way process.

Principle 2. Integration implies respect for the basic values of the European Union. Yes.

"Basic values" is understood to mean liberal-democratic and secular values. The current integration agenda in Germany requires immigrants to complete 30 hours of civics lesson, where they learn about Germany's governmental system, history, culture, and social norms. Also, in order for immigrants to naturalize, which implies they have attained a certain level of integration into Germany society, they must vow to accept and abide by the German constitution and its implications for living in Germany.

Principle 3. Employment is a key part of the integration process and is central to the participation of immigrants (...). Not quite.

Traditionally, Germany's dual system of job-skill training and classroom education has helped immigrant youth transition more smoothly from school to work. However, these programs are meant for those entering the low- and medium-skilled job sectors, and they often leave youth in the same low-paying jobs their parents held as guest workers (Gastarbeiter). Older immigrants have little structural support from the government, but the government is working to increase the support given to these immigrants.

Principle 4. Basic knowledge of the host society's language, history, and institutions is indispensable to integration (...). Yes.

This is the centerpiece of Germany's integration strategy. Since 2005, when the language and civics courses became part of the official integration policy, an estimated 237,000 of the 360,000 immigrants required to take the courses have enrolled. As of March 2007, over 100,000 participants had successfully completed the courses.

Principle 5. Efforts in education are critical. Not quite.

This is a primary focus of NIP. As of yet, Germany has not instituted a comprehensive policy reform to correct the deficiencies in its educational system as regards immigrant youth or those with an immigrant background. Historically, Germany has performed poorly compared to the rest of Europe in providing immigrants, or the offspring of immigrants, with a path to upward economic and social mobility through education.

Principle 6. Access for immigrants to institutions, as well as to public goods and services, on a basis equal to national citizens and in a nondiscriminatory way is critical (...). Yes, but not completely.

The current laws in Germany guarantee equal and nondiscriminatory access to institutions and public services only for German citizens, making this a question of Germany's citizenship and naturalization procedures. While Germany liberalized its citizenship policy in 2000 by allowing for citizenship based on place of birth (known as jus soli), the naturalization laws have become more stringent. In addition to passing a language test, those wishing to naturalize must also demonstrate a basic understanding of Germany's civic values, accept the "rule of law," and denounce their prior nationality.

These requirements are reasonable if the government actively encourages immigrants to become German citizens. However, the government continues to prohibit dual citizenship even though many immigrants, especially Turks, have chosen not to become German citizens because they would also like to keep their original nationality.

Yet it should not be forgotten that nonnational residents in Germany do enjoy broad health and social services coverage, so they are not completely dependent on German citizenship to gain access to public goods.

Principle 7. Frequent interaction between the immigrants and Member State citizens is a fundamental mechanism for integration (...). Yes.

Germany meets this principle by engaging in an active dialogue across all spectrums of society, as described earlier. The Islamkonferenz demonstrates that the Germans have instituted this practice in their efforts to establish a comprehensive and effective integration strategy.

Principle 8. The practice of diverse cultures and religions is guaranteed (...). Not quite.

The vagueness of this principle and its inability to confine national governments to a specific standard for the treatment of diversity, especially as it pertains to religion, make an evaluation difficult. Nevertheless, the German Constitutional Court has upheld the basic rights of immigrants and noncitizen residents in various cases. In 2002, the Constitutional Court guaranteed the right of Muslims to practice sacrificial animal slaughters. In its opinion on the case, the court cited the constitution's guarantee of the freedom to practice one's religion, and therefore Muslims could not be prohibited from such practices.

In the 2003 "headscarf case," the court found it permissible for female teachers to wear the headscarf while teaching. Unfortunately, the court's opinion had only marginal influence on guaranteeing religious freedom, because ultimately this was a question of the way state governments administer their educational policy. Since Germany's federal structure assigns all aspects of educational policy to the state governments, many states enacted local policies forbidding their teachers from wearing the headscarf despite the court's opinion.

The federal government has done little in the way of policy to protect the religious rights of practicing Muslims. Islam does not share the same legal status in Germany's governmental framework as Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. These religions receive funding in the form of a public tithe, which is extracted as a yearly tax from members of the respective religion's institutions. Furthermore, the formally recognized religions enjoy complete autonomy from the state government. In practice, this means that Jewish cultural centers, for instance, have the right to set up their own schools, which the government cannot control or influence.

Principle 9. The participation of immigrants in the democratic process and in the formulation of integration policies and measures...supports their integration. No

Germany has clearly demonstrated that it abides by the latter portion of this principle, as discussed above. The inclusion of Germany's immigrants in the democratic process is more precarious, however. Since fewer immigrants are naturalizing today than they were during the mid- and late-1990s, it appears Germany has not actively encouraged immigrants to naturalize as a means of political inclusion.

Between 1994 and 1999, over 200,000 immigrants naturalized per year, with as many as 313,000 doing so in 1995 alone. Since then, the annual number has continually dropped from approximately 185,000 in 2000 to 117,000 in 2005. One hypothesis is that since so many immigrants naturalized in the 1990s, few immigrants remain who may wish to naturalize. But this is not likely given the disproportionate number of permanent resident Turks, the largest immigrant community in Germany, who have retained their Turkish citizenship.

Scholars and experts have explained that the low naturalization rate in Germany is due to the renewed prohibition on dual citizenship. This was the topic of a heated debate after the changes in 2000 to the citizenship law, when over 50,000 Turks were expected to have illegally regained their Turkish citizenship after naturalizing in Germany. The German government accused the Turkish government of assisting these Turks in taking back their Turkish nationality.

Before officials resolved the matter, some local Christian Democrats threatened any Turkish-German citizen, who illegally possessed Turkish citizenship, with legal action if they voted in the 2004 federal elections. In turn, the Social Democrats attempted to blame the Christian Democrats for intimidating Turkish-German voters.

In 2005, officials required those Turks in possession of Turkish and German citizenships to choose between the two. They also clarified that anyone who regains their Turkish citizenship after naturalizing in Germany will lose their German citizenship and be subject to residency restrictions.

The ongoing debates about dual citizenship and Turkish political participation raise concerns about the extent to which the current system in Germany actively encourages immigrants' full political participation.

Principle 10. Mainstreaming integration policies and measures in all relevant policy portfolios and levels of government and public services is an important consideration (...). Not quite.

Germany has not responded to this principle, which calls for opening the public sector, specifically the bureaucratic arms of the government and the national police force, to immigrants. As the current policy stands, only German citizens have the right to take posts as civil servants and police officers.

While this is ultimately a question of the right to naturalize, discussed above, a number of reports have asked the government to consider opening civil service positions to nonnationals. The 2001 Independent Commission on Migration and a policy evaluation from 2006 both advocated this policy as a means of promoting integration. The federal government has not heeded this advice, but the state governments have. As part of NIP, a number of state governments have indicated that they would like to employ nonnationals in the local- and state-government administrations.

Principle 11. Developing clear goals, indicators, and evaluation mechanisms are necessary (...). Yes.

The German government has complied with this standard. Since the 2005 migration law took effect, the Interior Ministry has released an in-depth evaluation of the migration policy and of the implementation and efficacy of integration courses. The first report, released in July 2006, reviewed the 2005 law and offered a "primary" and "secondary" list of recommended reforms. These recommendations provided the basis for the latest reform package, which German policymakers passed in June 2007, and for NIP's working groups' discussions.

The Balance

The German government's dedication to achieving an effective integration policy is unquestionable. The latest policy reforms demonstrate that Germany takes its commitment to improving the situation of immigrants seriously. Germany's policymakers have also proven their willingness to abide by European standards.

The government's work is not yet finished, however. As it stands, Germany comes close to meeting every CBP, but the progress toward diminishing all the barriers to full inclusion, particularly as they pertain to political participation and religious rights, has been slow and controversial. The ban on dual citizenship and indecision about granting Islam equal status with other religions indicate that Germans are not yet willing to fully accommodate their Muslim residents.

The 2001 Independent Commission on Migration and the European Union emphasized the fact that integration only happens if it is a two-way process. This means that both citizens and noncitizens must make concessions and work together to create an area of freedom, security, and justice accessible to everyone. So long as the Germans and the immigrants living in Germany remain dedicated to the two-way process, the progress toward reaching a mutual understanding will continue.


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