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August 1996 Volume 3 Number 8

German Immigration Reforms Expected


Immigration Policy. Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, Germany's Commissioner for Foreigners, predicted on June 29 that Germany will soon make reforms in immigration law. Before the end of 1998, it will be easier for at least the children of foreigners born in Germany to become dual nationals, she said. According to Schmalz-Jacobsen, most of Germany's 656 members of Parliament are in favor of changing Germany's nationality laws to reduce the waiting period before a foreigner can apply for naturalization, and to give foreigners more rights in the naturalization process.

Germany's current nationality law, the 1913 Reichs- und Staatsangehoerigkeitsgesetz, allows for the naturalization of foreigners. There were about 200,000 naturalizations in 1993, and 260,000 in 1994. Between 1973 and 1994, about 1.5 million foreigners became German citizens.

There are two major types of naturalization in Germany. Ethnic Germans, so-called "Aussiedler," are Germans abroad who move to Germany, where they have a right (Anspruch) to German citizenship. There were 233,000 Anspruch naturalizations in 1994, and 1.1 million since 1973. The overwhelming number of naturalizations in Germany are naturalizations of people of German stock.

Other foreigners may become German citizens after residence of at least 15 years at the discretion (Ermessen) of the German authorities. Such naturalization applications may be rejected if the foreigner has committed a felony (including prostitution), has less than six years of schooling, has received welfare payments, or if German authorities deem naturalization to be "not in the interest of the German state." The fee for naturalization was lowered in 1993 to DM500 per adult and DM100 per child. Foreigners who marry Germans can apply for naturalization after three years of marriage and residence.

Since 1993, foreigners between the ages of 16 and 23, who have lived legally for at least eight years in Germany, and who have at least six years of German schooling, have been entitled to German citizenship upon request.

There were 45,000 such "Ermessen," or discretionary, naturalizations in 1993--more than double the 18,000 in 1989. In 1994, the number of discretionary naturalizations fell to 26,000.

In most cases, foreigners wishing to become naturalized German citizens must give up their current citizenship. Most West European nations automatically release their citizens when they naturalize, but a few nations, notable Turkey, require the completion of military service before a young man can give up his citizenship.

In the 1990s, of the 450,000 marriages that have taken place each year in Germany, 390,000 have been between two Germans, 10,000 between two foreigners (with at least one partner living in Germany), and 50,000 of a German with a foreigner. In about 25,000 marriages each year, a German woman marries a foreign man--Turks, ex-Yugoslavs, Italians, and Americans together comprise almost half of the foreign husbands. In another 25,000 marriages each year, a German man marries a foreign woman--Poles, Thais, and ex-Yugoslavs together are about one-third of the foreign wives.

The German weekly "Der Spiegel" in June summarized the work of several German researchers under the headline "Germany needs foreigners."

The article opened by contradicting German political convention in asserting that Germany is a country of immigration (Einwanderungsland), and that it is time for Germany to recognize that fact by enacting an immigration law, and creating an immigration department to administer the law. The SPD, FDP, and the Greens have made immigration proposals, although the SPD speaks of Zuwanderung rather than using the common German word, Einwanderung, which has a negative connotation for voters.

In each of the political parties' proposed immigration laws, a commission would be charged with setting an annual ceiling on the number of newcomers to be admitted to Germany.

Many observers put the "immigration need" of Germany at 300,000 to 400,000 newcomers per year. According to a 1994 estimate, 1.1 million foreigners and ethnic Germans entered Germany to settle, and 740,000 Germans and foreigners left, leaving Germany with a net 330,000 newcomers--180,000 ethnic Germans, and 150,000 net new foreign residents.

Some politicians favor reducing the number of ethnic Germans to make room for a larger number of other foreigners. During the Spring 1996 elections in southwestern Germany, SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine argued that the country could not afford to accept 220,000 ethnic Germans each year. The FDP has proposed that the 218,000 ethnic Germans admitted in 1995 be reduced in future years by about 10 percent.

Several economists argue that Germany's economic miracle is linked its immigrants, and that Germany needs more young and mobile foreigners to sustain its welfare state. One estimate is that, in 1992, foreigners and ethnic Germans paid DM32 billion in taxes, and received DM18 billion in tax-supported services (there are no data on ethnic Germans, since they enter statistical systems as Germans). Another study argued that two-thirds of all foreigners who found jobs since 1988 took jobs that Germans refused.

In one proposed immigration system, employers would bid against one another by offering a fee to the government to obtain one or more of a annual quota of foreign professionals. Successful bidders would then receive permission to import the foreigners that they recruit.

Some demographers argue that Germany needs foreigners to keep the population from shrinking, from 82 million in 1996 to a projected 73 million in 2020, and 39 million in 2050. In order to keep the German labor force at its current level of about 41 million, it is estimated that Germany will need to accept an average 400,000 immigrants annually through the year 2000.

Aussiedler/Jews. Two groups have special privileges for settling in Germany, ethnic Germans and Jews. In 1939, an estimated 8.6 million ethnic Germans lived outside the German Reich, mostly in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Today, an estimated three to 10 million remain, with most estimates in the three to four million range.

Ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) living in the ex-USSR have the right to enter Germany, but the burden of proof is on them to prove that they are in fact descendants of Germans settlers. Until 1990, ethnic Germans could move to Germany and then prove that their ancestry allowed them to stay. However, when in 1990 almost 400,000 such people arrived, fears of a mass influx arose and procedures were changed to require ethnic Germans to prove their ancestry before emigrating, and the maximum number allowed to move to Germany was set at 220,000 per year.

Today, most Aussiedler are from Russian and Kazakstan. They arrive in Germany as Russian and Kazak citizens, and they are permitted to keep their Russian and Kazak citizenship even after they become German citizens. Some have returned to Russia and Kazakhstan.

Since World War II, Germany has had a policy of accepting Jews from the USSR/ex-USSR on the ground that the destruction of European Jewry by Germany imposed a duty to take in Jews suffering discrimination. Recently, Germany's Development Minister suggested that Germany may no longer need to accept Jews from the ex-USSR, since conditions there have improved for them.

Some 45,000 Jews, and 1.5 million ethnic Germans, have migrated to Germany since 1990.

Data on Foreigners. There were about five million foreigners among the 79 million residents of united Germany on October 3, 1990, and all but 100,000 of them were in what was West Germany. Data on foreigners in Germany has since 1959 come from a central register--Auslaenderzentralregister or AZR--that collects data from the local authorities with whom residents register when moving in or out of a city.

Some foreigners are believed to have left Germany without de-registering, so the seven million registered foreigners in the AZR in December 1995 may be an overestimate by several hundred thousand.

About half of the foreigners in Germany in 1995 had lived in the country for 10 years or more, and half of these had lived in Germany for 20 or more years. Some 2.5 million foreigners settled in Germany between 1988 and 1993.

Foreigners are about nine percent of Germany's residents, and their proportion is rising, mainly through natural increase. About 100,000 or 12 percent of the 800,000 births in Germany each year are "foreign children."

Turks are the largest group of foreigners--the two million Turks are about 28 percent of all foreigners in Germany, followed by 1.3 million persons from ex-Yugoslavia, 19 percent; 572,000 Italians, eight percent; 356,000 Greeks, five percent; and 263,000 Poles, four percent. About one-fourth of the foreigners in Germany come from one of the other 14 EU member nations.

There were two million asylum-related foreigners living in Germany in 1993, and 1.75 million in 1994. Of the asylum-related foreigners living in Germany in 1994, only 267,000 were recognized refugees and their families. Another 650,000 were "de facto" refugees, 415,000 had pending asylum applications, and 350,000 had a temporary safe-haven status in Germany, mostly because of trouble at home.

About three-fourths of all foreigners lived in four of Germany's 16 states in 1994. North Rhine-Westphalia had 1.9 million foreign residents, Baden-Wuerttemberg had 1.2 million, Bavaria had 1.1 million, and Hesse had 790,000 residents.

Bosnians. There are 320,000 Bosnians in Germany, 86,000 in Sweden, 80,000 in Austria, 36,000 in Italy, 28,000 in Denmark, 25,000 in Switzerland, 18,000 in Norway, and 15,000 in France.

Starting on October 1, 1996, Bosnians in Germany are supposed to return to Bosnia, but it now appears that this will be difficult to accomplish.

First, the Dayton agreement says that Bosnians have the right to return to their homes, but up to half of the Bosnians in Germany are Muslims from areas now under Serbian control. Second, the Bosnian government is demanding that young men who avoided military service pay DM1,000 to DM10,000 in fines, which may discourage returns.

Off-the-record, German officials complain that they do not want their country to be forced into paying three times for Bosnia's civil war--first to care for Bosnians in Germany, second in contributions to the EU-reconstruction fund, and third in special payments to promote the return of Bosnians in Germany.

Vietnamese. On July 5, Germany announced that Vietnam had approved the return of 3,000 Vietnamese. Germany submits the names of persons to be returned, and Vietnam checks to be sure that they are Vietnamese. There is not yet a timetable for the repatriation process.

Meanwhile, an article in Reuters said that many illegal Vietnamese want to leave the cigarette-selling underworld of Berlin to return home. Some say they fear arrest, others worry about the gangs that control the smuggling of cigarettes.

Asylum. In June 1996, there were 8,234 asylum applications, the smallest number since June 1989. About seven percent of the applications handled in June 1996 resulted in a foreigner receiving asylum in Germany, and another five percent of the foreigners were allowed to stay temporarily in Germany--88 percent of the applications were rejected.

In June 1996, it was reported that 74 of Germany's 31,500 Catholic and Protestant churches had become sanctuaries for 230 foreigners, half children, whom the government was seeking to deport.

In the "14 steps to the new asylum law," a leading journalist, Heribert Prantl, reviews the history leading up to the narrowing of the right to asylum in Germany. Prantl began with Article 16 of the German Basic Law--persons who are politically persecuted can obtain asylum--and then noted that, in the guest worker era, there were few asylum applications--5,595 in 1973. As the number of asylum applicants climbed to 108,000 in 1980, there was talk of asylum reform, but it was relatively easy to reduce the number of applicants by requiring Turks, who were half of the applicants, to obtain visas before coming to Germany.

In 1990, there were 193,000 asylum applications, and Germans began to say that Germany had too many problems to deal with the burdens of asylum seekers. In 1991, attacks on foreigners began first at Hoyerswerda and Huenxe. Those who opposed changing the constitution in a manner that restricted asylum said that Germany should not give in to anti-foreigner sentiment stimulated by the radical right.

In the spring of 1991, the SPD proposed an immigration law with annual quotas.

Because Social Democrats have an historically based interest and sympathy for people in need of refuge, the SPD was slow to accept the need for a change in the asylum law. The ruling CDU-CSU-FDP coalition wanted to amend the constitution, but the SPD argued that procedural changes could resolve the issue. In August 1992, foreigners were attacked in Rostock, and the SPD, in a fall 1992 meeting, agreed that the constitution must be amended in a manner that reduced the number of asylum applicants living in Germany.

On May 29, 1993, five Turks were killed in an arson attack on their home in Solingen.

On May 26, 1993, the German Parliament approved the asylum reform by a vote of 521 to 132--the individual right to asylum remained in the German Basic Law, but access to asylum in Germany was limited by the "third safe country" clause-- asylum applicants were expected to apply for asylum in the first safe country they entered.

Germany is surrounded by safe countries. Thus, the burden of proof is very great for applicants from countries recognized as generally safe. Airport rules permit an accelerated hearing on applications from persons arriving without documents at German airports. If they fail the test, they can be sent back immediately.

The new asylum law went into effect on July 1, 1993, and was approved by the German constitutional court on May 14, 1996. Germany spent a record DM15 billion on asylum seekers in 1992; in 1995, the cost of operating the asylum system was about DM8 billion.

About 2.3 million of Germany's 36 million households received welfare assistance at the end of 1994, including 450,000 foreigners. The number of foreigners receiving welfare payments dropped by 200,000 between 1993 and 1994 because of changes effective July 1, 1993 that prevented many asylum applicants from receiving cash assistance.

Residence and Work Permits. All foreign residents need an Aufenhaltsgenehmigung, or residence permit. There are four major types--Aufenthaltsbefugnis, or Duldung (toleration) to stay in Germany granted for humanitarian reasons, a status that can be revoked at any time; Aufenthaltsbewilligung, or the right to stay in Germany for a specific purpose, such as to study; Aufenthaltserlaubnis, or permission to stay, usually for one year; and, Aufenthaltsberechtigung, or permanent residence status.

Most foreigners must live in Germany one year before obtaining a work permit, and most foreigners initially obtain one- to- three year work permits (allgemeine Arbeitserlaubnis) after the local employment office certifies that there are no unemployed local workers available to fill the job for which the foreigner is seeking permission to fill.

The work permits usually restrict a foreign worker to a specific job with a named employer. Other work permits restrict the localities, industries and occupations in which the permit-holder may work. Most foreigners must live in Germany for at least eight years before they can be self-employed.

Work permits can also be unlimited, or "unbefristet," in time, which means that the foreigner is allowed to work in Germany as long as she has a valid residence permit, and special, or "sonder," which means that the foreigner can work for any employer and in any job without the labor office first certifying that unemployed workers are not already available.

In 1994, some 2.2 million foreign workers were employed and enrolled in the German social security system, including 605,000 Turks, 420,000 from former Yugoslavia, and 203,000 Italians. Another 400,000 foreign workers were unemployed, including 21 percent of the Turkish workers, and 18 percent of the Italian workers. Most of these employed foreign workers are employed in manufacturing (884,000) or services (573,000). In 1994, an average 16 percent of foreign workers were unemployed, versus nine percent of all workers in Germany.

Labor Market. In mid-June, the German construction employers association withdrew from the umbrella German employers' association to protest the umbrella association's failure to approve a minimum wage for all workers on construction sites in Germany. The construction employers wanted the minimum wage rule to discourage the employment of an estimated 150,000 cheaper British, Irish, and Portuguese workers; the employers' association was afraid of setting a precedent for an industry-wide minimum wage.

Many German construction firms have gone bankrupt, and more bankruptcies are feared.

There are about 200,000 non-German EU workers employed in the German construction industry. In a critical report, the German newspaper Der Tagespiegel, on July 1 reported that many of the Poles working legally on German construction sites under Werkvertraege (subcontracting arrangements between German general contractors and foreign subcontractors) do not have workers' compensation insurance--if they are injured on the job, they are dismissed, so that they lose their right to work in Germany, and they wind up being responsible for their hospital bills.

According to some Polish workers, contracts are signed in Poland just before the workers' departure for Berlin, so that the workers are unaware of their rights. Many Werkvertrag workers are expected to work 60 hours per week; hourly wages range from DM6 to 7, far less than the DM15.73 minimum for a West German construction worker, and DM11.86 in the East, but far more than Polish wages, which average about DM350 monthly or DM2 per hour.

According to worker advocates, if the foreign workers honestly report their long hours and low wages during inspections, they are fired, and thus lose their work permits.

About 22,000 Polish workers were working in mid-1996 under Werkvertraege, half of them in construction. There are another 7,000 Hungarian workers employed in Germany under Werkvertraege, 5,900 Turks, 5,100 Croats, 4,200 Romanians, 2,900 Czechs, 1,700 Bulgarians, 1,600 Slovakians, and 1,000 Bosnians.

The German union federation DGB estimates that, for every legal worker employed under a Werkvertrag, there are another six to 10 illegal foreign workers.

In addition, foreigners may enter Germany to work seasonally--defined as a stay in Germany of up to 90 days. Some 140,000 Polish seasonal workers were employed in Germany in 1995.

An estimated 550,000 residents of the former East Germany commuted to jobs in the former West Germany (340,000) or West Berlin (210,000) in November 1994, down from 600,000 in November 1993, but still almost three times more than in November 1990. The commuting workers have average earnings of DM2,300 per month, versus DM2,000 for non-commuters. About 30 percent of the commuters live in what was East Berlin.

There seems to be considerable movement into and out of commuter status. In 1994, 150,000 former East German residents stopped commuting, and 100,000 began commuting. About one in seven East German commuters is employed in West German construction.

On July 1, 1996, 236,000 east German manufacturing workers began to receive the same wages as their west German colleagues. However, workers in the east will continue to work 39 hours each week, four hours longer than in the west.

A recent report from the Hessen state labor office indicates that most of the jobs in the underground economy (Schwarzarbeit) are filled by German citizens, not foreigners.

There are an estimated 2.6 million unregistered jobs in Germany. Unions blame high taxes and living costs for increased Schwarzarbeit.

Berlin. The 400,000 foreigners in Berlin are about 11 percent of the city's 3.5 million residents. The foreigners include 138,000 Turks, 70,000 persons from ex-Yugoslavia, 26,000 Poles, and 46,000 residents from other EU countries. Berlin has more foreigners than any other German city.

According to one projection, Berlin will grow slowly to 3.8 million residents by the year 2010, but the number of foreigners will increase faster, to 575,000, and amount to 15 percent of Berlin's population.

Most of Berlin's foreigners are in the former West Berlin--350,000 or 90 percent--making foreigners 16 percent of the former West Berlin's population. Most of the foreigners live in so-called Altbaugebieten (neighborhoods of old apartment buildings) in a few sections of West Berlin--Kreuzberg (33 percent foreigners), Neuk├Âlln, and Wedding (27 percent).

Among major German cities, Frankfurt has the highest percentage of foreigners, 192,000 or 28 percent; followed by Stuttgart with 142,000 or 23 percent; Munich with 287,000 or 22 percent; and Cologne with 187,000 or 18 percent.

In 1995, for the first time, more than half the applicants for public housing in Frankfurt were foreigners. The Frankfurt housing office is required to provide two apartments to Germans for each apartment awarded to foreigners--the foreigners' quota of scarce public housing is 30 percent.

Turks in Berlin have an unemployment rate that is twice the rate for German nationals.

In Berlin and surrounding Brandenburg, a special task force (Gemeinsame Ermittlungsgruppe Schwarzarbeit or GES) that includes representatives of the police, labor department, tax office, health authorities, and customs was established in 1994 to check employers for unauthorized foreign workers and other violations in the underground labor market. About 9,300 persons were fined in 955 businesses, including 3,400 foreigners.


"Unreported Second Jobs Reach Record Level in Germany," This Week in Germany, July 12, 1996. "Vietnam 'Cigarette Mafia' peddlers want to go home, Reuters, July 5, 1996. Adrian Edwards, "Germany reports progress in Vietnam repatriation," Reuters, July 5, 1996. "Lowest numbers of asylum-seekers in Germany since 1989," Agence France Presse, July 4, 1996. Claus-Dieter Steyer, "Die Sklaven von nebenan," Der Tagespiegel, July 1, 1996. Alexander Zeiger, "Asyl in Deutschland: Todesangst am Flughafen," Sueddeutsche Zeitung, June 13, 1996. Heribert Prantl, "Asylurteil des Bundesverfassungsgerichts Verfolgte muessen sehen, wo sie bleiben. Die vierzehn Schritte bis zum 14. Mai 1996," Sueddeutsche Zeitung, May 11, 1996. Ecos. 1995. Berlin: Zuwanderung, gesellschaftliche Probleme, politische Ansaetze. December.
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