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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

Germany: Foreign Workers and Unemployment

German Chancellor Kohl repeated in January earlier comments that it was "absurd" that German employers were having to hire foreign workers despite record unemployment. Kohl said just a few hundred meters away from his house in Oggersheim there were vegetable farmers who could not find farm workers despite four million unemployed workers in Germany.

Kohl warned that "The democratic parties need to be very careful that this subject (immigration) isn't used in a certain direction in upcoming elections." He said that to ask why German employers hire foreigners when there are unemployed Germans has "nothing to do with ideology or xenophobia."

A CSU leader told Der Spiegel in December 1996 that "We can no longer accept that millions of our citizens are without work while at the same time every year more than a million work permits are handed out to foreign workers in Germany." Michael Glos, head of the CSU parliamentary group, wants to deny work permits to non-European Union citizens for the first five years of their residence in Germany. According to Glos "It is wrong that in Germany certain jobs are only filled by non-EU foreigners...That makes it appear as if these tasks can only be done by slaves from somewhere else."

Finance Minister Theo Waigel agreed, saying in January that "We have a problem of very high unemployment among Germans, but employ very many foreigners...It must be legitimate to reflect on how we can ensure that available jobs benefit Germans." Klaus Zwickel, leader of Germany's largest union IG Metall, in January said that Germany "must come to agreed quotas (on foreign workers) within an immigration law to relieve the German labor market and to diffuse social tension."

The German Federal Labor Office said that 1.3 million work permits were issued to non-EU foreigners in 1996, but many were valid for only one to three months of employment, or went to asylum seekers and refugees, who in some cases could have received several work permits.

There are seven million foreigners among Germany's 81 million residents. In 1996, employment averaged 34.5 million and unemployment averaged four million, for an average unemployment rate of 10.4 percent.

Enforcement. Germany announced plans to conduct more surprise inspections of work places in 1997 to prevent violations of minimum wage and other laws, including the new law that requires all persons employed on construction sites in the former West Germany to be paid at least DM17 ($11) per hour and DM15.64 per hour in the former East Germany. The number of construction labor inspectors will be increased from 1,500 to 2,000.

Dawn raids on building sites have become common in Germany, as government inspectors hunt for illegal immigrants. Germany has more than 6,000 inspectors empowered to enforce labor and immigration laws.

British workers in Germany are generally hired by Dutch sub-contractors who advertise in British tabloids. Registered in Britain as self-employed, most British construction workers in Germany are paid in cash and pay no income or payroll taxes.

The widow of a UK construction worker has been fighting for two years to bring to trial the German developer her husband worked for and his UK employer. The woman believes that sub-standard safety precautions led to her husband's death on a German building site in 1994. More than 150 foreign workers are estimated to have died on German construction sites over the past several years, though only seven deaths on German construction sites have been recorded officially since 1990.

Germany is adding 1,500 border guards along the border with the Czech Republic and Poland to fight alien smuggling. Germany estimates that 7,000 illegal aliens succeeded in entering Germany in 1996.

Asylum. The number of asylum seekers in Germany fell to 116,400 in 1996, down from 127,937 in 1995 and a peak 438,191 in 1992. In 1996, the leading countries of origin of asylum seekers were Turkey (23,814), followed by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro, 18,085) and Iraq (10,842), compared with 25,514, 26,227, and 6,880, respectively, from these countries in 1995.

German authorities dealt with 194,451 asylum applications in 1996 and granted asylum to 14,389 foreigners, or 7.4 percent. Another 12,000 foreigners had their applications rejected, but were allowed to remain in Germany.

In mid-January, Germany began to require visas from children from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia and former Yugoslavia ending the practice of permitting children from these countries to visit relatives in Germany without visas. Minors from these countries living in Germany must in 1997 apply for residence permits, showing that they entered Germany legally, are living in Germany legally and that at least one parent has a residence permit.

Some 177,000 ethnic Germans arrived in Germany in 1996, down 40,000 from 1995.

Between 1990 and 1994, about 600 Russian army officers and enlisted men stationed in Germany sought political asylum. In 1996, Germany rejected most of their petitions, ruling that desertion was an ordinary crime which did not deserve special protection. No deportations have been ordered, but most of the Russians are expect to be returned to Russia, where they face treason charges.


Valerie Leroux, "Red Army deserters in Germany fear deportation to Russia," Agence France Presse, January 27, 1997. "Top German union leader calls for quotas on foreign workers," Agence France Presse, January 26, 1997. Kevin Liffey, "Germany Tightens Visa Rules for Foreign Children," Reuters, January 13, 1997. Erik Kirschbaum, "German conservatives take aim at foreign workers," Reuters, January 8, 1997. "Fewer Asylum Applications Filed in 1996," The Week in Germany, January 10, 1997. Michael Anders, "Bavarian party wants to limit foreigners in "German" jobs," Agence France Presse, January 8, 1997. "German finance minister calls for limit on foreign work permits," Agence France Presse, January 8, 1997. Mark Franchetti, "Minimum wage hits German guest workers," Sunday Times, January 5, 1997.