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May 1997, Volume 4, Number 5

Germany: Bosnians, Immigration Policy

Bosnians/Asylum. In Germany, states (Laender) have the authority to return foreigners who are not permitted to remain in Germany.

The 16 state interior ministers and the federal interior minister originally agreed to begin returning 320,000 Bosnians on October 1, 1996, and then postponed returns until April 1, 1997. As German states prepared to return unmarried refugees and childless couples after April 1, and families with children after May 1, a group of noted political figures, including former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, FDP and Christian Democratic Bundestag members Heiner Geissler and Christian Schwarz-Schilling, issued an appeal to postpone returns again.

Judith Kumin, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees representative in Bonn, also warned Germany that forced returns could undermine German efforts to encourage voluntary returns.

However, many commentators emphasized the high cost of caring for the Bosnians, and expressed fears that, as the Bosnians put down roots in Germany, it will become harder to persuade them to return voluntarily. The German government spends an estimated $3 billion a year to care for Bosnians living in Germany.

UN officials worry that a large-scale exodus of Bosnia refugees from Germany could lessen Bosnia's stability. More than half of the Bosnians in Germany are believed to be Muslims from areas controlled by Serbs. UN officials say that even if the Muslims are persuaded to return home, there is a risk that renewed ethnic strife could flare up into war.

On March 31, Germany returned 30 Bosnian children who were "rescued" in 1992 and being cared for in German orphanages. The children were returned to the Ljubica Ivezic orphanage from where they were taken five years ago.

The US in April announced that it would resettle in the US 18,000 Bosnians who are currently living in Europe, including 7,000 now living in Germany. The United States has admitted more than 32,000 Bosnians since 1992.

Immigration Policy. When German politicians assert that "Germany ist kein Einwanderungsland," they do not mean that there are no foreigners in Germany. Instead, they mean that Germany does not have, and should not develop, an immigration policy that anticipates the arrival of immigrants, as in the US. The dominant political parties-- Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union or CDU-CSU--want to maintain the status quo, but there are at least three alternative proposals, and all would begin to treat and ethnic German Aussiedler, who are who are considered to be Germans upon their arrival, as immigrants:

1. The Social Democratic Party SPD and the Free Democratic Party FDP controlled state of Rhineland-Pfalz proposed in the SPD-dominated Bundesrat that Germany should establish annual quotas for various types of immigrants. In addition, the SPD proposal would give foreigners the right to apply for German citizenship after eight years of residence (down from 15 years), and grant foreigners born in Germany of legally resident parents automatic access to German citizenship, with foreign children who thus have two nationalities required to choose one by age 23.

2. The FDP--coalition partner of the CDU-CSU government--in April 1997 proposed a ceiling on annual immigration, including ethnic Germans, asylum seekers and refugees, and the introduction of queues or waiting lists to enter Germany as an immigrant. Under the FDP plan, the total number of foreigners moving to Germany would be determined for two-year periods. The FDP asserted that Germany will continue to be reliant on foreign workers but said that under current conditions, none would be admitted under the FDP's plan.

The FDP proposal would allow foreigners born in Germany of legally resident parents to become dual nationals if they wished at age 18. Foreigners who have lived in Germany for eight or more years could apply for naturalization, down from the current 15 years.

3. The Greens have proposed an immigration system with a minimum annual number of immigrants determined by the number of ethnic Germans who arrive. The number of family members and employment-related immigrants would equal the number of ethnic German arrivals-- for 1997, about 200,000 ethnic Germans and another 200,000 family members and employment-related immigrants would be permitted.

In addition, the Greens would grant citizenship to babies born in Germany with at least one legal foreign parent and change German asylum law to prevent the deportation of persons who would e.g. lose access to specialized medical treatment in their country of origin, so that the total number of immigrants in any year could be larger than e.g., 400,000. The Greens would also explicitly permit dual nationality: according to the Greens, there are already 1.2 million dual nationals in Germany.

On April 21, the CDU announced that it opposed the enactment of any immigration law that would make naturalization easier, or explicitly permit dual citizenship, or establish an annual quota for immigrants. Peter Hintze, CDU secretary-general, said that "We are in agreement that dual-nationality offers no general solutions."

In 1997, there are about 7.2 million foreigners living in Germany--mostly living in the former West Germany--and they account for almost nine percent of Germany's 81 million residents. Over 500,000 newcomers arrive each year, including 200,000 Aussiedler (ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union) who are considered Germans. About 20 percent of the babies born in Germany are foreigners. A change in German law to grant them citizenship at birth would thus reduce the growth in the foreign population of Germany.

If a net 400,000 immigrants continue to arrive annually, and foreigners born in Germany remain foreigners, Germany would in 2030 have a population of about 90 million, of whom 30 percent would be foreigners. If current migration, fertility, and naturalization patterns persist, cities such as Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Munich, which now have about one-quarter foreign residents, would have populations that were half or more foreign within one generation.

Finance Minister Waigel in April proposed to pay foreigners lower social welfare assistance benefits than Germans, saying that the foreigners send some of their payments to relatives in their country of origin.

Wolfgang Zeitlmann, a Christian Social Union member of the German Parliament, said that the CSU and the Christian Democratic Union are recommending restrictions on the arrival of Jewish immigrants from the ex-USSR. There are no quotas on the number of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe permitted to move to Germany.

In January, 1997, Germany began to require under-16 year-old children wishing to visit relatives in Germany to obtain visas, and to require under-16 year-old children living in Germany to obtain residence permits. In 1996, some 2,000 unaccompanied minors entered Germany; the residence permits requirement affects some 600,000 children in Germany, mainly Turks and ex-Yugoslavs.

Asylum. Germany's constitutional court in April ordered an immigration court to re-examine the case of a Turk whose application for asylum was rejected as "manifestly unfounded." The Turk arrived in Germany as an 11-year old and applied for asylum in 1993, asserting that he was forced out of his village in eastern Turkey by Turkish troops because the village was suspected of sheltering PKK guerrillas.

The Hamburg immigration court ruled that the Turk could have sought refuge in western Turkey rather than Germany. The constitutional court asked the court to investigate whether the Turk had any friends or relatives in western Turkey who could have given him shelter.

Chancellor Kohl's 32 year old son in April 1997 reportedly became engaged to the daughter of an Istanbul businessman; both studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and are bankers in London.

In April, the leader of an extremist Shiite fundamentalist group in Iran threatened Germany with suicide bombings if it did not apologize for a Berlin court ruling that blamed Iran's leadership for ordering the assassination of Kurdish dissidents in Germany in 1992. The Bundestag approved a resolution condemning Iran for "a flagrant breach of international law" in ordering the Kurdish killings.

Border Control. In June 1995, when Germany had 4,800 Border Patrol agents, Interior Minister Kanther announced plans to add 500 agents. The German Border Patrol (Bundesgrenzschutz) has a total of 35,000 employees.

On April 10, German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther and his Polish counterpart, Leszek Miller, agreed to join forces to combat cross-border crime by establishing joint administrative departments and border patrols. The main problem is the smuggling of illegal aliens across the Polish-German border. In 1996, 11,000 persons were apprehended trying to enter Germany illegally from Poland.

Foreign Workers. There are 2.1 million foreign workers registered in Germany's social security system, including 600,000 Turks and 420,000 from the former Yugoslavia.

The Social Democrats in 1996 asserted that 1.37 million work permits were issued to non-EU foreigners in Germany 1995. In 950,000 cases, the permits were issued after it was determined that no German or EU workers were available.

There were about 400,000 unemployed German construction workers in February, 1997, and about 400,000 foreign workers employed on German construction sites, half illegally.

The German government in April promised to step up enforcement of a new law that, between January and August 1997, requires foreign workers employed on German construction sites to be paid at least German minimum wages from the first day of their employment. Some 2,450 labor inspectors and 1,000 customs inspectors enforce labor laws in Germany. Inspections of 500 construction sites in March 1997 found that 160 employers were not paying the minimum wage as required, despite fines of up to $60,000 per violation.

At least 150 foreign workers may have died on German construction sites in recent years, according to the union IG Bau, although only seven foreign worker deaths have been officially recorded.

The Union for Construction, Agriculture, and Environmental Workers in April was locked in bargaining with employers over a new collective bargaining agreement for 1.3 million construction workers.

Germany's unemployment rate was 11.7 percent in March, 1997, when there were 4.5 million unemployed, including 900,000 unemployed foreigners and 34 million employed persons. The National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) called a rally for May 1 in Leipzig demanding "Jobs for Germans first." The NPD has 3,500 members; the Republicans and the German People's Union (DVU) have 15,000 members each, both down from 20,000 in 1994.

Economy. The New York Times of April 17, 1997, contained a long article, widely reprinted in Germany, headlined "Will Gamble on Eastern Germany Pay Off?" The German government has transferred about DM 1 trillion or $600 million to the former East Germany since 1990 through support payments to individuals, tax breaks, and infrastructure investments, yet unemployment is 25 percent, economic growth has slowed from a peak 10 percent in 1994 to less than two percent in 1997, and output per worker is half West German levels (Germans have been paying a 7.5 percent solidarity tax since 1990 to finance transfers to the east). East Germany's economic output in 1996 was about $230 billion.

Poland and the Czech Republic have faster economic growth and lower unemployment than East Germany and many economists argue that Germany was far too generous in East Germany, hurting its competitiveness by immediately extending West Germany's union wage contracts and its minimum wages to the new Laender. Thus average hourly labor costs rose quickly to $16 per hour, above US levels.

High wages cause many of the subsidized investments in the east to be very capital intensive, which makes the cost per job saved or created very high. For example, the German government is helping Dow Chemical rebuild a chemical complex near Schkopau at a cost of $3.2 million per job, as Dow slashes the work force from 18,000 to 2,000; the German government justifies the subsidy by arguing that abandoning the old chemical works and building a new plant where pure economics justified, would have left the region's economy depressed.

One industry in which East Germany is competitive is construction, which employs 17 percent or one in six East German workers, three times the usual share. Until January 1997, investments in East German real estate are give a taw write-off up to 50 percent, so West Germans poured an estimated $100 billion into office buildings, hotels and shopping centers.

Germany permitted East German wages to rise much faster than productivity to prevent massive internal migration or, in the words of one German politician, to prevent unification in West Germany.

Norbert Walter, chief economist for Deutsche Bank, argued in a recent opinion article that the US takes global competition more seriously than Germany because of immigration. According to Walter, Americans who see successful Asian immigrant entrepreneurs are more willing to reduce the social welfare state than Germans, who are more likely to encounter only unskilled foreigners in daily life.


Roger Boyes, "Kohl son's romance highlights plight of migrant Turks," Times, May 2, 1997. Kevin Liffey, "Germany set to loosen blood-based nationality law," Reuters, April 21, 1997. "Kohl's CDU against immigration, dual nationality," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 21, 1997. Paul Geitner, "With Iron Curtain Gone, Refugees Eye Germany," Sunday Gazette Mail, April 20, 1997. Edmund Andrews, "Analysis: Will Gamble on Eastern Germany Pay Off?," New York Times, April 17, 1997. Denis Staunton, "Auf Weidersehn to Berlin," Irish Times, April 17, 1997. "Who is a German?" The Economist, April 5, 1997. Douglas Frantz, "The Shadowy Story Behind Scientology's Tax-Exempt Status," New York Times, March 9, 1997.