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January 2007, Volume 14, Number 1

Germany: Migration, Poland

Germany's immigration law went into effect on January 1, 2005, and in July 2006, a first evaluation was published The new law reduced the number of residence permits from five to two, and ensured that work and residence permits are issued simultaneously. Foreigners joining family members settled in Germany have the same access to the labor market as the person they are joining, that is, there is no longer the need to wait a year for work permits.

The new law also requires new arrivals and some established foreigners to participate in integration courses that include learning German before a permanent residence permit is issued.

The Migrationsbericht 2005 reported that Germany gained a net 82,500 residents via migration in 2004, down from the average 200,000 of previous years and the peak 602,500 in 1991. Germany added 55,200 foreign residents, which was down from about 150,000 in previous years and a peak 596,000 in 1992 [Between 2003 and 2004, the number of foreigners in Germany fell by 618,000 or eight percent because the Central Aliens Register (AZR) was purged of foreigners who emigrated without notifying authorities].

The number of asylum seekers in 2005, 29,000, was down from 36,000 in 2004. There were 387,000 "de facto refugees" living in Germany in 2004, persons who were not recognized as in need of asylum, but who cannot be returned to their countries of origin for lack of documents and other reasons.

Germany halted the recruitment of non-EU workers on November 21, 1973 but, beginning in 1990, made exceptions for workers from neighboring countries such as Poland arriving to work in sectors such as agriculture and construction. In 2004, some 380,000 foreigners received work permits under these recruitment exceptions, 75 percent were Poles.

The largest program for seasonal workers admitted about 330,000 workers for up to 90 days to work in German agriculture (90 percent) and hotels and restaurants; in 2005, 85 percent were Polish. German employers must prove to the satisfaction of local labor offices that local workers are unavailable; most can hire seasonal workers for up to eight months.

Seasonal workers often cost less than local workers because, if the seasonal worker is employed and covered by insurance at home, there is no need for German coverage. Many seasonal workers are, for instance, Polish teachers who take vacation time to return to the same German farm each year to harvest crops.

The seasonal worker program is expanding, while the other "new guest worker" programs are shrinking. Project-tied foreign workers are sent by firms based outside Germany to work on construction projects in Germany. Their number peaked at 95,000 in 1992, but reforms that included introducing a minimum wage that had to be paid to Germans and foreigners in construction have since reduced the number of project-tied workers to 22,000 in 2005; 45 percent were Polish.

So-called guest workers are 18- to 40-year olds who are coming to work and learn in Germany. There is an overall quota of 11,050 a year, under which there are quotas for individual countries, so that Russia and Hungary can send 2,000 each and Albania and Bulgaria 1,000 each. However, fewer than 1,900 were admitted in 2005. Border commuters must live within commuting distance of their German jobs, though they can remain in Germany up to two nights a week. There were 4,800 in 2004, down from 10,000 in 2001. Finally, Germany has a program for foreign nurses, but only 11 were admitted in 2005, down from 400 in 1996.

Germany's green card program between August 1, 2000 and December 31, 2004 allowed non-EU foreigners with IT skills and a German salary of at least E51,000 a year to work for up to five years. There was a quota of 20,000 green cards available, but only 18,000 were issued, including a peak 6,400 in 2001 and 2,300 in 2004. About 30 percent of the green cards went to Indians, followed by Romanians, seven percent, and Russians, six percent.

Integration. Germany has 3.2 million Muslim residents, 150 mosques and 2,000 prayer rooms, many in cellars, warehouses and other converted industrial spaces. As more mosques are proposed, some local residents resist, arguing that they are incompatible in local communities.

Labor. Germany's unemployment rate fell to 9.6 percent in November 2006, as the number of jobless dropped below four million for the first time in four years.

There is a large gap between the achievements of German and Turkish youth in Germany. In 2005, about 41 percent of German youth ages 20-26 (excluding ethnic Germans, who were born in, for instance, Russia but are considered German upon arrival in Germany) were students, 43 percent were employed, nine percent were jobless, and seven percent were out of the labor force. Among Turks ages 20-26, 24 percent were students, 37 percent were employed, 16 percent were jobless, and 22 percent were out of the labor force. Adding 100 German youth translates into 84 percent students or employed, while adding 100 Turkish youth means 61 percent are students or employed.

Germany has a labor force of 36 million, which has become increasingly two-tiered because of changes in German labor and unemployment laws. Between 2002 and 2006, employment shrank by about one million in the upper tier that offers lifetime jobs and full benefits, and rose by one million in the lower tier with fixed contracts and fewer benefits. About 25 percent of German workers are employed part-time, and 15 percent have fixed-term contracts, meaning they can be laid off at the end of the contracts.

Workers who begin with part-time and fixed-term contracts may find it hard to graduate to lifetime jobs. Many atypical or temporary workers are hired via temporary help agencies, which place an average of one million workers a day. Instead of adjusting hours, more firms are hiring extra workers when needed through temp firms. About a sixth of German jobs are low-paid, meaning that low or no payroll taxes are paid on their earnings.

Germany has 102 universities, and in October 2006 the government announced additional funding for several "elite" universities. Since the 1970s, all graduates of Gymnasium, elite secondary schools, have been guaranteed admission to university, which led to overcrowding. Beginning in 2007, German universities will be able to charge E500 per semester in tuition, and most are introducing US-style BS and MS degrees.

A Turkish-born lawmaker who urged Muslim women in Germany to take off their head scarves received death threats and was placed under police protection. In October 2006, Ekin Deligoz, a Green Party member, said that "the head scarf is a symbol of women's oppression."

Poland. The New York Times reported November 19, 2006 that 800,000 Poles left the country in the 2.5 years since Poland joined the EU on May 1, 2004. Poland is growing at five percent a year, but unemployment remains above 15 percent. Some attribute the high unemployment rate to Poles registering as jobless in Poland for state health insurance system and other benefits but working outside the country.

The Polish government is introducing guest worker programs that would, for example, make it easier for workers from Ukraine and Belarus to work in Poland. Some 10,304 permits were issued to foreign workers in 2005.

Germany and Poland share a border and considerable history, but most Germans have never visited Poland. Many Germans associate Poles with car theft and crime and unauthorized work in Germany.