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[CGES-CIIP August 31, 1995]


Report of a workshop held August 31, 1995


Philip Martin

September 1, 1995

Asylum 1

Guest Workers 3

Border Control 5


There are perhaps 125 million immigrants, legal and illegal migrant workers, and refugees and asylees who are outside their countries of citizenship, meaning that about 2 percent of the world's population are "foreigners" in their current countries of residence. However, the distribution of the world's foreigners is not uniform--there are few foreigners in the world's two largest nations--China and India--while the foreign-born are almost 9 percent of the US population of 265 million, and foreigners are 8 percent of Germany's 80 million.
The circumstances over which foreigners enter and stay in industrial democracies such as Germany and the US are a major issue at the end of the 20th century, just as they were at the beginning. Among the most contentious issues are asylum--how to deal with persons who arrive in a country and ask to stay on the grounds that, if they return to their country of citizenship, they will face political persecution--and guest workers, foreign workers who are to live and work only temporarily in the host country.
Dealing with asylum seekers and guest workers is difficult and expensive because each person and job must somehow be dealt with.


Germany's constitution includes an individual and enforceable right to stay in Germany while an application for asylum because the individual would face political persecution at home is considered. The number of asylum applications jumped in the early 1990s, peaking at 438,000 in 1992, as migrant workers joined genuine asylum applicants in a system that was taking 3 to 5 years to reach the decision that 95 percent of all applicants were not entitled to asylum in Germany.
A combination of costs, anti-foreigner violence, and the reality that many foreigners were abusing the asylum process to immigrate to Germany led in 1992 to a political compromise that left in place an individual constitutional right to apply for asylum in Germany, but added a clause that denied nationals of EU member nations, and persons who transited through a "safe third country" en route to Germany access to the constitutional guarantee. The German Bundestag generates the list of safe third countries.
Germany also adopted the safe country of origin concept. If an asylum applicant is from a country that is presumed not to persecute its citizens for political reasons, applicants from such countries can be sent home while their applications are considered. As soon as the German Bundestag put Poland, Hungary, and Romania on the safe country of origin list, the number of applications from these countries dropped sharply.
Since Germany is surrounded by EU nations and safe third countries, the only asylum applicants after this new asylum provision went into effect in July 1993 should have been the 6000 applicants who applied at Germany airports. But almost 140,000 foreigners applied for asylum in Germany in 1994, and a similar number of applications is expected in 1995.
There are several reasons why there are still an average 350 applications for asylum daily in Germany is that Germany must prove that the applicant in fact transited through a safe third countries en route to Germany. Since many applicants assert that they were placed, e.g., in a truck and driven to Germany, and they have no idea of which countries they transited, German authorities must prove that they in fact transited through safe third countries.
One court has gone much further, ruling that asylum applicants in Germany have the right to present arguments that designated safe countries are in fact not safe. If this interpretation of the asylum compromise is upheld, then applicants may soon learn that e.g., it is easy to stay in Germany while their arguments that Poland or Greece are in fact not safe countries in which to apply for asylum.
US refugee and asylum practices reflect cold war policies. The 1980 Refugee Act was supposed to bring the US into line with other industrial democracies in its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, but experience suggests that, in fact, the US continues to grant asylum to persons fleeing regimes that the US opposes (Nicaragua in the 1980s), and to deny asylum to persons from friendly nations(El Salvador).
There were about 150,000 asylum applications in 1994, one-fourth filed by Guatemalans. In January 1995, the INS by regulation tightened procedures to "prevent abuse" of the asylum system--applicants are denied work permits for 180 days after their applications (unless they are granted asylum), and more are detained while their applications are considered.
The INS believes that these reforms have reduced frivolous applications, but proposals pending in Congress would go much further. Under one proposal, for example, applications for asylum would have to be filed within 30 days of arriving in the US, and could not be filed by persons that the US is seeking to deport.
In both the US and Germany, one indicator suggests that these reforms have "worked"--the number of asylum applications appears to be dropping. But the discussion that followed produced assertions that these "temporary fixes" will be undone by events, such as court interpretations in Germany that re-introduce lengthy applications procedures.

Guest Workers

Germany in the 1960s initiated guest worker programs with its southern neighbors from Turkey to Italy to Spain. Guest or foreign worker programs aim to add workers to the labor force without adding permanent residents to the population, but the world wide experience with such programs has produced one of the few "principles of migration" --there is nothing more permanent than temporary foreign workers.
Between 1960 and 1973, some 18.5 million foreigners arrived in Germany, and almost 5 million settled in Germany. This means that most guest workers returned to their countries of origin as planned, but employer requests to extend the stay of what were in fact probationary immigrants, plus family unification, produced a stable foreign population in Germany in the 1980s.
This changed in 1989. The demise of communism, and an economic boom in Germany, led to a sharp increase in immigration. Germany responded, in part with 5 new foreign worker programs.
There are three major differences between the guest worker programs of the 1960s that gave Germany a peak 2.6 million foreign workers in a labor force of 26 million in 1973 and the guest worker programs that in 1995 may add the full time equivalent of 250,000 foreign workers to a labor force of 40 million. First, in the 1960s, there was a single program or procedure to bring foreign workers into Germany, and it responded primarily to the needs of German employers--German employers needed more workers on assembly lines and at construction sites, and the German Employment Service helped them to find foreign workers by establishing recruitment and screening offices from Istanbul to Lisbon. In 1972, some 1 million guest workers entered Germany.
In the 1990s, by contrast, there are at least 5 distinct programs through which perhaps 300,000 legal foreign workers enter Germany for 3 to 24 months. These programs range from a seasonal program that permits foreign workers to be employed up to 90 days in Germany, a project-tied program that permits e.g., a German company to subcontract with a Czech company to complete part of a construction program and the Czech company to send Czech workers to Germany. There are also smaller programs under which border commuters, trainees, and nurses enter Germany to work.
Unlike the 1960s program, which were mostly a response to domestic labor shortages, these 1990s programs respond to two distinct impulses. First, German employers requests for additional labor--despite an unemployment rate of 9 percent--and second, the need of restructuring economies in Eastern Europe to find an outlet for especially young workers.
Foreign policy played a very significant role in the decision to establish programs through which seasonal farm workers, construction workers sent by their home firms to Germany, and trainees can work in Germany. In fact, some Germans point to the real bilateral nature of 1990s programs to explain why Poland and the Czech Republic are willing to cooperate with Germany to reduce the movement of illegal aliens through their countries and into Germany--Poles and Czechs do not need visas to enter Germany.
Second, in the 1990s there are several distinct programs. In other words, rather than trying to satisfy all of the domestic and foreign concerns with one guest worker program, there are today separate programs for very short labor needs, for workers sent abroad by their home-country employers, and for trainees and border commuters. Each program has its own rules on recruitment, labor market testing, etc.
Third, there is not yet a consensus on whether the current German programs will prove to be a substitute for or an addition to illegal immigration from Eastern Europe. In the early 1990s, when over 200,000 seasonal Poles and other East Europeans worked for up to 90 days in Germany, there was undoubtedly some substitution of legal for otherwise illegal workers.
But it is not yet clear whether Germany's decision to permit perhaps 1 percent--(500,000) of the 50 million workers in Eastern Europe to work legally in Germany will in the long run increase or decrease illegal immigration. If Eastern Europe can develop quickly, offering jobs and higher wages, supply-push emigration pressures will decrease.
However, demand-pull pressures in Germany are likely to increase as a result of economic integration in Western Europe and around the world. The search for cheap labor by farmers and construction companies is likely to persist, and it is not yet clear whether the slowly-deregulated German labor market can continue to keep illegal immigrants a smaller percentage of the German labor market than they are of the US labor market.
A review of guest worker programs suggests that most were initiated in response to macro "emergency" or temporary situations-- the wartime in the US, what was believed to be the end of a fragile postwar economic recovery in Europe, and a construction boom in the Middle East. However, today's US and German programs are responding to micro labor market shortages, such as in agriculture and construction, or political considerations.
Second, employers wanting guest workers usually succeed in getting them, largely because they can point to real and measurable benefits if foreign workers are admitted, while opponents offer hypothetical arguments against their admission, such as wage adjustments will eliminate the labor shortage easily. Third, guest worker programs everywhere tend to operate close to plan in their initial stages, tending to reinforce employers who want them and to silence critics.

Border Control

Every day, the INS apprehends about 3500 mostly Mexican aliens along the Mexican-US border, about 1.3 million per year. In September 1993, a local INS Commissioner introduced a new policy of deterring illegal entry rather than apprehending illegal aliens in the US, and in August 1994, the INS officially adopted this prevention of illegal immigration through deterring entry strategy by massing INS resources at the several points along the border where most aliens attempt to enter illegally.
In October 1994, the INS launched Operation Gatekeeper along a 14 mile section of the 2000 mile border that typically accounts for half of all apprehensions. Along the Mexican-US border south of San Diego, a steel-plate wall, lights, and 1300 agents were arrayed in three lines, so as to discourage attempts to enter the US illegally. If aliens did succeed in entering, agents hoped to apprehend them before they could slip into populated areas.
Apprehensions dropped in the San Diego area after Gatekeeper was launched in the fall months of 1994, but have risen sharply in 1995, and are up 10 percent in the first 10 months of FY95 versus FY94. There were almost 50,000 apprehensions in July 1995.
A careful examination of the data indicates that apprehensions dropped most sharply in the areas of the border where the INS concentrated its resources, and rose sharply in other areas. In other words, aliens now make their first attempts at illegal entry at places further east of San Diego, or make a first attempt in the westernmost section, and subsequent attempts elsewhere.
There are no definitive data that indicate whether the prevention through deterrence strategy is in fact reducing overall illegal immigration to the US. The INS is fingerprinting all of those apprehended in the San Diego area, and finds that a steady 20 to 30 percent are recidivists, aliens who were caught before.
Some informal surveys of aliens in the US suggest that about 70 percent of them succeed in entering the US illegally on their first try. Surveys of aliens in Mexico find that, even though most of those planning to enter the US illegally know about Gatekeeper, the INS operation is not deterring them from planning to attempt illegal entry.
This suggests that the INS can indeed shift aliens attempting illegal entry along the border, but it is not yet clear whether the INS can in fact significantly change the overall flow of unauthorized aliens into the US. The INS initially asserted that the effects of Gatekeeper would be apparent within one year, but internal INS documents say that it will take five years to "reassert control" over the border by adding fences, lighting, and agents from west to east.
The German data, by contrast, suggest that the major new control measure--the 1993 asylum reform--also reduced illegal entries. There were about 35,000 illegal aliens apprehended in Germany in the first half of 1993, and 17,000 in the first half of 1994. However, the second half year comparison shows a smaller difference--19,000 apprehended in the last six months of 1993, and 14,000 in the last six months of 1994--suggesting that in Germany aliens and their smugglers may be adapting to the new law.
The papers presented at the workshop are available from the CGES. Contact Jo Kim at tel 510-642-4508. fax 510-643-5996, or email