Migration politics

A Difficult Birth: The German Immigration Act

Integration statt Isolation © moonrun - Fotolia.jpgIntegration instead of isolation © moonrun / FotoliaTogether with the new citizenship law, the Immigration Act is meant to be one of the mainstays of German immigration policy. When the Act finally went into effect in 2005, not much was left of the original bill. In 2007 the parliament amended the Act for the first time. But even after this revision, discussion of the Act continues.

It was Gerhard Schröder’s government that opened the debate about Germany as a country of immigration at the beginning of 2000 in connection with introducing a green card for recruiting foreign computer specialists. By mid-year, Federal Minister of the Interior Otto Schily (SPD) had appointed a non-partisan commission, under the chairwomanship of CDU politician Rita Süssmuth, to develop proposals and recommendations for a comprehensive revision of German policy concerning foreigners and immigrants, which it presented in a final report in July 2001. At the same time, all the parliamentary groups presented their own concepts and bills.

Difficult birth

 Whereas the SPD’s particular interest was to facilitate the immigration of highly qualified foreigners, for the FPD the bill was about adapting immigration to the actual needs of the labour market. The plans of the Union parties, the CDU and the CSU, were marked from the outset by the desire for a strict limit on immigration and for a high degree of security. This proved to be the course that Minister of the Interior Schily was to adopt under the impression of the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, whose trail led to Germany. Yet in spite of numerous concessions, the Union rejected the consensus proposal of the Red-Green government and quashed the bill through a lawsuit brought before the Constitutional Court on the grounds of a procedural error committed during the Federal Council’s vote in December 2002.

The parliamentary joint committee procedure then dragged on one and a half years before Chancellor Schröder reached a majority compromise with the chairmen of the ruling parties and the opposition. “The Act serves the purpose of controlling and limiting the influx of foreigners in the Federal Republic of Germany”, declares unmistakably the first paragraph of the “Act for the Control and Limitation of Immigration and for Regulation of the Residency and Integration of Citizens of the European Union and Foreigners” (Zuwanderungsgesetz / ZuWG of January 1, 2005). “It enables and organises immigration with a view to the capacity for inclusion and integration and to economic and labour market interests.”

Re-adjustment and tightening

“The new law took into account the empirical fact, which had previously been assiduously ignored, that more than 30 million people have come to Germany since the 1950s and more than 22 million have left it”, commented Tanja Wunderlich, Program Officer for Immigration and Integration at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “Control instead of blinkers is at least a start. Moreover, the Act even notes that immigration is in the national interest of Germany for economic reasons. We are no longer merely improvising pragmatic makeshifts. Germany isn’t yet a modern country of immigration, but it is becoming one.”

The Immigration Act comprehensively regulates for the first time all areas of German immigration policy, ranging from labour market-related to humanitarian reasons for immigration, along with a national policy of integration. No sooner did the Act come into effect, however, than the necessity loomed for a speedy amendment that would take into consideration a series of relevant EU guidelines. The grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD under Chancellor Angela Merkel, which came into power in November 2005, set about doing this with the “Immigration Revision Act”. It also seized the opportunity to flesh out, readjust and (as critics from immigrant organisations, refugee initiatives, welfare organisations and opposition parties have complained) in part to tighten the alien and residency laws.

To promote and require

Not only because of the numurous forms the knowledge of the german language is necessary ; © colourboxThe amendment was passed by the parliament on June 14, 2007, ratified by the Federal Council on July 6, and went into effect on August 28, 2007. Core points of the amendment, whose motto is “to promote and require”, are that refugees can apply “on trial” for a residence permit if they have a basic knowledge of German and sufficient housing, and can prove, where relevant, that their children attend school. In addition, they must be not have a criminal record or connections with extremist or terrorist organisations. An extension of residence is possible only if the person concerned can show that he has earned his livelihood through gainful employment by the end of 2009.

In general, the Act requires that foreigners participate in integration courses and show a knowledge of the German constitution and legal system as signs of their willingness to be integrated and naturalised.

Further need for discussion

The revision concerning residence permits for partners and children aroused displeasure within the grand coalition. One reason is that it permits the entry of spouses only if they are of legal age. This is a precaution against condoning forced marriages, but it appears to create a problem in constitutional law in view of the special protection accorded marriage and the family by the German Basic Law. Another reason is that citizens from countries for which there is no visa requirement are exempted from this regulation, and this places the principle of equality in question.

The revision concerning the immigration of self-employed people and specially qualified personnel will also ensure continued discussion. The halving of the utopian investment sum of one million euros that, along with the creation of at least ten jobs, was originally demanded of foreign businesses has largely been greeted with approval, but particularly federal states that are urgently interested in qualified personnel will continue to have their problems with the retention of the required minimum annual income of 84,000 euros.

Roland Detsch
The author is a freelance editor, journalist and writer living in Landshut und Munich.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
February 2009

Any questions about this article? Please write to us!

Related links


Funny stories about horses and soccer-players – read out on Arabic and downloadable as a podcast to be listened to anywhere!


Where to? 21 questions on migration and refuge


Learning German for Refugees

Arriving App

The guide for your first weeks in Germany

My way to Germany

Videos and practises for German learners