Migration and integration - what is the German government doing?

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Refugee policy, migration of skilled workers, asylum procedures Migration and integration - what is the German government doing?

Never before have so many people been displaced – around the world 70 million people have fled their homes. That makes it an important issue, for Germany as for other countries. What goals does the German government pursue in refugee policy, integration and asylum procedures? What have we achieved to date and what will we do next? Here is an overview.

10 min reading time

In Syria, a man rescues a small child from a pile of rubble.

In Syria, a man rescues a small child from a pile of rubble: Germany accepts its humanitarian and legal obligations and will help those who have been forced to flee their homes.

Photo: picture alliance/AP Photo/Ameer Alhalbi

The status quo

Around the world more than 70 million people are displaced. That is more than ever before. Their suffering and the concomitant problems cannot be resolved by any one country alone or by any one measure. The international community must act in concert and address a great many issues at once.

With other countries, Germany is working hard to fight the root causes of displacement and irregular migration. At the same time though, we accept our legal and humanitarian commitments to help those who have been forced to flee their homes, especially by providing financial assistance to the countries that have taken in refugees in their home regions. According to UNHCR, about 84 per cent of refugees and displaced persons currently live in developing countries. Support is urgently needed. And we also help by taking in people who need protection here in Germany.

Time and time again people fleeing persecution and war have found their way to Germany. Sometimes they are individuals and sometimes larger groups, including the Vietnamese "boat people" in the 1970s, refugees from the civil war that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s and the people who have fled the civil war in Syria since 2015.

No country in the world has an unlimited capacity to take in people seeking protection. Migration must be managed. And only if the people who come to us seeking protection, who are entitled to stay here, are genuinely integrated into our society, can co-existence work well. That means they must find accommodation, learn our language, become familiar with the laws and customs of the host country, find a job and participate in the life of society. For this to work, all actors must do their bit – not only those seeking protection but also the realms of politics, civil society and business and industry. 

Our goals are

…in the field of refugee policy

  • We stand by the fundamental right to asylum laid out in the German Basic Law or constitution and by the refugee protection provisions laid out in the 1951 Refugee Convention. 
  • We aim to combat the root causes of displacement, not refugees, working with the international community, including the EU. 
  • We aim to further reduce illegal migration to Europe, and in its place step up the opportunities for safe, orderly legal migration on a controlled scale. 
  • We aim to further extend cooperation with the countries of origin of migrants and the transit countries they use.
  • Within the EU, we are working for a crisis-proof common asylum system, based on solidarity. This should include efficient asylum procedures, swift repatriation of those who do not need protection and, in case of crises, the fair reallocation of those seeking protection among member states. 

…in the field of skilled worker immigration

  • Germany needs suitable, well qualified skilled workers. For this reason we need a body of regulations governing managed immigration for the German labour market. This must be based on the demand of our economy, qualifications, language skills and age. 
  • We are making labour market access easier, swifter and more transparent for skilled workers, i.e. university graduates and immigrants with appropriate vocational qualifications and for their potential employers.

…in the field of integration

  • All integration measures are to be put together in the form of one strategy based on the principle of giving support, but expecting newcomers to do their bit. This should help improve coordination between the federal, state and local authorities and ensure that responsibilities are discharged more efficiently. The effectiveness of integration measures is to be examined more precisely. 
  • Individuals who seem likely to stay in Germany for a longer period are to receive better and swifter access to training and to the labour market.

…in the field of asylum procedures

Asylum procedures must be swift, comprehensive and legally watertight. To this end various steps are to be brought together under one roof. The facilities will be responsible for reception, decision-making and repatriation, and are sometimes termed AnkER facilities based on the German acronym. 

Achievements to date

…in European refugee policy/addressing the root causes of displacement

  • The number of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe has declined significantly.  While the total figure in 2017 was around 200,000, this had already dropped to 150,000 by 2018. In the first six months of 2019, about 40,000 arrivals were recorded, which was only 37 per cent of the figure for the same period in 2018. The decline was most pronounced on the Central Mediterranean route, which was taken by 80 per cent fewer people than in 2018.
  • Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is to see its staff expand to 10,000 by 2027. The new permanent reserve is to support EU member states in measures to protect the external border and repatriate migrants as well as fighting cross-border crime. 
  • The EU-Turkey declaration of March 2016 is having an impact. While about 7,000 people a day arrived on the islands in October 2015, the figure has dropped to 82 since the EU-Turkey declaration came into effect.
  • The EU Trust Fund for Africa, established in 2015 to stabilise the situation and address the causes of displacement and irregular migration, has reached a volume of 4.5 billion euros. 
  • EU migration compacts: The German government supports above all the partnership with Niger, which is Africa’s major transit country. Together, the actors have managed to significantly reduce the numbers of migrants using the country as a transit route.
  • The Compact with Africa launched in 2017 is an initiative based on partnership, to step up incentives to invest and strengthen existing industrial centres in Africa. The range of measures is rounded off by an initiative to foster youth employment in rural areas and a programme to promote girls’ access to information and communication technology.
  • Germany supports the EU resettlement programme, which aims to create a minimum of 50,000 additional places across the EU for refugees from Turkey, the Middle East and Africa who are in need of protection. To date 32,700 people have been granted a place under this programme. As part of the programme, Germany is providing places for 10,200 people in special need of protection. 
  • One focus of Germany’s commitment is the region inside and around Syria. Since 2016, Germany has provided well over 1.4 billion euros for the World Food Programme. It can provide food for more than seven million people a month in Syria and the surrounding area.
  • Since the end of 2018, there has been the first comprehensive international agreement on migration: the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The compact is not a contract under international law, but a political declaration of intent. It aims to reduce or prevent illegal migration, and in its place foster safe, orderly and regular migration.
  • The United Nations Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) has, since 2018, supplemented the 1951 Refugee Convention. It aims primarily to ensure a fairer international distribution of responsibility in the acceptance and care of refugees.

…in skilled worker immigration

  • The new Skilled Workers Immigration Act (Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz) makes it easier for employees from non-EU states to come to Germany. Some of the main changes include pooling official responsibility and ensuring faster procedures. Previously, for instance, there was a duty to determine whether a vacancy could not be filled by a German applicant or an applicant from an EU member state or a European Economic Area state, before a third-country national could take the job. Where a candidate holds qualifications recognised in Germany and has an employment contract this is no longer necessary. Third country nationals are now also permitted to come to Germany to seek a trainee place. 
  • The Employment Toleration Act (Beschäftigungsduldungsgesetz) establishes legal certainty for individuals already living in Germany with tolerated residence status and their employers. 

…in procedures, residence and repatriation

  • Individuals applying for asylum are now required by law to do more to actively collaborate within the procedure. They must, for instance, provide information verbally or in writing, must present a passport or equivalent travel document, certificates and other documents, and accept mandatory security measures.
  • Since 2018 new provisions have applied to granting admission for family members of those enjoying subsidiary protection. A ceiling of 1,000 people per month applies, and only the closest family members may be admitted.
  • The German government has also improved cooperation with major countries of origin on repatriation. Intensive bilateral talks are held regularly.
  • The Orderly Return Act (Geordnete-Rückkehr-Gesetz) makes it more difficult for those whose applications for asylum have been rejected to prevent deportation, and creates a new tolerated status for individuals whose identity remains unclear. Detention pending removal and repatriation have been made more practicable, while a new detention intended to ensure that those requesting asylum are present to collaborate on ascertaining their identity.
  • The second Data Sharing Improvement Act (Datenaustauschverbesserungsgesetz) improves the registration of asylum-seekers and those seeking protection as well as data sharing among responsible authorities. 

…in integration

During a maths and German course in Berlin young students who have fled their homes in Syria and Iraq bend over their books.

Young students who have fled their homes in Syria and Iraq attending a maths and German course in Berlin

Photo: Judith Affolter

  • The Aliens Employment Promotion Act (Ausländerbeschäftigungsförderungsgesetz) adopted in June 2019 provides for asylum-seekers with good prospects of being granted asylum receiving assistance at an earlier stage and being more rapidly integrated into the labour market. It will be easier for migrants who are expected to be in Germany for a longer period to access integration courses and vocationally relevant German courses as well as receiving training assistance.
  • The amendment to the Asylum-Seeker Services Act (Asylbewerberleistungsgesetz) reflects the aim of the German government to amend assistance rates and close a support gap. Migrants who are undertaking vocational training or a university degree will in future be able to receive assistance under this Act even after the 15 months of residence in Germany. This should prevent them being forced to drop out of their training or degree course as a result of financial constraints. To foster integration in the form of undertaking voluntary work, an exemption will in future apply. 
  • The German government has established the independent specialist commission on the framework conditions that foster integration. It is drawing up standards on how integration can be improved on the labour market and within society.
  • The new cooperation agreement between the Federal Employment Agency and the task force of the Federal Government Commissioner for Integration is providing special support for women with a migrant background to help them become integrated on the labour market.
  • Support for voluntary work and numerous sports projects of the Federal Government Commissioner for Integration with the Foundation of the German Football League (DFL) and the German Olympic Sports Confederation are designed to help immigrants find their feet in Germany.

And this is what we will be doing next

  • To allow us to more precisely identify the root causes of displacement and irregular migration, the German government has established a specialist commission on the root causes of displacement. It is to elaborate proposals on how to address the root causes and submit a report laying out specific recommendations for action to the German government and the German Bundestag by the end of 2020.
  • The European Commission has presented seven proposals for the reform of the Common European Asylum System. Five have essentially been negotiated. The German government will work inside the European Union to bring this reform to a successful conclusion. Until then it will support common European efforts to put in place a temporary controlled mechanism for people rescued at sea. 
  • The National Action Plan on Integration steers and focuses existing integration measures and takes them to the next level. Federal ministries, states, local authorities, the private sector, civil society and migrants’ organisations are all working together to support the process of integration.