Why Germany is betting on immigration reform | Top countries

When the German government announced the first of several immigration reform proposals planned for this year, a German official took to Twitter to spell out the country’s lofty goal behind the changes.

“We are transforming Germany into a modern immigration country,” said Reem Alabali-Radovan, integration commissioner for the German government. wrote in July, according to a Translation by the country’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Experts are divided on the scope of the proposals. But the reforms reflect a balance that Germany has been trying to achieve in recent years by welcoming more immigrants and refugees: addressing labor shortages with migrant workers while easing their path to permanent stays. Other countries would benefit from taking this kind of hands-on approach to tackling the polarizing topic of immigration, analysts note.

The reforms themselves, proposed by the administration of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a member of the center-left Social Democrats, are multilevel. The first step – agreed to by a German coalition government in early July but still awaiting parliamentary approval – would affect the status of more than 100,000 migrants who are in Germany with a tolerated residence permit, or “Duldung“, which allows them to stay temporarily in the country even after the refusal of an asylum request, while being obliged to leave eventually, according to InfoMigrants. This status is seen as a legal loophole, but the new law would grant those who have lived in Germany for five years a one-year residence permit to meet certain requirements, such as proving their German language skills and ability to support themselves. their financial needs. If they do, they can stay permanently.

“It’s kind of a long-standing problem that there are a large number of people who carry this non-status with them for years,” says Anne Koch, research associate at the German Institute for International Affairs and security, based in Berlin. “They have, for the first time, access to turn that into regular resident status. And that’s an example of something that really makes a difference to people.

Photos: The plight of Ukrainian refugees

Other layers of the government’s broader reform plans include future packages that will introduce a points-based entry system for foreign workers and make it easier for migrants to obtain citizenship, according to Reuters. Although the plans are “not as revolutionary or drastic” as they might be described, adds Koch, they are “a step in the right direction”.

Others say German leaders are taking concrete action.

“These are not just empty words,” says Hans Benson, a partner at Fragomen, an immigration firm with an office in Frankfurt.

What Germany is doing with these movements is basically “facilitating the permanent presence of refugees and asylum seekers”, says Justin Gest, associate professor of politics and government at George Mason University, who focuses on the immigration and the politics of demographic change. It is similar, he adds, to what Spain did in 2005 when the country amnesty granted to hundreds of thousands of migrants. The proposed reforms would bring Germany closer to countries like Canada and the UK when it comes to generous immigration laws – and could even surpass some of its European peers in terms of leniency, he notes.

This represents a “seismic shift” for Germany, says Gest – much like how German attitudes towards migrants have changed over the years. A 2021 survey of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 51% of respondents in Germany believe that from 2020 immigrants in their country want to adopt their customs and way of life. This percentage was 32% in 2014.

Similarly, the 2020 “integration barometer” published by the German Expert Council on Integration and Migration, or SVR, found that respondents without an immigrant background rated social coexistence in Germany as an immigration country as “slightly better” compared to years previous ones. A more recent guidance note of the council found that “more and more” people who sought refuge in Germany around 2015 and are now well integrated into society are applying for naturalization.

A key moment for the country’s change occurred around this time, when it took in large numbers of Syrian refugees and then-Chancellor Angela Merkel did not impose many restrictions on the flow, notes Neeraj Kaushal, professor of social policy at Columbia University. In fact, she says, this influx has benefited Germany by providing a much-needed population boost after a period of stagnant growth.

A related impact of the rising population is the increasing availability of skilled workers – which experts say is needed due to the labor shortages Germany has known. About 56% of businesses in the country say they are understaffed, according to Deutsche Wellewhich referred to a survey by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“I think there are even employment organizations, employers who implore their governments for migrants or even say that we are going to offer integration courses,” says Jasmijn Slootjes, senior policy analyst specializing in Integration of Immigrants at the Migration Policy Institute Europe. “We will house them, but we just need people.”

The country is “feeling the crisis” due to the shrinking working-age population, and so the first immigration reform proposal is really a “very pragmatic policy,” Kaushal adds.

But the reforms not only have a practical meaning, notes Slootjes, but also a sense of human rights. Benson of Fragomen says the gaps that will be filled by the changes will make it easier for migrants to integrate – an area where Germany has already made inroads. For example, more than 19,000 Syrian nationals received German passports last year, three times as many as the previous year, according to the SVR’s June guidance note.

German leaders have so far focused on labor when outlining proposed changes to immigration. Two government ministers wrote in a July article, noted by Reutersthat if Germany wants to “attract smart people”, it must “offer them more than simple processes”.

With the topic of immigration polarized around the world, focusing on labor needs is a smart approach, several experts note. Gest, of George Mason University, describes it as “realistic” and “much less ideological” than the way immigration is approached in America, for example. Koch of the German Institute similarly describes Germany’s approach as “rational”.

This shift in perspective could be helpful for world leaders who are “so scared to talk about this,” and that’s why what Germany is trying is so important, Slootjes adds. More efficient systems will make a real difference – both for the migrants who arrive and for the country that welcomes them, she notes.

“If you’re more practical about it, I think it might also change the way you see it as a country,” Slootjes says, referring to immigration. “It can be reduced fears. There is real political leadership in this.

Comments are closed.