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Governance of migrant integration in Germany

[Last update published: June 2024]

Germany has long been a country of immigration. In the 1950s and 1960s, following the industrial boom, Germany signed bilateral agreements with countries such as Italy and Turkey to recruit foreign workforce. Then, in the late 1960s, large-scale migration for family reunification began. In 1978, the federal government appointed a commissioner for the integration of foreign workers and their family members, which led in turn to a consensus among all major parties that Germany had become a country of immigration. The country adopted its first integration plan in 2007. Over the last years, the government has focused its efforts on the better implementation of integration measures. Most recently, a main priority has been the increased support for the socio-economic integration of newcomers, especially in terms of employment and vocational training.

Statistics

The statistics in the chart above are based on Eurostat's Non-national population by group of citizenship, 1 January 2023. The next Eurostat update is expected in March 2025.

According to Eurostat's Migration and migrant population statistics, as of 1 January 2023, there were about 7 715 000 third-country nationals (TCNs), representing 9.1% of the population, and another 4 598 600 EU citizens (5.5%) living in Germany at the time.

According to the register of foreigners, most of the 13.4 million TCNs living in Germany on 31 December 2022 came from Turkey, Ukraine and Syria. Due to the war against Ukraine, the greatest changes compared to the previous year were recorded among people with Ukrainian citizenship (with 155 310 people coming from Ukraine to Germany in 2021 before the start of the war). 

By the end of March 2024, Germany also saw a total of 1 301 790 non-EU citizens who had fled the war and were under the temporary protection – see monthly updates in the numbers of temporary protection beneficiaries on Eurostat.

Further statistics look at the purposes for migration. In 2021, for example, 38.2% of residence permits in Germany were issued for family reunification, 12.2 – for study purposes, and 10.1 – for work, according to the European Migration Network (EMN)’s 2022 country factsheet for Germany. In addition, according to national statistics, in the 2013-2022 period, the most common reasons for immigration to Germany included asylum and international protection (27.9 %), employment (24.2 %) and family reunification (23.9 %). In addition, 8.2 % of those who immigrated since 2013 stated that they had come to Germany mainly to study or for education and training. Among men, the most frequent reasons were protection (30.5 %) and employment (30.1 %), while women named family reunification (30.0 %) and protection (24.9 %) as the main reasons. Other detailed statistical data is available in the EMN 2022 country factsheet for Germany, with insights about the age and gender of TCNs, and international protection statistics.

The OECD/EC Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2023: Settling In report provides further breakdowns of the composition of migrant populations and households in Germany, including in terms of immigration flows by legal category, concentration in densely populated areas, duration of stay and household composition.

Integration strategy

By appointing a commissioner for integration in 1978, the federal government acknowledged the increasing number of guest workers who had permanently settled in Germany.

Later, at the start of the new millennium, the government introduced its first large-scale reform of the immigration system in 2005 and the establishment of a systematic integration policy.

To foster the inclusion of migrants, German governments have so far set up 2 integration plans.

The National Integration Plan of 2007 focused on education, training, employment, and cultural integration, while the National Action Plan on Integration of 2012 created instruments to render the results of integration policies measurable. It included general objectives, timeframes, as well as indicators to verify the achievement of the following goals:

  • optimising individual support provided to young migrants
  • improving the recognition of foreign-earned degrees
  • increasing the share of migrants in the civil service of federal and state governments
  • providing health care and care to migrants

Later, the Meseberg Declaration on Integration adopted by the federal cabinet in May 2016 outlined the government policy based on a 2-fold principle: offering support, training and job opportunities to foreigners, but also requiring migrants’ reciprocal efforts and highlighting their duties (Fördern und Fordern, or ‘support and demand’).

The integration services provided are modular, target various immigrant groups and involve almost all the federal ministries for employment, education and social integration.

In 2018, the National Action Plan on Integration was expanded as part of the 10th Integration Summit in 2018. Five phases of migration and integration were elaborated:

  1. pre-immigration phase: managing expectations - providing orientation 
  2. initial integration phase: facilitating arrival - communicating values
  3. integration phase: enabling participation - demanding and promoting performance
  4. phase of growing together: shaping diversity - securing unity
  5. phase of cohesion: strengthening cohesion - shaping the future

The National Action Plan is seen as a process involving the whole of society, and is being developed jointly by the federal government, the states, local authorities and non-governmental actors, especially migrant organisations. More than 300 different participants are involved.

The 13th integration summit (see more below under ‘Civil society’) took place in March 2021. As a result, a catalogue of more than 100 measures augmenting the National Action Plan was adopted, including assistance for immigrant skilled workers in their home country, support for language learning, and efforts for more equal opportunities in business and public service.

Furthermore, between 2019 and 2021, the Expert Commission on the Framework Conditions for Integration Capability was created by the federal government to address a wide range of topics in the field of migration and integration. The result is a report which clarifies the dynamics in the integration field, advocates an understanding of integration as a benefit for the whole of society, and contains a wealth of recommendations on how policy-makers and others can work together to better shape the immigration society.

In 2023, Minister of State Reem Alabali-Radovan convened the Council of Experts on Anti-Racism. It is meant to develop proposals for an effective, sustainable anti-racism policy.

Integration programme

In 2010, Germany introduced its nation-wide Integration Programme. Prior to that, integration courses were already provided by the federal government thanks to the integration plan. The main goal of the programme however was to standardise the large number of co-existing integration measures taken by the federal, state and local governments. 

The result was a needs-based orientation programme and greater coordination between integration measures. The programme is an entitlement and includes language courses, civic education and vocational training.

Evaluation

Since the second phase of the National Action Plan on Integration, there have been reports for each phase:

In addition, the international Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) points out that Germany's approach to integration can be classified as focused on ‘temporary integration’, similar to its neighbouring Western European countries. Among these, Germany offers greater rights and support for equal opportunities than neighbouring Austria, Denmark or Switzerland, but migrants still face issues when trying to settle long-term. Germany scores 58 out of 100 points on the MIPEX 2020 scale, and while its integration policies are slowly improving, with the addition of new countries into MIPEX Germany is no longer part of the top ten integration destinations.

Legislation

Law on foreigners

The German Immigration Act, enacted in 2005, contains provisions on the entry and residence of foreign nationals on the federal territory, as well as on the asylum procedure. It was reformed in 2007 to, among other changes, translate 11 EU directives, combat fake and forced marriages, and facilitate the immigration of entrepreneurs.

Most recently, in response to the shortage for skilled labour, the Skilled Immigration Act came into force on 1 March 2020 to boost the immigration of qualified individuals from abroad. It is now easier for skilled workers with vocational, non-academic training from non-EU countries to migrate to Germany in order to work. On 23 June 2023, draft law reforming the Skilled Immigration Act was first passed. Since then, the law has come into place and work started to create new opportunities for migrants to enter Germany. The law focuses on improving the conditions for recognising:

  • Qualifications: the law stipulates that anyone who has a degree should be able to pursue any qualified occupation.
  • Experience: Those who have at least two years of professional experience and a vocational qualification recognised by the state in their country of origin should be able to immigrate as workers. Vocational qualification no longer has to be recognised in Germany – this means less bureaucracy and shorter procedures.
  • Potential: An Opportunity Card (Chancenkarte), gives job-seekers a residence permit allowing them to come and look for a job in Germany. The card is issued based on a points system, and the selection criteria include qualifications, knowledge of German and English, work experience, connection to Germany, age and accompanying spouse or partner.

The new Skilled Immigration Act has also widened the migration possibilities within the scope of the EU Blue Card, thus implementing the requirements of Directive (EU) 2021/1883.

Some of the provisions of the law came into effect in November 2023, and others – in stages over 2024. See a detailed overview of the Skilled Immigration Acts measures. These include the new employment and recognition rules in effect as of March 2024 (relating to the recognition of foreign professional qualifications, the employment of (skilled) workers, and the employment of students and trainees), and the further changes expected from 2024 (the introduction of the Opportunity Card). The link above is available in English.

In addition, the Opportunity Residence Act has been in force since 31 December 2022. If people are in possession of toleration permits (Duldung, see below as a sub-section under ‘Asylum law’), they can apply for the ‘right of opportunity to stay’ (Chancen-Aufenthaltsrecht) – and the Opportunity Card. In order to secure permanent residence in Germany with the opportunity card within 18 months, certain requirements must be met (e.g. knowledge of the German language and securing employment). 

Asylum law

A dedicated Asylum Act was adopted in 2015 to regulate the legal status of beneficiaries of international protection and asylum seekers. It amended and replaced the previous Asylum Procedure Act.

The integration of asylum seekers

The integration of asylum seekers into German society, particularly in terms of employment, education and housing, has faced various challenges and is thus subject to ongoing developments. Labor market integration has been a key focus, especially following the disruptions to the economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Asylum seekers faced higher unemployment rates during the pandemic, largely due to their employment in hard-hit sectors and the lack of possibility to offer remote working options. Despite these setbacks, there has been a long-term trend toward successful integration in the labor market​. The German government has been working on proposals to facilitate the labor market access for asylum seekers. The Chancenaufenthalt, already implemented, is an example (see sub-section on Duldung below).

In terms of education, asylum seekers have the right to access vocational training, as well as schooling for children. However, children are usually only able to attend school after leaving the initial reception facility, Erstaufnahmeeinrichtig, whether because of the regulations in the individual federal states, or because of lack of capacity in schools. The shortage of teachers also exacerbates the situation, and children often have to wait for several months.

Additionally, the challenge of securing housing for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection is significant. With the continuous arrival of new asylum seekers, finding adequate and decent accommodation has become a pressing issue. 

Duldung, or the temporary suspension of deportation

Germany also has a specific policy for the temporary suspension of deportation, or Duldung, governed by the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz). Duldung is not a formal residence permit but rather a certification that an individual's deportation is being temporarily postponed. This status is typically granted under specific circumstances where deportation is not feasible. As of 30 June 2023, approximately 279 098 people were obligated to leave the country, but 81% of those ‘obligated to leave’ had a suspension of deportation, or Duldung.

Those with Duldung status have limited access to the labor market and may be restricted to reside within specific geographic areas. Individuals with Duldung status need to complete initial waiting periods before they are allowed to seek employment, and also need the approval of the immigration authorities and the Federal Employment Agency to start working.

In terms of residence, the Chancenaufenthalt presents a new opportunity for certain individuals with Duldung to gain residency. It aims to provide a pathway for individuals who have been living in Germany for a significant period without a permanent residence status, offering them a chance to legally stay and integrate into society. 

In Germany, finally, the right to education extends to all children, including those with Duldung. This is aligned with international conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Germany is a signatory. As a result, children with Duldung are entitled to attend public schools. However, as noted above the waiting time to start school depends on the federal state and the local situation: in some federal states (Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein), compulsory schooling begins with the filing of an asylum application, while in others, it starts after three months (Bavaria and Thuringia) or six months (Baden-Württemberg).

Integration law

The Integration Act of 2016 is Germany’s first integration legislation at the federal level. It aims to facilitate the integration of beneficiaries of international protection and is therefore accompanied by the Ordinance on the Integration Course which details the implementation of the integration system based on a ‘support and demand’ (Fördern und Fordern) approach.

In addition, the Recognition Act regulates the faster recognition of qualifications and skills of TCNs entered into force on 1 April 2012.

Furthermore, in their coalition agreement of 2021, the governing coalition of Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland (SPD), Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP) agreed to draft a Federal Participation Act. The act is meant to strengthen the participation in and adapt the federal administration to a more diverse society.

Citizenship law

The Nationality Act of 2000 regulates the acquisition of German citizenship and introduces the so-called Optionspflicht for children born in Germany to foreign nationals. This means that they can acquire German citizenship at birth (in addition to the possible foreign citizenship of their parents), if at least one of their parents has lived legally in Germany for at least eight years and has had a permanent residence at the time of the child's birth. However, these naturalised citizens will have to choose between the German and the foreign citizenship on their 21st birthday. The amendment of 20 December 2014 waves this latter obligation for EU and Swiss citizens in particular.

Anti-discrimination law

The General Act on Equal Treatment of 2006 regulates the fight against discrimination in employment and civil law. It incorporates four anti-discrimination EU directives into German law.

Public authorities

The Federal Office for Migration and Beneficiaries of International Protection (BAMF) of the interior ministry leads the governance of asylum, migration and integration issues in Germany. It is in charge of the asylum procedure, the promotion and coordination of integration measures, and data collection and research, while local actors are often responsible for implementing BAMF's measures.

In addition, the Federal Employment Agency, a self-administered public body, is in charge of integration into the labour market, while the commissioner for migration, beneficiaries of international protection and integration assists the federal government in developing its integration policy, as well as in promoting the coexistence of all residents of Germany. 

In February 2022, the Federal Cabinet appointed a Federal Government Commissioner for Anti-Racism for the first time in German history. This office is held by the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Beneficiaries of International Protection and Integration.

In 2022, the Federal Government initially appointed an Antiziganism Commissioner. This new office is located in the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs. The Antiziganism Commissioner of the Federal Government is to support the concerns of Sinti and Sintizze, as well as Roma and Romanja in Germany, and to serve as their contact person in the Federal Government.

Civil society

Civil society plays an important role in the integration process. In 2006, the federal chancellery organised the first Integration Summit (Integrationsgipfel) in which all integration stakeholders participated: from representatives of the federal government and media to trade unions and migrant associations. The first summit resulted in the decision to compile Germany’s first national integration plan, published a year later. In March 2021, the 13th Integration Summit was held with the participation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Since then, no further summits have taken place.

Many civic initiatives also assist migrants in all areas of life, especially since the unprecedented arrivals of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016. The Refugees Welcome housing project for example is now a cross-border platform present in nearly half of the EU countries.

After the start of the Russian war against Ukraine, in addition, the German population demonstrated significant engagement, especially in terms of providing housing solutions to beneficiaries of temporary protection. Data indicates that three-quarters of those who fled the war against Ukraine felt warmly welcomed upon their arrival in Germany, with the majority initially finding shelter in private households.

Funding

Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several EU funds. The federal government also provides funding for integration and job-related language courses, migration counselling services, labour market integration measures, recognition of professional qualifications, as well as many other integration measures and projects. Some aspects of integration, such as education, fall within the responsibility of the states. Furthermore, the municipalities also bear a considerable amount of integration cost.

EU funds

The information below has been updated for the 2021-2027 funding period.

The Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in Germany

  • Details: A total of €1.5 billion is available to Germany through AMIF for relevant projects over the 2021-2027 funding period, with €500 million for measures under the fund's thematic facility (dedicated to resettlement and admission for humanitarian reasons, and resettlement of persons in need of protection from one EU country to another). See the German AMIF Programme.
  • National managing authority: The national managing authority for AMIF in Germany is the Federal Office for Migration and Beneficiaries of international protection.

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) in Germany

Other EU funds for integration available in Germany

ERASMUS+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe

National managing authority: There are three national authorities responsible for Erasmus+ in Germany:

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting regional imbalances

National managing authority: Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), offering material assistance to the most vulnerable or in need

National managing authority: There are two national authorities responsible for FEAD in Germany:

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), supporting the development of rural economies and communities

National managing authority: EAFRD is managed by the federal states.

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)

National managing authority: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (EMFF) supports coastal communities in diversifying their economies and finances projects that create jobs and improve quality of life along European coasts.

Other funds

Other public funding in Germany

Federal states

Private funding in Germany

Other stakeholders and useful resources

Implementing the integration programme

Providing integration services

Publishing statistics

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