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Immigration WorldwidePolicies, Practices, and Trends$

Uma A. Segal, Doreen Elliott, and Nazneen S. Mayadas

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195388138

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195388138.001.0001

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Immigration and Integration Policies and Practices in Germany

(p.63) 5 Germany
Immigration Worldwide

Andrea Schmelz

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides an overview on both immigration to Germany and the immigrant population currently living in the country. Also, it sheds light on political shifts in integration policy in Germany, made possible after 1998 by the governing coalition between the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen). Education and segregation, central areas of conflict in the debate on integration, along with the current state of integration in Germany are examined in order to shed light on the nation's continuing problem with “ethnic discrimination.”

Keywords:   diversity, integration policy, labor, parallel society

Since the number of labor migrants (Arbeitsmigranten) in the Federal Republic of Germany passed the one million mark in the 1960s, migration and integration of immigrants has become a permanent issue on the political agenda. Fear of “ghetto-conflicts” (Ghetto-Konflikte) and an overstraining of the social welfare system were emphasized in the public debate. Suburban riots in France, the extremist murder of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, and fear of bomb attacks by Islamic fundamentalists at the beginning of the new millenium fostered concerns about the outbreak of violent conflicts in Germany.

For a long time the federal government refused to acknowledge that Germany had become a country of immigration (Einwanderungsland). In his memorandum “Current situation and advancement of the integration of foreign workers and their families” Heinz Kühn, the first federal agent for foreign nationals (Ausländerbeauftragter) and former prime minister of North Rhine–Westphalia had already questioned the negation of Germany’s status as a country of immigration (“Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland”). Thus, the “Kühn-Memorandum” was the first document to call for a political change in perspective: policy should shift its focus from the return of migrants to their home countries to the integration of immigrants and their families. However, another 25 years passed before Germany was publicly recognized as a country of immigration.

Diversity of the Immigrant Population

Detailed data on immigration offer information on migration and integration processes and form the basis of the governance and management of migration and integration. Since the micro census in 2005, people with migrant background who live in Germany have been registered. The micro census is an important supplement of official statistics, which have so far registered immigrants only by keeping records of their nationality. They neither distinguish between the first and second generation of immigrants nor do they record the ethnic German repatriates’ origin (Spätaussiedler) or naturalized citizens. As a result, these groups did not show up in official migration statistics.

On the basis of the data collected by the micro census, the Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) makes the following differentiation of the population concerning their migration status (Table 5-1):


Table 5-1. Migration Status of the German Population According to the Micro Census in 2006, Measured Per Thousand

in %

Absolute Numbers

Overall population



Persons of German origin



Persons with migrant background






Of which foreign nationals



Of which naturalized persons



Children or grandchildren of immigrants



Of which foreign nationals



Of which naturalized persons



Source: Migration Report 2007, ed. Federal Office for Migration and Refugees 2008.

Thanks to the micro census it is known today that not only 6.8 million foreign nationals belong to the population in Germany but that there are in total 15.1 million men, women and children with migrant background.1

In Germany, less than half of the population of foreign descent came into the country as guest workers or their family members or descendants of these immigrants. Immigration of labor migrants to Germany started in 1955 with the recruitment agreement (Anwerbeverträge) between Germany and Italy. Further agreements with Spain (1960), Greece (1960), Turkey (1961), Morocco (1963), Tunisia (1965), and Yugoslavia (1968) followed.

Nowadays, more than half of the foreign-born population holds a passport of one of the six main countries of recruitment. Due to increasing immigration of ethnic German repatriates (Aussiedler) from Eastern Europe and Sowjetunion and asylum seekers and immigrants from other continents since the end of the 1970s, the composition of the immigrated population has strongly diversified. Forming 16.5% of the immigrant population, people of Turkish descent represent the largest ethnic group, followed by people of Russian (6.2%), Polish (5.6%) and Italian (5.0%) origin (Figure 5-1). Immigrants from the Russian Federation (about 180,000) and the Ukraine (about 130,000) are nowadays more numerous than Spanish or Portuguese immigrants.

The immigrated population in Germany comes predominantly from Europe and the Mediterranean region. It is a very heterogeneous group with respect to the cultural and social

GermanyImmigration and Integration Policies and Practices in Germany

Figure 5-1. Population with Migration Background and their Countries/Regions of Origin, 2006.

Source: Migration Report 2007, ed. by Federal Office for Migration and Refugees 2008.


Table 5-2. Influx and Emigration to and from Germany between 1991 and 2007




Net migration





































































Source: Numbers compiled by the author on the basis of the Migration Report 2007, ed. Federal Office for Migration and Refugees 2008.

backgrounds as well as education and biographies of immigrants.

Compared with classical countries of immigration (klassische Einwanderungsländer), immigration to Germany presents a relatively recent phenomenon. Two-thirds of the people of foreign descent were born abroad; therefore, the majority of immigrants belong to the first generation of migrants. Every fifth foreign national is a second generation immigrant.

A third generation of immigrants, whose grandparents immigrated to Germany, is still relatively small in numbers, yet growing. In order to determine the state and course of immigration processes, it is important to recognize that data can only provide information on the medium-term developments since these processes have not been completed (Schönwälder 2008).

In addition, a relatively high turnover of the population of foreigners can be observed. New immigrants arrive in Germany while others leave the country or return (statistics of people moving in or out of Germany). Mobility is especially high among Poles and Turks, which statisically belong to the largest immigrant groups in Germany.

Between 1990 and 2007, 12.2 million cases of immigration were registered in Germany. In the same period, 9.4 million foreigners moved out of the country. Taking these numbers into account there was an a net migration of 2.8 million people (Wanderungsüberschuss).

The number of people moving into the country is defined by the following factors: (1) increased immigration of ethnic German repatriates (Spätaussiedler) until the mid-1990s since the 1991/92 influx of refugees from wars or civil wars in former Yugoslavia, of which the majority has already returned to their home countries; and (2) increased but temporary work migration from non-EU countries especially of contract workers (Werkvertragsarbeiter) or seasonal workers.

The fall of the Iron Curtain and the civil war situation in former Yugoslavia determined migration of the 1990s. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, migration has stabilized at a rather low level. (Federal Office of Migration and Refugees 2007).

The Migration Report 2007 distinguishes the following types of immigration according to entry (e.g., requirement or nonrequirement of a visa) and residence permit status:

  • Migration within the boundaries of the EU (internal migration) and EU citizens

  • immigration of ethnic German repatriates

  • immigration for the purpose of education

  • contract, seasonal, or guest worker immigration as well as further temporarily limited work migration from EU and non-EU countries

  • immigration of asylum seekers and convention refugees (Konventionsflüchtling) as well as Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union

  • subsequent immigration of families and spouses from non-EU countries (third-country nationals)

  • immigration resulting from other reasons

  • repatriations of German citizens

  • irregular immigrants whose number cannot be determined2

The number of migrants without an official residency status, the so-called “undocumented” migrants, can only vaguely be estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and one million. Many of those who are currently working “ (p.66)

GermanyImmigration and Integration Policies and Practices in Germany

Figure 5-2. Forms of Immigration to Germany, 1991–2007.

Source: Migration Report 2007 ed. by Federal Office for Migration and Refugees 2008.

illegally” came to Germany to earn money for themselves and their families, or came after relatives were already living here, and did not have the possibility to legally immigrate. The majority of these people entered Germany on a valid three-month tourist visa, and were submerged into illegality after their visas expired. Some of these undocumented migrants are victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution. The exact number of victims is unknown.

What all these people have in common is that they are a gladly used source of cheap labor, but have hardly any rights. “Illegal” immigrants are employed everywhere in the cleaning and child care sector in private households, and as workers in the construction and food industries. The Catholic Church’s “Forum Illegalität” (Illegality Forum) has established itself as Germany’s strongest political lobby for the rights of illegal migrants, above all in the area of health care, with the establishment in 2001 of the (p.67) groundbreaking Maltese Migrant Services project (Alt & Bommes 2006).

East and West Germany differ extremely regarding their history of immigration before and after the reunification of Germany in 1989/90. Since its foundation the Federal Republic of Germany has been a country of immigration while the German Democratic Republic was marked by emigration (Schmelz 2002). While the main type of immigration in the “old” West German States was an economically inspired work migration which was originally socially agreed upon, work migration in the GDR occurred in relevant numbers only shortly before the Fall of the Wall in 1989. The largest group of contract workers came from Vietnam. Moreover, there were workers from other socialist countries that the GDR maintained close bonds with, such as Cuba, Mozambique, and Angola. In the 1980s, these workers were hired by East German companies in order to balance the labor shortage. They were sent back to their countries of origin in the context of repatriation programs shortly after the reunification in the early 1990s (Weiss 2007).

A comparison of the numbers of the foreign population of the old and new federal states shows that immigration is not as often found in the “New Laender” as it is in the “old” West German states. Table 5-3 shows the share with migrant background by federal states. While in the three city-states Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen, as well as in economically strong regions such as Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine–Westphalia, and Hesse, the population share of persons with migrant background is between one fifth and one fourth of the overall population, in the five “New Laender” nearly every 20th inhabitant is of foreign descent.

In Eastern Germany there are no areas of ethnic concentrations because here the number of immigrants is very low and therefore the possibility of building ethnically homogeneous networks is very limited (Weiss 2007). Since the early 1990s immigration to the “New Laender” has taken place almost entirely due to governmental assignment, it takes place in a region which offers no economic possibilities. There is hardly any labor migration because the labor market broke down in the course of the political changes after the Fall of the Wall. In the process, many workers were fired, and the economy has not recovered since. Immigration in order to find work therefore is limited to rare cases for example to those of high qualifications.

In the future, the development of immigration and emigration to and from Germany will depend upon the increasing global mobility, the continuing refugee problem, family ties, and the demand for labor. In current population

Table 5-3. Persons of Migrant Background by Federal State in 2006, Measured per Thousand

Federal State

Persons migrant background

% of the overall population

Of which foreign nationals

Share of population in %































Lower Saxony





North Rhine–Westphalia




















New Laender (except Berlin)










Source: Numbers compiled by the author on the basis of the Migration Report 2007, ed. Federal Office for Migration and Refugees 2008.

(p.68) predictions, the Federal Office for Statistics anticipates a net migration of 100,000 to 200,000 persons per year. In 2007 there were 99,003 immigrants. It is still questionable if policies of migration management succeed in attracting especially highly qualified employees from abroad (Angenendt 2008a).

Chances for the integration of immigrants are crucially defined by their residential status. The legal status of the immigrated population determines if they have access to the labor market, to political participation, and to social security, and therefore predefines the possibilities of designing future plans and opportunities in Germany. People who have been granted asylum many years ago still have to fear that they will lose this status if the political situation in their home countries improves. Many refugees and “tolerated” immigrants (Geduldete) have only limited possibilities of participation in the labor market because Germans and EU citizens are preferentially employed. Considering this, it is difficult for them to decide how much to invest in their children’s education and their own education, especially in terms of improving German language skills. On the contrary, EU citizens who immigrated to Germany enjoy wide-reaching rights and ethnic German repatriates (Aussiedler) are from the outset legally on a par with Germans (Schönwälder 2008).

In order to evaluate the state of art of the immigration and integration processes in Germany and political interventions, the very heterogenous background of migrants as well as their different basic conditions in German society and the contexts of their countries of origin have to be taken into account. However, over the course of many years, scholarly research on immigrants in Germany failed to consider the different (cultural) backgrounds, the migration experiences (flight, labor migration), and the immigrants’ legal status, mainly due to a lack of data on the immigrant population.

The current social situation of the immigrant population is connected with the specific migration history of Germany as well as the lack of efficient integration policy. Until the recruitment stop in 1973, the Federal Republic of Germany sought out migrant workers new federal states to fill jobs in fields such as mining and the industry, positions for which low qualifications were required. Following the structural economic change of the 1980s and 1990s, many of them found themselves unemployed and searching in vain for steady employment. Asylum seekers were often banned from the labor market for years. For many of them, this led to a downgrading of jobs in the course of the migration and immigration process and to dependency on welfare payments.

Revisited Integration Policy

In contrast to many other European immigration countries, the political debate about German immigration and integration policies in the last years has become more objective. The political climate surrounding the immigration debate of 1992/93 was very different, as the administration at the time described the high rate of immigration as a “national crisis” and a “foreigner and asylum problem.” Migration was viewed as the most important domestic political issue, especially because it was accompanied by bloody acts of violence against “foreigners.” Since then, the political parties have reached a widespread consensus regarding the necessity of integration and the role of the state in supporting it (Thränhardt 2008).

The legislative development from a “demonstrative reluctance to recognize” and “an avoidance of making decisions” (Bade 2007) to a commitment to integration policy took place in four stages:

A first stage comprised the reform of the alien law, which helped to facilitate naturalization and allowed for a legal claim to German citizenship. In recognition of permanent residence of foreign nationals, the Christian-Liberal coalition resolved to bring a wide-reaching revision of the alien law underway, which became effective on January 1, 1991. The main goal of the alien law reform consisted of enabling foreign nationals to be able to plan more long-term for the future through the improvement of their legal status. The most important points in the process were: reunifying families, replacing administrative discretion with legal claims, establishing the right of residence for family members, implementing the option to return and enabling the process of acquiring citizenship. The law was hotly disputed. On the one hand, the opposition parties (the Social Democrats and the Green Party), welfare (p.69) organizations, and churches criticized the law as a wasted opportunity to legally recognize the reality of Germany as an immigration country. On the other hand, conservative critics argued that too little was being done to reduce the number of foreign nationals (here and following, Santel 2007).

The second stage took place in 2000 with the reform of the citizenship law under the red-green administration. It replaced the traditional, although often amended, strongly ethnonational concept of Jus sanguinis (inheritance of citizenship) in the Reich and Citizenship Law of 1913 with a conditional Jus soli (acquisition of citizenship through birth in the country). The law allowed dual-citizenship until age 23 for children born in Germany to foreign nationals with legally approved permanent residence. Before they turn 23, they have to choose one citizenship. By enabling naturalization, the reform of the law aimed to improve the integration of the foreign nationals permanently residing in Germany and their children born in the country.

The third stage constituted the revision of the immigration law. It was reformed on the basis of the report by the Independent Commission on Immigration 2001 and came into effect, after a long period of parliamentary debate, on January 1, 2005. Although the law did not incorporate all of the commission’s suggestions, it established for the first time a legal framework through which immigration could be regulated. At the same time, measures promoting integration for immigrants permanently residing in Germany were legally established. The Immigration Law regulates three important core issues:

  • Immigration of foreign workers

  • Admittance of refugee asylum seekers

  • Integration of new immigrants

The core element of the Immigration Law is that all legal new and long-term immigrants in Germany uniformly obtain integration support as a basic offer. On the one hand, integration courses teach language skills, and on the other hand it informs immigrants about the legal system, the culture, and the history of Germany.

The Immigration Law connected migration and integration regulations in one law and declared integration to be a responsibility of the state. From the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees (Bundesamt für die Anerkennung ausländischer Flüchtlinge, BAFl), the new law established the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (BAMF). This office became responsible for migration and integration on the national level, and it would be more adequately described as the “Federal Office for Migration and Integration.” The Immigration Law reduced the complicated variety of immigrant resident status options and outwardly simplified the immigration administration through the “one-step government” (an institutional contact person responsible for questions concerning residence and employment rights).

The struggle to achieve a stable political compromise regarding the Immigration Law led to a conflictual political negotiation process. Political factionalism between the parties also led to conceptual losses. Most difficult proved to be the general strengthening of immigration limitations at the expense of a directed and simultaneously limited encouragement of immigration. This included the annulment of the flexible point system for the selection of qualified immigrants with the aid of variable criteria in accordance with the successful Canadian model, which first draft of the German immigration law was adopted by the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the independent expert advisory board for Immigration and Integration (Immigration Commission) was also abolished. As a result of both decisions, Germany remains behind the other European immigration countries (Bade 2007).

Since 2006, the Integration Summit, the “National Integration Plan” (2007) and the German Islam Conference (2006), have been convened by the Minister of the Interior. At the state level, which is where the primary responsibility for integration issues lies, there were simultaneously various trend-setting initiatives. Most wide-reaching was the “Action Plan Integration” developed by the state government of North Rhine–Westphalia under the direction of the first nationwide Integration Minister Laschet. A plethora of concepts and approaches to projects that have been proven successful through years of practice exist at the local level, strategically key (p.70) for integration. To some extent, the projects are connected to the most diverse civil societies, while others are also initiatives funded by foundations. These efforts have been modified to adapt to the changing demands of urban immigrant communities.

With the Integration Summit and the “National Integration Plan,” the federal government symbolically signaled a policy of personal commitment to integration by all members of society, bringing together the main political actors including migrant organizations. This act of symbolic policy is often criticized by welfare and immigrant organizations. The Integration Summit made two key points publicly clear: first, the recognition of immigrant organizations as partners in dialogue at the highest level enhanced their political status and probably increased the notoriety and influence of several immigrant politicians in society and collectively among immigrants. Second, the Integration Summit and “National Integration Plan” effectively publicly underlined that integration of immigrants is a central political concern and requires vigorous action. (Schönwälder 2008).

Bade, the father of German migration studies, grounds the new system of a concept-oriented integration policy on three pillars, which he describes as “preventive” (präventive), “supportive” (begleitende), and “revisited” (nachholende) integration policy, whereby the two latter pillars are closely related to one another (here and following Bade 2007).

  • Pillar 1: Preventive Integration Policy: The basis here is to possibly consider the professional and social qualifications of the new immigrants, which they have acquired in their countries of origin to an extent that they do not have to be further developed in a time-consuming or expensive manner. Today this is practiced in various approaches: with “Spätaussiedler” (ethnic German repatriates) in the form of language courses conducted in the region of origin and additionally with Jews from the former Soviet Union through a type of point system with criteria (especially language, occupation, age) in the context of an individual “integration prognosis.” In both cases, however, the professional training and difficult access to the job market hinders the integration process.

  • Pillar 2: “Supportive Integration Policy”: The foundation here is built upon the offers, made in the Immigration Law, to support the integration process by language and integration courses and by counseling structures for newly immigrated persons. Based on past experiences, the failures regarding German language acquisition and education both for preschool- and school-aged members of the younger generation should be avoided.

  • Pillar 3: “Revisited Integration Policy”: This is the most important pillar of integration policy in Germany. It was only indirectly designated in the broader context of the Immigration Law—beyond a minimal allocation of courses for 50,000–60,000 people, as far as funds were available for the “first generation.” In this way, the “supportive integration policy” was promoted at the cost of the “revisited” integration policy, which Bade criticizes as a legislative error. The number of foreign nationals as permanent residents who never received integration courses (language and orientation courses), viewed today as a matter of course, significantly outnumbers the ever-decreasing group of new immigrants. The concept of revisited integration policy is focused largely on second and third generation immigrants.

According to Bade, revisited integration policy can also only be conceptualized as a concomitant effort. It cannot compensate for the momentum of a delayed integration process. Instead, this policy can only seek to accompany or restimulate a discontinued or interrupted integration process.

This support through revisited integration policy is—like the supportive integration policy—oriented toward the goal of expanding the opportunities for equal participation in all branches of society. This is especially applicable for language integration, in other words, the sufficient ability to communicate in the dominant language; for social integration (which usually cannot be achieved without language ability); for cultural integration, including acceptance of the basic values of the system of laws; for economic integration, especially access to the job market and, primarily regarding young people, for the preconditions necessary for family (p.71) upbringing, education, and professional training and qualification. The new state integration program brings a standardization and official planning of individual integration efforts. It thereby strives toward exercising more control over the individual integration process, increasing efficiency in integration support and thereby finally decreasing the “costs of non-integration” (Michalowski 2007). A study contracted by the Bertelsmann Foundation substantiated that the annual social costs of the inadequate integration of immigrants could be as high as 15.4 billion Euros (Fritschi & Jann 2008).

The pursuit toward defining wide-ranging concepts of integration is visible at the national level (National Integration Plan) and above all at the local level. Towns are also engaged in a process of standardization and are oriented toward monitoring the structural integration processes on the basis of determined indicators (Bommes & Krüger-Potratz 2008; Filsinger 2008). The (further) development and broad implementation of systematic continuous observation of integration and its successes and failures facilitates a “technical certainty” of the ability to regulate integration, the result of which remains open (Bommes 2008).

Indicator-based observation of integration at the national and local level as a basis for political regulation is necessary on the one hand; on the other, caution must be taken in the interpretation of the data compiled through this monitoring (Filsinger 2008). For example, the unsatisfactory integration of immigrants in the job market can be caused by discrimination, by weak integration policy, by immigrants’ inadequate qualification for the particular job market or connected to a generally weak economic situation. In the current political-administrative immigration debate, the provision of further knowledge is seen as an important added value in terms of the regulation of integration (Michalowski 2007; Filsinger 2008). Integration policy is currently less oriented toward the broad concepts of integration such as multiculturalism, assimilation, or the guest worker model. Instead, it focuses pragmatically on ascertained fields of politics (Politikfeld). Integration and qualification efforts for new immigrants present one political field that state offices have increasingly regulated in past years.

In contrast to other western European countries, the formal qualification of the work force has not increased in Germany for the last several years. Younger age groups in all other Western European countries have significantly higher educational degrees than older groups. In Germany, above all the increasing lack of tertiary degrees, such as master craftsmen, technicians, and academics is problematic. In Western Europe, Germany is the only country in which younger age groups have fewer tertiary degrees than older groups. The disadvantages of immigrant populations in education and professional training contributes greatly to this. The results not only pose a burden on the future of the knowledge-based society, they also weaken—through the inadequate preconditions for productivity growth in terms of a lack of human capital—Germany’s international competitiveness. Furthermore, they threaten the medium-term social peace in the immigration country itself (Bade & Bommes 2008).

According to Bade and Bommes, revisited integration policy should therefore be applied to all levels of education: for preschool- and school-aged children and for professional training and further qualification. Education for preschool- and school-aged children serves as the basis for professional training and is therefore a precondition for participation in the job market. Furthermore, revisited integration policy must also open up social constellations which comprise the families of the second and third generations. They involve above all:

  • a group of parents as young adults, often with broken educational careers and without professional training, in uncertain employment situations

  • another group as new immigrants and those belonging to the first generation in the context of intra-ethnic marriages

  • a group of children (of the second generation) who learn the native language of their parents as their first language

The consideration of the prior social integration processes of the second and third generations has thereby become a precondition for every effort in terms of revisited integration policy.

(p.72) Integration through Education? The Long Path toward Equal Opportunity

Successful integration can, independent of a migrant background, be defined as achieving equal access to opportunities in the central sectors of society. It is especially contingent upon upbringing, education (including language ability) and professional training as a precondition for general participation in economic life and specifically in the labor market.

Integration also comprises the foundation for individuals and families to lead independent lives. From this perspective, the level of education among the population of young people of foreign descent highlights a growing gap between this group and the societal majority. This, in turn, leads to social tensions and brings about consequential costs for society.

Today the unemployment rates and the rate of poverty among the population of foreign descent greatly exceeds the corresponding numbers in the population without a migrant background (see Table 5-4). Based on the term “relative poverty,” the poverty line refers to the level of income under which a person is defined as poor. In an agreement between the EU member states, the poverty threshold was delineated at 60 percent of the median income (Third Poverty and Wealth Report 2008). Children and youth of foreign origin are especially affected by the risk of poverty. More than a third of the adolescent generation of foreign descent (36.6%) belong to families who live under the poverty threshold. In families not of foreign descent, the corresponding rate is 13.7%.

As of 2006 in Germany, 6 million youths under the age of 15 are of foreign descent. This comprises more than one-quarter (27.2%) of all students at German schools. The percentage of migrant youths is especially high among children below six years (32.5%) and among those between six and ten years of age (29.2%) (Federal Office of Migration and Refugees 2007). Since the publication of the first PISA Survey (Program for International Student Assessment) in 2001, the education of young people of foreign origin has become a focus of public interest. Prior to this, research in the field of intercultural education had pointed out the deficiencies of the German school system in terms of promoting integration. The PISA results identified German schools as having a much higher rate of selectivity than schools in most of the other OECD countries. Furthermore, in comparison with other nations, success in school was found to be more dependent on the student’s social and ethnic background. Several scholarly studies have shown the disadvantages that children of foreign descent face in terms of education, along with difficulties with the German, which is more or less pronounced, despite reform efforts over the last several decades (e.g., Mecheril 2004; Auernheimer 2006; Siminovskaia 2008).

Education and the German language have achieved key focus in the National Integration Plan. In the context of the development of the plan, which was proposed in July 2007 at the Second Integration Summit, two workgroups addressed topics of education. Their focuses were: “Promoting the German Language from

Table 5-4. Labor Participation, Unemployment, and Poverty Rate Based on Micro Census Data, 2006

Labor participation rate

Unemployment rate

Poverty rate

Population without migrant background




Population of migrant background




Among them: ethnic German repatriates and their children




Nationalized citizens and children of immigrants born as Germans




Immigrants and foreign nationals born in Germany




Entire population




Source: Compilation of statistics from the German Government’s Third Poverty and Wealth Report, 2008.

(p.73) Birth” and “Ensuring Good Education and Professional Training to Increase Employment Opportunities.” Under the heading “Integration through Education,” the German government pledged the following in the “National Integration Plan”:

The German government strives, along with federal states and communites, towards the development of day care for children under the age of three in order to accomodate on average 35 percent by 2013. The federal government will share in the costs of construction. This development

  • is directed towards children with migrant background and should have positive affects on their early acquisition of the German language.

  • argues for improving education through the use of budget resources that have been freed as a result of demographic change.

  • will develop a plan for the general promotion of the German language in day cares and preschools

  • promotes research regarding the children’s progress in German language development. They should enable the development of support plans for students and further training for teachers.

  • supports, along with 10 states, the development of a master plan for language education through the program “FörMig” (Language Acquisition Promotion for Children and Youth with migrant background).

  • through its model program “Truancy—The Second Chance,” pursues the goal to reintegrate truants in schools and improve their chances of completing a degree

  • supports states’ research in the field of education and in their development of plans and methods to improve integration.

(Excerpt from the Summary of the National Integration Plan 2007)

The education level of the population with migrant background has risen consistently since the mid-1990s. Since then, however, the certifiable discrepancy between the access to education in the population with and without migrant background has only changed minimally. In terms of the professional training among youth, there has even been a decline. Since 1994, when the rate of immigrant trainees reached a high point of 9.8%, the percentage has continually decreased.

Migrant Participation Based on Type of School

In the early 1980s, the compulsory education of immigrant children was widely enforced. The rate of those who left school without a degree from the elementary school was reduced from about a half to approximately one-fifth. In 2006 only 7% of German citizens left school without an elementary school degree, while the rate of dropout among immigrant youths was 18%. Today about half of all German students (45%) attend a secondary school degree (Gymnasium) in comparison to barely every fifth immigrant youth. Differences among the nationalities are clear here. Greek and Spanish students, along with those with Ukrainian and Russian heritage, are more successful in the German school system than their peers with origins from other countries (Third Poverty and Wealth Report 2008). These differences are probably related to the parents’ level of education and social status along with high educational aspirations. The education of young people of foreign descent in East Germany is also more advanced than in West Germany (Weiss 2007). The migrants of the first generation in East Germany more commonly have higher educational degrees than migrants in West Germany. Youths of ethnic German orgin also seem to profit from stronger institutional support.

In terms of the transition from school to professional training and the job market, a poor secondary school degree or the lack of a degree at all has much more serious consequences for future opportunities than it did several decades ago. The level of qualification that employers expect has also risen as a result of the change in the structure of the economy (Siminovskaia 2008).

Children and youths with migrant background are doubly disadvantaged in terms of equal opportunity (Geißler & Weber-Menges 2008). As a result of the weaker economic situation of many migrant families, they often come across the same challenges as native children of families facing poverty and a lack of education. (p.74) These difficulties, compared with other European immigrant societies, are significantly pronounced in Germany. Among children who have the same level of achievement in school and belong to the same class, those whose parents are born in Germany have a higher chance of receiving a recommendation for the “Gymnasium” than children who have fathers and mothers who both do not come from Germany.

According to the results of education research, the causes of the disadvantage in educational opportunity include school-related factors such as inadequate support, more or less conscious discrimination, or the high number of migrants in schools and classes, along with familial factors like the migrant’s age at emigration, the length of the children’s and parents’ stay in Germany, intentions of returning to the home country, and openness toward or separation from German society. It has frequently been empirically proven that immigrants of the second or third generation often tend to receive lower grades or poorer recommendations than native classmates, even if at the same level of performance. (Konsortium Bildungsberichterstattung 2006). Radtke and Gomolla (2007) show that the decisions of teachers and principals regarding significant transitions such as the start of school, transferrals to special schools for children with learning disabilities and recommendations at the end of elementary school were also influenced by criteria unrelated to school performance. This can occur at the expense of the migrant children, so that they find themselves in classes primarily with other children of foreign descent, for example. More often, language difficulties are falsely interpreted as general learning disabilities, which can have wide-reaching effects for the educational and future opportunities for migrant children.

The three-part school system in Germany and the early school career path decision regarding which further school the children will attend has even been criticized by the special correspondent for human rights as a barrier toward equal opportunity for children of foreign descent (Motakef 2006). Furthermore, the low level of expectation in terms of school achievement and success specifically targeted toward this group could be identified as a discouraging factor for these children (Schofield 2006).

Dwindling Opportunities for Professional Training and in the Job Market for Migrant Youths

The situation for professional training of youths with migrant background has developed especially dramatically over the last several years. It is increasingly difficult for them to find professional training positions, they break off their apprenticeships more frequently, and up to 40% do not receive occupational training at all (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung 2007). Of those of foreign descent belonging to the age group of 25- to 35-year-olds, 41% do not have a professional degree, compared to 15% of Germans not of foreign origin.

Many young people of foreign descent have exceeded school age and can no longer be reached through schooling measures. Following school, the competition for apprenticeship positions shows—without very concrete objective reasons—that applicants from immigrant families experience a similar disadvantage as they do in school. This dynamic has intensified in the last ten years. And this does not only apply to those who could not obtain a degree from the “Hauptschule” (many of whom are native youths). As a result, explanations linked to migrants’ experiences with discrimination apply here harshly.

The results of a survey of secondary school graduates conducted early 2007 by the National Institute for Occupational Training (Bundesinstituts für Berufsbildung, BIBB) showed that immigrant applicants have notably lower chances than Germans applying for apprenticeship positions even if they have achieved the same qualifications in school. A study completed by the Institute for Employment Research (Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung, IAB) in October 2008 shows that this situation has not changed (Seibert 2008). On the whole, the number of young immigrants involved in occupational training, compared to the number of young members of the majority population in such positions, has not only further decreased. The number of youth from immigrant families (p.75) engaged in professional training (as a portion of the total number of young immigrants between the ages of 18 and 21 who are in these training positions) is also dropping (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung 2007).

Secondary school and professional training degrees are without a doubt the most important keys for integration into the job market. At the same time, even if they have completed professional training, migrants (especially Turkish citizens) lack the same opportunities in the labor market that Germans without migration background have. Turks are more often unemployed and those who are qualified are markedly less often employed than Germans or migrants from other countries with a comparative level of education. The particular disadvantage that Turkish citizens face can therefore only partly be attributed to a low or lack of a secondary school degree. Rather, mechanisms of institutional discrimination through companies along with a lack of social networks are in turn also responsible for their disadvantage. It is becoming more common for (highly) qualified young Turks to turn their backs on Germany and find employment in reputable positions in Turkey or other countries. There they are also able to climb the social ladder, while in Germany they remain barred from these jobs despite their excellent qualifications.

Parallel Society (Parallelgesellschaft) and Spatial Segregation

Immigrant neighborhoods, in which a higher-than-average amount of—often generally called “foreigners”—immigrants live, are connected with deficits and problems in the perception of the majority population. Since the “guest works” began to move from their camps and homes in West German cities in the 1960s, the shabby downtown neighborhoods to which they moved have been stigmatized as “ghettos” in the frequent debates. This perception was only peripherally connected with the actual problem, namely the concept of nation, culture, and integration that has dominated the German nation state since its founding in the nineteenth century. Unlike the republican model in France, the German nation has understood itself as an ancestral and cultural community, in which national belonging required a cultural similarity. Within this concept, cultural differences are a threat to the national identity and must be domesticated. This explains the wide-spread fear in Germany of “ghettos” as quasi culturally foreign entities materializing within a city—as well as the dominant position, whereby the social integration of immigrants is only possible when perceived foreign communities dissolve in an ethnically mixed city.

This long historical thread is apparent in the regularly recurring public debates that still differentiate between “Germans” and “aliens” or “foreigners,” even to the third and fourth generation, and accuse them of refusing to integrate from “parallel communities,” as the “ghetto” is currently called.

The term “parallel society” (Parallelgesellschaft) was coined in 1996 in an interview with the sociologist Heitmeyer that was published in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit (cf. Heitmeyer & Anhut 2000). In its context Heitmeyer stated that immigrants in Germany were living in a “parallel society.” Over the course of the following years this term became popular in the public debate on migration though it was not based on empirical data. In the public debate the term “parallel society” is linked to the image of an ethnically homogeneous population group which separates itself spatially, socially and culturally from the mainstream society. At the same time, the term implies massive criticism of the immigrants’ way of life and signals a demand for cultural assimilation. A series of scientific studies has shown that immigrant groups in Germany are less segregated than immigrant groups in Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, or Sweden. According to results from migration research, inadequate integration policy can be regarded as a main cause for voluntary or involuntary retreat from mainstream society (Thränhardt 2008).

In many cities an unequal spatial distribution of Germans and immigrants can be observed. This concentration of the immigrant population is due to the cumulation of different factors such as the cutback on industrial jobs, high unemployment rates, low salaries, a decline in purchasing power, and inadequate living infrastructure especially in peripheral areas. In comparison with the international situation (p.76) spatial segregation in Germany is, however, rather low. Taking American or Canadian criteria into account leads to the conclusion that there are hardly any “ethnic residential communities” in Germany and “surely no ghettos” (Schönwälder & Söhn 2007). More typical for urban spaces are residential areas of migrants with a mixed population. According to Schönwälder and Söhn, one-fifth of the foreign population was living in residential quarters in which the share of foreign nationals was above 30%. But also in these cases German citizens still form the majority of inhabitants. Nevertheless, a tendency toward an “ethnic concentration” can be observed in Germany as well. In this context there are great differences between the various nationalities: Especially Turkish immigrants tend to settle in areas where they find themselves surrounded by their fellow countrymen. About one third of Turks live in areas in which the share of the Turkish population is about ten percent or even higher. In addition, the study shows that immigrants, more often than Germans, live in unprivileged residential quarters. One the one hand, the tendency toward a concentration of different ethnic groups in certain residential areas is relatively low in Germany. On the other, the studies mentioned above show that the concentrations in certain cities and neighborhoods are in the broadest sense relevantly linked to certain nationalities, their residential area and integration processes. Empirically this can only be substantiated through further case studies.

An ethnic and sociospatial concentration of immigrants can be regarded also in a positive light. It can help immigrants with their orientation and offers collective self-help in a foreign environment. Additionally, an ethnic concentration provides opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs to specifically supply the demand and fulfill the expectations of the population. In societies of immigration “ethnic” concentrations in urban areas are common. They first become problematic when immigrants are excluded from education and careers in mainstream society. In this case the danger of structural segregation rises and is moreover intensified if people who have been living in this area for years decide to move somewhere else because they regard the presence of immigrants as an indicator for social downward mobility (Santel 2007).

Regardless of the empirical results, in 2004, after the attack on Theo van Gogh in the nearby Netherlands, the term “parallel society” came in second as “German negative word of the year” (Unwort des Jahres; word that is loaded with a negative political connotation). On the basis of spectacular individual cases a new popular academic literary genre deals with honor killings and forced marriages in particular in the largest immigrant community of Turks. Thus, in public opinion the image is created that this is a typical behavior of Turkish immigrants. Even if the debate in Germany is not as emotionally loaded as the one temporarily led in the Netherlands or in Denmark, immigrants and most of all Muslims feel Islamophobia in their daily lives (Thränhardt 2008).


On the one hand, the tendency toward segregation of ethnic communities in Germany is much less developed than in many other countries of immigration. On the other, there is a striking inequality concerning education of children and youth of foreign descent compared with the native population of the same age. It is alarming that immigrant youth, even with the same qualifications as their nonimmigrant counterparts, have lower chances when it comes to attending secondary school and finding a job.

To which degree a “revisited” integration policy will be able to make up for missed opportunities due to a lacking integration policy over the course of the last several decades depends on a variety of factors. These include, among others, future economic development on which politics has only a limited influence. The extent of the expansion of opportunities for migrant children is contingent upon the implementation of sound education policies that focus on the improvement of the chances early in life for future generations of immigrant children. Furthermore, such a policy has to implement effective concepts of “integrated and continuing German language promotion” in all educational institutions.

The history of migration teaches that not only immigrants but also their descendants confront social inequalities (limited professional (p.77) opportunities, negative stigmatization). It takes time—sometimes up to the fourth or fifth generation—in order for these negative consequences to vanish.

However, the public debate on the introduction of affirmative action, a decidedly controversial measure aimed to create equal opportunities, is still in its infancy in Germany. The question if an implementation of such measures for certain sectors could make sense in Germany and has yet to be widely discussed. Even the antidiscrimination law that passed in 2006 does not play a decisive role in the National Integration Plan (Nationaler Integrationsplan).


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(1) . According to the Federal Statistical Office all people are counted as people of foreign descent “who immigrated to the Federal Republic of Germany after 1949 as well as all foreigners born in Germany and all Germans born in Germany with at least one parent who either immigrated to Germany or is a foreigner who was born in Germany” (Federal Statistical Office, 2007) (Translation by author).

(2) . The Migration Report takes the following group of migrants into account: Persons, who neither have the right of asylum, hold a residence permit nor who can prove that they are being “tolerated” according to the immigration law and who are neither registered in the Central Alien Register (Ausländerzentralregister, AZR) nor elsewhere in official statistics.