Immigration in the Federal Republic of Germany

By Viktor Foerster
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 2, Number 2 (Winter 1991-1992)
Issue theme: "Getting past the immigration taboo - an international perspective"


One cannot begin any analysis of immigration questions in the Federal Republic of Germany without first referring to recent events. In the last few months there have been numerous incidents of violence directed against foreigners and refugees seeking asylum in the new united Germany. Many people have attempted to associate this violence with renewed widespread support for nationalism and even neo-Nazi ideas. But, this is not the case. Whilst there may be some dissatisfaction in the public as to the increase in the number of foreigners coming to Germany since the opening of the Wall and the fall of the Iron Curtain, the attacks against foreigners have been isolated incidents, usually committed by skin heads and fringe neo-Nazi groups. In the German public as a whole, such individuals have little support.


Although the figure is frequently overestimated, the percentage of foreigners in terms of the total population of Germany is 7.3 percent - slightly more than 2 percent from other countries in the EC, and just over 5 percent from outside the European Community. This latter figure is composed mainly of Turkish and Yugoslavian nationals who came to Germany originally in the 1960s and 1970s under employment schemes supported by the German Government and designed to boost the German Economic Miracle. These schemes have since been discontinued and, in fact, the Federal Government has recently offered monetary incentives for the migrant workers to return with their families to their home countries.

Since, under the various treaties of the European Community, nationals of Community countries are entitled to a virtually automatic right of residence in any other country of the Community, the question of refugees relates only to foreigners from outside the EC. In this regard, within the figure of 3.2 million non-EC foreigners in Germany, some 865,000 can be identified as refugees

? 83,500 persons entitled to asylum or refugee status;

? 167,000 dependents of persons entitled and seeking asylum;

? 35,300 quota refugees admitted under humanitarian relief schemes;

? 32,700 displaced foreigners;

? 310,000 so-called de facto refugees These are persons who either had not applied for asylum or whose application has been rejected, but who nevertheless will not be deported to their home countries for humanitarian, political or other reasons; and

? 236,000 asylum-seekers whose asylum proce-dures are pending.

In addition to the asylum applicants whose applications are currently pending, there has been a dramatic development the increase of new applicants from 16,000 persons in June 1991 to a total of 28,000 persons applying in August 1991.

The latest figures available reveal that

only 4.4 percent of all applicants

for [asylum] are successful.

In the first nine months of 1991 alone, over 170,000 foreigners have formally applied for political asylum. By using the official statistics from the month of August 1991, it is apparent that increased pressures are coming from Eastern countries, although, obviously, the figures are partly distorted by the recent conflict in Yugoslavia.

Table 1.

Applicants for Asylum

August 1991 28,272

Yugoslavia 7,446

Romania 6,395

Turkey 2,152

Bulgaria 1,658

Vietnam 896

Nigeria 861

Iran 771

Afghanistan 625

India 625

The growing number of applications for political asylum can be seen in stark contrast to the dramatically sinking success rate. The latest figures available reveal that only 4.4 percent of all applicants are successful. In 1971 the success ratio for political asylum was about 57 percent. There is no doubt that this dramatic change relates to the number of applications for political asylum, which has increased some 25 times during this period. Behind these statistics lie new trends in economic migration toward the richer countries of Europe - and Germany in particular.

The financial burden involved with dealing with such numbers of refugees is immense. In 1984 alone, the German government expended over DM 2.8 billion, and in 1990 this figure had nearly doubled to DM 5.4 billion spent for accommodating and processing refugees.


The current number of pending applications for asylum in the Federal Republic of Germany is about 200,000.

The record number of asylum-seekers in 1990 was complemented by a high number of ethnic German immigrants from Eastern Europe, which amounted to over 397,00 Aussiedler (German ethnic immigrants). In addition, 238,000 Ubersiedler (Germans from what was formerly East Germany) moved to the territory of West Germany during the first six months of 1990, until the abolition of border control in July 1990.

Quite naturally, political discussions in 1990 concentrated on the unification process of the two Germanies. Within this context, the problem of the capacity of the German economy (especially in the housing and labor markets) to absorb such a high number of newcomers figured highly on the agenda.


The so-called Basic Law or constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany states in Article 16 that Persons persecuted on political grounds shall enjoy the right of asylum - thus it allows politically-persecuted aliens to be granted asylum legally in the Federal Republic. This means that the granting of asylum is not subject to political discretion. The Basic Law therefore goes further than the general provisions of International Law and the law of other countries, including the European neighbors of Germany.

[Federal Government policy] has stated

that 'The Federal Republic of Germany

is not, nor shall it become, a country

of immigration . . .'

The German Federal Constitutional Court has held that protection under asylum law should be granted to anyone who would be exposed to perse-cution in a way involving danger to life and limb or personal freedom, or, generally speaking, to any persons who have reason to fear political repression.

Thus, no persons seeking protection from political persecution in the Federal Republic may be turned back at the border, nor may they be deported to any country in which they may face persecution.

When a person is recognized as being entitled to asylum, this person has a right to an unlimited residence permit and refugee travel documents. This status is comparable to that of German nationals - legally, socially and economically.


The aliens policy of the Federal Government aims, firstly, at the integration of aliens living legally in our country, particularly recruited foreign workers and their families. It also restricts further immigration from non-EC states. Finally, the Government wishes to give assistance for the voluntary return and reintegration of foreigners to their home countries. Aliens living permanently in Germany are supposed to be integrated into the main economic, social and legal system of the country. The need for integration and harmony, however, can be achieved only if any further immigration from non-EC states is effectively and consistently restricted.

This is a long-standing principle followed by all parties bearing responsibility within the Federal Government. With regard to the policy aimed at restricting any further immigration in 1991, the Federal Government of Germany has stated that The Federal Republic of Germany is not, nor shall it become, a country of immigration ... [and that] ... any further immigration of aliens from non-EC-member states is to be prevented by all legal means.

The basic doctrine of the Federal Government's policy regarding aliens is reflected in the Act amending the Aliens Act that took effect on January 1, 1991. The purpose of the new Aliens Act is to put into practice the Federal Government's basic principles regarding aliens policy in so far as it makes easier the integration of aliens legally resident in Germany by increasing noticeably the predict-ability regarding the resident's status.

The new Act also serves the purpose of restricting further immigration by reinforcing the recruitment ban for foreign-workers from non-EC-member states.


At the moment extensive consultations are taking place between the Government and the Opposition in order to, as the Government would like it, amend Article 16 of the Basic Law. However, the Opposition has already declared that it is not prepared to support an amendment to the Basic Law, and without the support of the Opposition in the legislature where a two-thirds majority would be necessary, such an amendment cannot be passed. The failure of the present system for processing asylum-seekers is due to the divergence of opinion between the Opposition and Government parties at the federal and state levels. And even within the Federal Government, which is a coalition of three political parties, there are major differences of opinion on further reforms to the laws for political refugees and foreign immigration.

Any attempt to amend the rights guaranteed to refugees in the Basic Law are thus unlikely to succeed. But the politicians are considering other options for responding to the flood of de facto immigrants. First, there is a desire to improve and speed up the administrative and processing methods for asylum-seekers. The processing of an application on up to the decision by the Immigration Authority can take between one and two years. This could be reduced considerably to a matter of weeks.

Second, suggestions have been made toward new immigration legislation as opposed to refugee or asylum-oriented laws. Germany is a de facto immigration country; it must become a de jure immigration country. The application procedures for political asylum are being misused and abused in lieu of comprehensive immigration legislation.

Finally, there is an increasing need seen for the development and enactment of a common European policy and law on immigration and asylum matters. The main aim of this should be to protect the common external borders of the European Commu-nity, and to establish common legal and social conditions for immigrants to any EC country.

About the author

Viktor Foerster is an attorney in private practice in Nürnberg, Germany. This article is based

on a speech he gave October 24, 1991 at the international immigration seminar on "Responses of

Western Industrial Nations to High Immigration Demand" sponsored by the Center for Immigration

Studies in Washington, DC.

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