Immigration to Germany

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Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States.[1] On 1 January 2005, a new immigration law came into effect. The political background to this new law was that Germany, for the first time ever, acknowledged itself to be an "immigration country". Although the practical changes[clarification needed] to immigration procedures were relatively minor, new immigration categories such as highly skilled professionals and scientists were introduced to attract valuable professionals to the German labour market. The development within German immigration law clearly shows that immigration of skilled employees and academics is eased[clarification needed] while the labour market remains closed for unskilled workers.

Recently, a new Europe-wide law has been passed, allowing highly skilled non-EU citizens easier access to work and live in Germany, subject to meeting certain requirements.


Further information: Demographics of Germany

In 2012, 91.3% (73.8 million) of residents in Germany had German citizenship,[2] while 80% (64.7 million) of the population were Germans with no immigrant background and 20% (16.3 million) were people with immigrant background, especially 3.0 million (3.7%) had Turkish, 1.5 million (1.9%) Polish, 1.2 million (1.5%) Russian and 0.76 million (0.9%) Italian background.[3]

In 2013, the most notable people without the German citizenship are Turkish (1.55 million), Polish (0.61 million), Italian (0.55 million) and Greek citizens (0.32 million).[4]

History of immigration to Germany after the Second World War[edit]

A guest worker from Cuba, working in a German factory (Chemiefaserkombinat "Wilhelm Pieck"), German Democratic Republic, 1986

One of the biggest waves of immigration to Germany started in the 1960s. Due to a shortage of laborers during the Wirtschaftswunder ("economic miracle") in the 1950s and 1960s, the West German government signed bilateral recruitment agreements with Italy in 1955, Greece in 1960, Turkey in 1961, Morocco in 1963, Portugal in 1964, Tunisia in 1965 and Yugoslavia in 1968. These agreements allowed the recruitment of so-called Gastarbeiter to work in the industrial sector in jobs that required few qualifications. Children born to Gastarbeiter received the right to reside in Germany but were not granted citizenship; this was known as the Aufenthaltsberechtigung ("right of residence"). Many of the descendants of those Gastarbeiter still live in Germany and many have acquired German citizenship.

The German Democratic Republic also recruited workers from outside its borders, but in a different way from the Federal Republic. The GDR criticized the Gastarbeiter policy, calling it capitalist exploitation of poor foreigners, and preferred to see its foreign workers as socialist "friends" who traveled to the GDR from other communist or socialist countries in order to learn skills which could then be applied in their home countries. Most of these came from Vietnam, North Korea, Angola, Mozambique and Cuba. As a result of the differing policies used by each federal state, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification in 1990 many of the foreign workers within the new federal states of the former GDR had no legal status as immigrant workers under the Western system. Consequently, many faced deportation or premature discontinuation of residence and work permits, as well as open discrimination in the workplace.

Comparison with other countries from European Union[edit]

According to Eurostat 47.3 million people lived in the European Union in 2010 who were born outside their resident country. This corresponds to 9.4% of the total EU population. Of these, 31.4 million (6.3%) were born outside the EU and 16.0 million (3.2%) were born in another EU member state. The largest absolute numbers of people born outside the EU were in Germany (6.4 million), France (5.1 million), the United Kingdom (4.7 million), Spain (4.1 million), Italy (3.2 million), and the Netherlands (1.4 million).[5]

Country Total population
Total foreign-born
 % Born in other EU state
 % Born in a non-EU state
EU 27 501,098 47,348 9.4 15,980 3.2 31,368 6.3
Germany 81,802 9,812 12.0 3,396 4.2 6,415 7.8
France 64,716 7,196 11.1 2,118 3.3 5,078 7.8
United Kingdom 62,008 7,012 11.3 2,245 3.6 4,768 7.7
Spain 45,989 6,422 14.0 2,328 5.1 4,094 8.9
Italy 60,340 4,798 8.0 1,592 2.6 3,205 5.3
Netherlands 16,575 1,832 11.1 428 2.6 1,404 8.5
Greece 11,305 1,256 11.1 315 2.8 940 8.3
Sweden 9,340 1,337 14.3 477 5.1 859 9.2
Austria 8,367 1,276 15.2 512 6.1 764 9.1
Belgium (2007) 10,666 1,380 12.9 695 6.5 685 6.4
Portugal 10,637 793 7.5 191 1.8 602 5.7
Denmark 5,534 500 9.0 152 2.8 348 6.3

Immigration regulations[edit]

EU citizens[edit]

European Union free movement of workers principles require that all Member State citizens have the right to solicit and obtain work in Germany free from discrimination on the basis of citizenship. Treaty on European Union Article 39 (providing basic rules for Freedom of movement for workers). However, citizens of Croatia are exempt from the free movement of workers principle for a transition period of 5 years, after the country's EU Accession in 2013.

Immigration options for non-EU citizens[edit]

Immigration to Germany as a non-EU-citizen is still limited to skilled workers (individuals with either a university or polytechnic degree or at least 3 years of training together with job experience), students and their immediate family members. Germany has 3 types of immigration titles: Visas (validity of up to 90 days), (temporary) residence permits, and settlement permits (permanent residence permits). Work permits, if granted, are no longer issued independently but included within the immigration title and are available for foreigners that either fall into one of the several available permit categories (IT specialists, company trained specialist within a group of companies, managing personnel, scientists, highly skilled workers with exceptional income, etc.) or can prove a public interest in the employment. The categories and all requirements are listed in the ordinance on employment.[6]

The formerly well known IT-Greencard program has been followed by the introduction of a specific category within the ordinance on employment that allows IT specialists with a university or polytechnic degree to migrate to Germany for employment purposes. Self-employment is also possible but requires either an initial investment of EUR 250,000 and the creation of a minimum 5 jobs [7] or the support of the local chambers of commerce or similar organizations that confirm the socioeconomic value of the business plan for the region.

As Germany does not allow immigration without cause, it is necessary to be either enrolled with a school or university, have a specific job offer that fits the requirements of one of the work permit categories or intend to reunify with close family (spouse or minors) already within Germany (family reunification visa).

After obtaining a university degree, foreign students may stay for one year to find a job that matches their qualifications.

Plans are discussed to open the labour market in 2009 for all foreigners holding a university degree that have a specific job offer as well as for all graduates of German schools (including those located abroad).

Any person married to a German person or is a parent of a minor German child may immigrate to Germany.

Business visa[edit]

Business visas are available for 90 days within every 6 months. Although it is possible to act as managing director, teacher, university scientist, sportsperson, actor, model or journalist on the basis of a business visa, businesspersons may only attend contract negotiations and buy or sell goods for an employer abroad. All other economic activity is considered work and must not be performed on the basis of a business visa.

Asylum seekers and refugees[edit]

Asylum law is based on article 16a of the Basic Law as well as on the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

Until 1993 persons politically persecuted had the right to apply for asylum in Germany based on article 16 of the basic law. However, the growing numbers of asylum seekers in the late 1980s and early 1990s with a climax of over 400,000 applications in 1992 lead to a constitutional change. Article 16 was changed to 16a, which included tighter regulations.[8] Persons entering Germany save from third countries were no longer allowed to receive asylum, also applications from nationals of so-called safe countries of origin were refused.[9] The numbers of asylum seekers have dropped significantly since then.[10]

In accordance with the Geneva Convention on Refugees, Germany grants refugee status to persons that are facing prosecution because of their race, religion, nationality or belonging to a special group. Since 2005, recognized refugees enjoy the same rights as people who were granted asylum.[11]


A person who has immigrated to Germany may choose to become a German citizen. A right to become a German citizen (Anspruchseinbürgerung) arises when a person:[12]

  • has a right to reside in Germany
  • has lived in Germany legally for at least eight years (seven years if the Integrationskurs is successfully passed)
  • does not live on welfare as the main source of income unless unable to work, for example, because they are a single mother with small children
  • is able to speak German to 'B1' standard in the Common European Framework of Reference
  • passes a Citizenship Examination. The examination tests a persons knowledge of the German constitution, the Rule of Law and the basic democratic concepts behind modern German society. It also includes a section on the constitution of the Federal State in which the applicant resides. The citizenship test is obligatory unless the applicant can claim an exemption such as illness, a disability, or old age.
  • has not been convicted of a serious criminal offence
  • is prepared to swear an oath of loyalty to democracy and the German constitution
  • is prepared to renounce all former citizenships, unless the applicant may claim an exemption. The principal exemptions are

(a) the applicant is a citizen of another European Union country, or the Swiss Confederation; (b) the applicant is a refugee, holding a 1951 convention travel document; (c) the applicant is a from country where experience shows that it is impossible or implies extreme difficulties to be released from nationality (i.e. Iran, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon); (d)such renunciation would cause the applicant serious economic harm; or (e) he possesses family ties with his former nationality that he can't renounce for either economical, political or personal reasons. In the first three cases, the exemption is of right, in the fourth and fifth cases, an application for permission to retain the nationality of origin must be made prior to naturalisation. Typical examples of the second case include where a person would be unable to inherit real property in the country of origin. (Particular problems have arisen in this regard with, e.g. Turkish applicants, in the past).

A person who does not have a right to naturalisation may nonetheless acquire German nationality by discretionary naturalisation (Ermessenseinbürgerung). The applicant must fulfill certain minimum requirements.[13]

Spouses and same-sex civil partners of German citizens may also be naturalised after only 3 years of residence (and two years of marriage).

Under certain conditions children born on German soil after the year 1990 are automatically granted German citizenship and, in most cases, also hold the citizenship of their parents' home country.

Applications for naturalisation made outside Germany are possible under certain circumstances, but are relatively rare.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Germany Top Migration Land After U.S. in New OECD Ranking". Bloomberg. 20 May 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Destatis - Federal Statistical Office of Germany
  3. ^ File Migrationsberichtdes Bundesamtes für Migration und Flüchtlinge im Auftrag der Bundesregierung, Migrationsbericht 2012
  4. ^ Destatis - Federal Statistical Office of Germany
  5. ^ 6.5% of the EU population are foreigners and 9.4% are born abroad, Eurostat, Katya VASILEVA, 34/2011.
  6. ^ Ordinance on employment (German)
  7. ^
  9. ^ Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF): Asylum law
  10. ^ Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF): Annual Report on Migration and International Protection Statistics 2008, p.16
  11. ^ Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF): Protecting refugees
  12. ^ Die Bundesregierung: "Wege zur Einbürgerung: Die Anspruchseinbürgerung
  13. ^ Die Bundesregierung: "Wege zur Einbürgerung: Die Ermessenseinbürgerungeinbürgerung

External links[edit]


German Foreign Office
Federal Office for Migration and Refugees


Legal Guide to Germany
German Citizenship Test