Immigration to Germany

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Demography of Germany
Population background
Total population
82 million
Regions with significant populations
 Germany 65,000,000
 Russia 3,500,000 (estimate, 2013)[1]
 Poland 2,850,000[2]
 Turkey 2,797,000 [3]
 Romania 1,130,789 (including Romanian Germans)[4]
 Italy 969,000 [5]
 Syria 600,000 (2016)[6]
 Greece 443,000[7]
 Croatia 441,000[8]
 Netherlands 350,000[9]
 Austria 345,620[10]
 United States 324,000
 Serbia 308,000[14]
 Albania 300,000 (including Kosovo)[15]
 Ukraine 272,000[16]
 Bulgaria 238,000[17]
 China 212,000
 Portugal 188,000[18]
 France 168,000[19]
 Vietnam 167,000[20]
 India 161,000
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 158,158
 Hungary 156,812[21]
 Iraq 150,000[22]
 Spain 146,846[23]
 Morocco 140,000[24]
 United Kingdom 136,000[25]
 Afghanistan 260,000[26]
 Brazil 113,716[27]
 Macedonia 95,976[26]
 Nigeria 80,000[28]
 Iran 72,581[26]
 Montenegro 30,000[29]

Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States.[30] Of all the 27 European Union states, Germany has the second highest percentage of immigrants in its population after the United Kingdom.[31] Over 10 million people living in Germany today were born outside of Germany in 2017, that's about 12% of the German population.[32]

The German Government has been keen to encourage immigration over the past 50 years, to address the low birth rate in the country.[32]

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 to be an "immigration country". The practical changes[clarification needed] to immigration procedures were relatively minor. New immigration categories, such as "highly skilled professional" and "scientist" were introduced to attract valuable professionals to the German labour market. The development within German immigration law shows that immigration of skilled employees and academics has eased[clarification needed] while the labour market remains closed for unskilled workers.

In April 2012, European Blue Card legislation was implemented in Germany, allowing highly skilled non-EU citizens easier access to work and live in Germany, subject to certain requirements. According to the federal statistics office in 2016, over one out of five Germans has at least partial roots outside of the country.[33]

History of immigration to Germany[edit]

A so-called "guest worker" (Gastarbeiterin) from Cuba, working in an East German factory, 1986

After World War II until reunification (1945-1980)[edit]

Towards the end of World War II, and in its aftermath, up to 12 million refugees of ethnic Germans, so-called "Heimatvertriebene" (German for "expellees", literally "homeland displaced persons") were forced to migrate from the former German areas, as for instance Silesia or East Prussia, to the new formed States of post-war Germany and Allied-occupied Austria, because of changing borderlines in Europe.[34][35] A big wave 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 (GDR) recruited workers from outside its borders differently. It 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 North Vietnam, North Korea, Angola, Mozambique and Cuba. Following German reunification in 1990 many foreign workers in 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 termination of residence and work permits, as well as open discrimination in the workplace.


During the 1980s, a small but steady stream of East Germans immigrating to the West (Übersiedler) had begun with the gradual opening of the Eastern bloc. It swelled to 389,000 in 1990. After the immigration law change in 1993, it decreased by more than half to 172,000.[36]

German repatriates from Kazakhstan arriving in a camp in Friedland in 1988

During the same time, the number of ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) -Germans who had settled in German territory sometimes for centuries until WWII, i.e. in present-day Eastern Europe and Russia- began to rise in the mid-1980s to about 40,000 each year. In 1987, the number doubled, in 1988 it doubled again and in 1990 nearly 400,000 immigrated. Upon arrival, ethnic Germans became citizens at once according to Article 116 of the Basic Law, and received financial and many social benefits, including language training, as many did not speak German. Social integration was often difficult, even though ethnic Germans were entitled to German citizenship, but to many Germans they did not seem German. In 1991, restrictions went into effect, in that ethnic Germans were assigned to certain areas, losing benefits if they were moving. The German government also encouraged the estimated several million ethnic Germans living in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to remain there. Since January 1993, no more than 220,000 ethnic Germans may immigrate per year.[36]

And in parallel a third stream of immigration starting in the mid 1980s were war refugees, of which West Germany accepted more than any other West European country due to an unqualified right to asylum. From 1986 to 1989, about 380,000 refugees sought asylum, mostly from Iran and Lebanon. Between 1990 and 1992 nearly 900,000 people from former Yugoslavia, Romania, or Turkey sought asylum in a united Germany.[36] In 1992, 438,000 applied, and Germany admitted almost 70 percent of all asylum seekers registered in the European Community.[37] By comparison, in 1992 only about 100,000 people sought asylum in the U.S.[38] The growing numbers of asylum seekers led to a constitutional change severely restricting the previously unqualified right of asylum, that former "refugees [had] held sacred because of their reliance on it to escape the Nazi regime".[37]:159 In December 1992, the Bundestag passed legislation amending the Basic Law, in which article 16 was changed to 16a.[37] Persons entering Germany save from third countries were no longer granted asylum, and applications from nationals of so-called safe third countries of origin were refused.[39] As of 2008, the numbers of asylum seekers had dropped significantly.[40]:16


Proportion of Germans without a migrant background (2016)

Due to the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars, a rising number of refugees headed to Germany and other European countries.[41] Though only about 5 percent of the asylum applications were approved and appeals sometimes took years to be processed, many asylum seekers were able to stay in Germany and received financial and social aid from the government.[36][42]As of 2013, the approval rate was about 30 percent, and 127,000 people sought asylum.[43] During 2014 a total of about 202,834 people sought asylum in Germany.[44] Even more asylum seekers will be expected for 2015 with more than 800,000 people.[45]

As of 2016, there are over 10 million [46] foreign nationals from all around the globe living and working in Germany, making up almost 12% of the population.

As of 2014, about 16.3 million people with an immigrant background were living in Germany, accounting for every fifth person[43] Of those 16.3 million, 8.2 million had no German citizenship, more than ever before. Most of them had Turkish, Eastern European or Southern European background. The majority of new foreigners coming to Germany in 2014 were from new EU member states such as Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia or from the Middle East and Africa. Due to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, many people are hoping to seek asylum in the European Union and Germany.[47] The vast majority of immigrants are residing in the so-called old states of Germany.[48][49]

2015 Refugee, asylum and illegal immigration crisis[edit]

Police intercepts refugees and potential illegal immigrants at Munich Central Station

In 2014 more than 276,000 people entered illegally into the European Union, an increase of 138% from 2013.[51] The numbers of asylum applications and illegal immigration to Europe and especially Germany rose from 2013 onwards, the refugee camps became overcrowded.[52]

On March 20, 2015 the Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany stated that the average duration of an asylum application procedure was about ​5 12 months. Because there are often problems with the identification of refugees, finger print scans will be introduced, and individuals will be checked in more detail to identify their true place of origin.[53][needs update] Due to the high burden for the several German States, the Federal Minister of the Interior also claims to deport illegals more quicly and individuals with denied asylum applications.[54][needs update]

The original prediction of about 450,000 asylum seekers for 2015 in Germany rose to over 800,000 people, which is almost double the number of the previous prediction for this year and four times the amount of the prior year.[45][needs update] In a letter written by the Vice-Chancellor of Germany to his fellow party members, the possible number of 800,000 refugees was raised again to over 1,000,000 refugees in Germany.[55]

The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs said that alleged refugees and illegals, especially from the Western Balkans area who have quite no chance to stay in Germany must be sent back to their country of origin as soon as possible.[56] The number of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans area has dramatically increased during the last year.[when?] Migrants from the Western Balkans area especially from Kosovo see that as an opportunity, since they can stay longer and make most of their time, as the application needs longer to be processed.EU Asylum Policy 0.pdf Furthermore, the deportation of illegal residents in Germany has almost doubled in the first 6 month in comparison to the same period in the prior year.[57][when?]

In 2017 the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Germany reported that of the 340 000 migrants who participated German language courses during 2016, less than half at 113 050 received a passing grade. The authority had no idea why.[58]

In April 2018 more than half, at 55%, of the recipients of unemployment benefits had a migration background.[59] According to the Federal Employment Agency (German: Bundesagentur für Arbeit) this was due to the migrants lacking either employable skills or knowledge of the language.[59]

The 2018 Ellwangen police raid, in which residents of a migrant shelter rioted to prevent police from deporting an asylum seeker who claim had been deemed invalid, sparked a significant political debate.[60]

Immigration regulations[edit]

EU citizens[edit]

European Union free movement of workers principles require that all EU member state citizens have the right to solicit and obtain work in Germany free from discrimination on the basis of citizenship. These basic rules for freedom of movement are given in Article 39 of the Treaty on European Union. (see also Directive 2004/38/EC on the right to move and reside freely). However, citizens of Croatia are exempt from the free movement of workers principle for a transition period of no more than 7 years (ending 2020), after the country's EU Accession in 2013.[61] (see for more details 2013 enlargement of the European Union#Post-accession access to free movement in other EU member states)

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[when?] 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.[62]

The former information technology(IT)Greencard program has been updated with a specific category within the ordinance on employment that allows IT specialists with a university or polytechnic degree to migrate to Germany for employment. Self-employment requires either an initial investment of EUR 250,000 and the creation of a minimum 5 jobs.[63]

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.

Germany is offering two different types of work or business visa categories: employment visa and self-employment visa.[64]

Student visa[edit]

In Germany, there are student applicant visas and student visas. The former can be applied for when the admission to a university is not yet completed, and lasts for three months, which can be extended up to six months. When a student visa is granted, the application for an extended residence permit should follow at the respective university office. This is relevant for non-EU citizens and all students who intend to stay longer than 90 days.[65][66] While applying for a German national visa it is necessary for foreign student prepare in advance with documents that need to be submitted[67]

In general, public German universities don't charge tuition fees. This usually also applies to foreign students.[68] The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides support for international students and academic cooperation.

After graduating, citizens of the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA) have free access to the German job market. Graduates from other countries can extend their residence permit for up to 18 months to look for employment. While many employers prefer proper German-language skills, there is also a great variety of English-language and globalised jobs in Germany, especially in multinational companies, many startups and in research fields.[69][70] According to a study of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), around 54 percent of foreign students in Germany decide to stay after graduation.[71]

Asylum seekers and refugees[edit]

German asylum law is based on the 1993 amendment of article 16a of the Basic Law as well as on the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

In accordance with the Convention Relating to the Status of 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.[72]

The distribution of refugees among the federal states is calculated using the "Königsteiner Schlüssel", which is recalculated annually.[73]

Germany hosts one of the largest populations of Turkish people outside Turkey. Kurds make up 80 to 90 percent of all Turkish refugees in Germany while the rest of the refugees are former Turkish military officers, teachers, and other types of public servants who fled the authoritarian government following the coup attempt in July 2016.[74][75][76][77][78]


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:[79]:19

  • 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 the person is 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 person's 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:
    1. the applicant is a citizen of another European Union country, or the Swiss Confederation;
    2. the applicant is a refugee, holding a 1951 convention travel document;
    3. the applicant is from a country where experience shows that it is impossible or implies extreme difficulties to be released from nationality (i.e. Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia);
    4. such renunciation would cause the applicant serious economic harm; or
    5. he possesses family ties with his former nationality that he can not 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 fourth and fifth cases 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.[79]:38

Spouses and same-sex civil partners of German citizens may also be naturalised after only 3 years of residence (and two years of marriage).[79]:42

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.

Immigrant population in Germany by country of birth[edit]

According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany in 2012, 92% of residents (73.9 million) in Germany had German citizenship,[80] with 80% of the population being Germans (64.7 million) having no immigrant background. Of the 20% (16.3 million) people with immigrant background, 3.0 million (3.7%) had Turkish, 1.5 million (1.9%) Polish, 1.2 million (1.5%) Russian and 0.85 million (0.9%) Italian background.[81]

In 2014, most people without German citizenship were Turkish (1.52 million), followed by Polish (0.67 million), Italian (0.57 million), Romanians (0.36 million) and Greek citizens (0.32 million).[82]

As of 2017, the most common groups of resident foreign nationals in Germany were as follows:[83]

Rank Nationality Population % of foreign nationals
Total 10,623,940 100
1  Turkey 1,483,515 14.9
2 European Union Poland 866,855 8.2
3  Syria 698,950 6.6
4 European Union Italy 643,065 6.1
5 European Union Romania 622,780 5.9
6 European Union Croatia 367,900 3.5
7 European Union Greece 362,245 3.4
8 European Union Bulgaria 310,415 2.9
9  Afghanistan 251,640 2.4
10  Russia 249,205 2.3
11  Iraq 237,365 2.2
12  Serbia 225,535 2.1
13 European Union Hungary 207,025 1.9
14 European Union Austria 191,305 1.8
15  Bosnia and Herzegovina 180,950 1.7
16 European Union Netherlands 154,630 1.5
17 European Union Spain 178,010 1.7
18  Ukraine 138,045 1.3
19 European Union France 149,025 1.4
20 European Union Portugal 146,810 1.4
21  China 136,460 1.3
23  United States 117,730 1.1
24 European Union United Kingdom 116,465 1.1
25  India 108,965 1.0
26  Iran 102,760 1.0
27  Macedonia 99,435 0.9
28  Vietnam 92,485 0.9
29  Morocco 75,620 0.7
30  Pakistan 73,000 0.7

Comparison with other European Union countries[edit]

According to Eurostat 47.3 million people living in the European Union in 2010 were born outside their resident country which 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).[84]

Country Total population
(thousands)[citation needed]
Total foreign-born
(thousands)[citation needed]
% Born in other EU state
(thousands)[citation needed]
% Born in a non-EU state
(thousands)[citation needed]
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

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External links[edit]


"6.180,013" Ausländer in Deutschland
"Unsere Aufnahmekapazität ist begrenzt, ..."
German Foreign Office
Federal Office for Migration and Refugees


Legal Guide to Germany
German Citizenship Test
Information for moving to and working in Germany for immigrants