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Immigration and integration in Germany

Germany is the most populous country in the European Union. Some 82 million people live on German territory, a good one in six in what was formerly East Germany. The north and east in particular are home to the national minorities of the Danes, the Frisians, the German Sinti and Roma gypsies, and the Sorbian people. They have their own culture, language, history, and identity.

Ever since the 1950s post-war boom the German economy has been dependent on immigrant workers. The majority of those who were at the time referred to as “guest workers” have now returned to their home countries in South and Southeast Europe, but many have stayed on in Germany to earn their keep. Many of the Turkish immigrants who came to Germany at a later date have also remained in the country. This has resulted in Germany gradually developing from a country that accommodated guest workers to a country with regulated immigration.

Repatriates of German descent, who for generations have been living in the states of the former Soviet Union, Romania and Poland, are a second major group of immigrants. Since the collapse of the communist systems they have been returning to Germany in increasing numbers.

These two groups of immigrants resulted in the per capita rate of immigration to Germany in the 1980s being considerably higher than that of classic immigration countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. There are currently more than 15 million people with an immigrant background living in Germany. According to the German Statistics Office this figures includes all those people who have migrated to Germany as well as those born in Germany with at least one immigrant parent. Some seven million of them are foreigners, while around eight million have received German citizenship – though naturlization or because they are one of the four million repatriates. After the repatriates, the 2.5 million immigrants from Turkey represent the largest group, while a further 1.5 million come from former Yugoslavia or its successor states. There are an estimated four million Muslims living in Germany.

Lots of immigrants work as unskilled laborers, as Germany recruited workers in particular for simple activities. Studies have revealed that immigrant families in Germany have difficulty climbing the social ladder or improving their economic situation. Nonetheless, over the past two decades progress has been made with regard to integration: Acquiring German citizenship was facilitated by law, contacts between immigrants and Germans are closer, and there is more widespread acceptance of ethnic cultural variety. And the immigration law that came into power in 2005 provides for the first time an all-embracing legal framework that considers all aspects of immigration policy.

The Federal Government considers the subsequent integration of people with an immigration background to be a focus of its work. It is foregrounding their incorporation in the labor market and regards education and improving language skills as keys to integration. Since 2006, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel has held an Integration Summit, which representatives of all social groups impacting on integration, including immigrant organizations, attend. Regular checks are made to ensure that the most important result of the first Integration Summit, the “National Integration Plan”, is being implemented. It contains concrete goals as well as over 400 measures for government, business, and social players. This way a network of “education patrons” is being built up; so far more than 5,000 have become involved, supporting children and young people from immigrant families in their education and vocational training. More than 500 companies and public institutions with over four million employees have joined the “Charter of Diversity”. They see diversity as an opportunity and, among other things, have committed themselves to granting improved training opportunities to young people with an immigration background.