Background informationCapital: Berlin
Official language: German
357,027 km2
Population (2005):
Population density:
231 inhabitants per km2
Population (2004-2005):
Labour force participation rate (2005):
73.8% (OECD)
Foreign population as a percentage of total (2006):
8.2% (6,751,002 people)
Percentage of foreign employees of gainfully employed:
9.1% (OECD)
Unemployment rate: 11.3% (2005); 10.4% (2004); 9.4% (2003) (OECD)
Main religions:


    • a new Nationality Act, which came into effect in January 2000;
    • the protracted process of adopting the Immigration Act, which came into force in January 20051.

The issue of immigrant integration has also become highly topical in recent years. Two events exemplify this. First, the PISA study234 Also forming part of this debate is how the potential of migrants already living in the country, and of the second generation who were born there, might be put to better use and promoted

Developments since the Second World War

Between 1945 and 1949, around 12 million displaced persons and refugees entered the territories of East and West Germany. From the foundation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949 until the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, 3.8 million people relocated from the GDR to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).

Foreign workers and their families

7 Between 1950 and 1987, 1.4 million Aussiedler came to Germany, primarily from Poland and Romania. As with the number of asylum-seekers (see below), the number of Aussiedler immigrating in subsequent years increased enormously, reaching a peak in 1990 at 397,000.


Immigration flows

Immigration statistics for 2005 reveal a total influx of 579,301 foreigners into Germany, while the outflow of foreigners was 483,584 (net migration: + 95,717). Polish citizens constituted the largest group of foreigners entering the country (147,716), followed by citizens of Turkey (36,019) and Romania (23,274).9

The resident foreign population

The foreign population includes all persons who are not German citizens, in other words, persons who do not hold a German passport. 

In 1968 the resident foreign population numbered 1.9 million. In the following five years, until foreign worker recruitment was stopped in 1973, this figure increased to four million. In the 1970s, the number of foreigners remained relatively constant; thereafter, until 1989, it rose to 4.9 million. Subsequently, the number of foreigners increased further; it has remained constant at 7.3 million since the mid-1990s. The decline to 6.7 million in 2004 is primarily due to an adjustment of the central register of foreigners. At the end of 2006, there were 6,751,002 foreigners living in Germany, corresponding in percentage terms to 8.2% of the total population. This figure also includes 1.4 million foreign nationals who were born in Germany.

Recruitment during the "guest worker" era has left clear marks on the composition of the foreign population: 57% of the foreigners living in Germany are citizens of a former recruitment state. A total of 33% of foreigners living in Germany originate from a member state of the European Union, and a further 47% from another European state.

The immigrant population

According to estimates based on the first such microcensus, there are 15.3 million people with a migration background living in Germany (2005), corresponding to 19% of the population (see Figure 4). 



Flight and asylum

In 2005, the Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) took 48,102 decisions on asylum cases. The share of persons granted full asylum reached the historic low of 0.9%. A total of 4.3% of applicants were granted the so-called "little asylum" or subsidiary protection (authorisation of deportation protection according to the Geneva Refugee Convention), a further 1.4% were granted statutory temporary suspension of deportation (Duldung). Overall, 6.6% of all applicants were granted some form of protection.

From 1999 to 2003, the most important countries of origin for asylum-seekers were Turkey (12%, of whom 81% Kurds), Serbia and Montenegro (10%, of whom 41% Albanian and 34% Roma) and Iraq (8%, of whom 44% Kurds).

In the 1990s, Germany granted asylum to more people than any other European country. In 2000, Great Britain occupied this position for the first time. Since 2003, France has been the primary destination in Europe for refugees.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, of the 6.7 million foreigners in Germany in 2006, 60,000 had received deportation protection according to the Geneva Refugee Convention, 40,000 were asylum-seekers, and 76,000 had received asylum status or had been recognised as refugees prior to entering Germany.

Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union comprise another significant refugee group in Germany. They had begun emigrating to the DDR in 1990, due to increasing anti-Semitism and the economic situation in the former Soviet Union, among other reasons. Subsequently, this immigration flow was allowed to continue as a means of sustaining and strengthening the Jewish community. Until 2004, the Act on Measures in Aid of Refugees Admitted under Humanitarian Relief Programmes (the so-called Quota Refugee Act) served as the legal basis for admitting Jewish immigrants; since the new Immigration Act came into effect in 2005, admissions have been based on instructions from the Ministers and Senators of the Interior of the federal states, in accordance with the Residence Act. Since 1993, the first year for which statistics on these immigrants were collected, 207,000 Jewish emigrants have entered Germany using these provisions.

Irregular migration

Current developments

Immigration policy
Current developments in German immigration policy are rooted in the reform process which began with the reform of the Nationality Act after the red-green121314 along the lines of the one in place in Canada.1516 These persons may immediately receive an unlimited settlement permit.17  It is estimated that some 700 to 900 highly-skilled persons received a settlement permit on the basis of this regulation in 2005; in 2006 (up to and including November), the unofficial number was 421 persons, of whom the majority had already been residing in Germany before 2006.18 The current debate, accordingly, revolves around lowering the hurdles for the permanent immigration of highly-skilled persons.19

The fact that immigration to Germany could also be controlled by a points system is shown by the regulation governing the admission of Jewish immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union, which was agreed by state and government officials, the Central Council of Jews and the Union of Progressive Jews in 2005. According to the regulation, Jewish immigrants from this region require, among other things, a positive integration prognosis based on such criteria as linguistic fluency, qualifications, professional experience and age, before they are permitted to immigrate. This procedure was developed by the government, the federal states and Jewish associations, in response to the growing difficulties Jewish immigrants were experiencing in integrating into German society.

Integration policy
20Integration of Muslims
Role of the European Union

Future challenges

Under both the previous and current governments, there have been considerable achievements in terms immigration policy, including the reform of the Nationality Act, the adoption of the Immigration Act and the initiation of the German Conference on Islam. The integration of the immigrant population and their descendants, as well as the political measures accompanying this process, will continue to be important issues in the future.

One challenge will be to improve the educational opportunities available to immigrants and their children. The federal states of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg have already decided to abolish the Hauptschule as an independent form of secondary education, which should contribute to a reduction in social and performance-based segregation in schools and, therefore, to an improvement in the educational opportunities for young and second-generation immigrants, who are overrepresented in this type of school. Other federal states are currently considering similar moves.

In the context of educational integration, there has been much discussion about expanding the number of childcare places for children under the age of three years. Children of non-German origin in particular stand to benefit from earlier exposure to, and acquisition of, the language. The debate at present, however, revolves mostly around the need to increase the number of childcare facilities, rather than the quality of the care itself, which certainly needs improvement. Care might be improved by increasing the amount of training child caregivers receive (they currently receive no college training in Germany), or by reducing the size of groups, a factor which influences whether or not children can, in fact, be stimulated and encouraged, instead of just being looked after. Nonetheless, the expansion of childcare facilities (just as, for instance, the expansion of all-day schools) is a step in the right direction, particularly where educational integration is concerned.

In order to overcome the economic consequences of an aging population, it will also be important for Germany to promote and use of the potential inherent in the immigrant population. At the same time, however, the federal government needs to lower the hurdles for potential highly-skilled immigrants. Despite relatively high unemployment, there is currently a shortage of specialists in the technology sector. Even if the government is not prepared to introduce a points system, it will, eventually need to at least lower the earnings threshold for specialists to a realistic level: the current threshold, set at around EUR 85,500, is clearly too high. It is easy to see that countries faced with demographic challenges, such as Germany, have to make themselves more attractive to potential immigrants. Classic immigration countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia already have an advantage, purely on account of the global spread of the English language.

In Germany, the central challenges will remain the integration of Muslims and ensuring that Islam is placed on the same legal footing as other religious communities. The federal government has taken a decisive step by establishing the German Conference on Islam. It requires that Muslims put forward a unified, representative voice that the state can recognise as a point of contact for consultation on important issues, such as the teaching of Islam in schools. The debate surrounding the establishment of such a representative body sometimes ignores the fact that people of Muslim origin in Germany are not a monolith. Indeed, they are characterised by their tremendous plurality, comprising Sunni, Shia and Alevi Muslims, as well as conservative, secular and cultural Muslims, with the latter restricting their religious activities to the observance of religious festivals. And, of course, there are also atheists among people of Muslim origin. Much more allowance has to be made for this plurality in the public debate about Muslims.


  1. Parts of the Act to Control and Restrict Immigration and to Regulate the Residence and Integration of EU citizens and Foreigners (Immigration Act) had already been implemented in September 2004.
  2. For more on this debate, see Boswell and Straubhaar (2005).
  3. EEC: European Economic Community
  4. For data on the GDR, see DFG Bildungswerk (2005).
  5. Source: Federal Office of Administration, Federal Ministry of the Interior
  6. Source: Federal Statistical Office
  7. The figure includes foreign persons who are citizens of the former State Union of Serbia and Montenegro and of the two subsequently independent states of Serbia and Montenegro
  8. Source: Federal Statistical Office
  9. Red and green are the colours associated with the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party, respectively.
  10. In a points system, points are awarded to an immigration applicant according to certain criteria such as qualifications and age.
  11. For more information on the Canadian immigration system, see Elrick, J. (2007): Canada. focus Migration Country Profile No. 8.
  12. For foreigners, the settlement permit is the safest residence status and can normally only be applied for after a stay of five years. It has unlimited validity, no geographical restrictions, and entitles the holder to assume gainful employment. Moreover, it allows the applicant to bring family members into the country who, in turn, also receive the right to work in Germany.
  13. See Steinhardt (2007).
  14. See Guth (2007) and Steinhardt (2007).
  15. Secondary education in Germany is divided into three hierarchical tiers (Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium), which are often taught in separate schools, and which lead to different diplomas. 

About the Author:


Reserach support:
Stefan Grimbacher is currently completing a degree in economics at the Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich.


Literature and Further Reading

Futher Information

Migration Research Group
Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V.