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Berlin reacts to 2013 record immigration numbers

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Germany’s latest immigration statistics show 1.23 million persons moved to Germany in 2013, a rate the country has not seen since 1993, causing Social Democrats and Greens to call for better regulation of immigration. EurActiv Germany reports.

The number of people moving to Germany increased in the year 2013 compared to 2012, with more than 1.23 million individuals immigrating (2012: 1 million) to the country in 2013.

The statistics were released in the Migration Report 2013 compiled by Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and approved by the Federal Cabinet on Wednesday (21 January).

Numbers this high have not been recorded in Germany since 1993 and, according to the Federal Statistical Office, 2013 immigration numbers will probably be exceeded again in 2014.

An initial estimate released on Wednesday predicted that the number of people coming into the country would outweigh the number of moves out by at least 470,000. The highest previous number of immigrants to arrive in a single year was in 1992, when an estimated 782,000 people came to Germany.

The Migration Report also indicated that the 2013 outflow increased to 800,000 persons (2012: 712,000), meaning a 430,000-person increase in net migration for 2013 (2012: 370,000). Around 118,000 of people who moved to Germany were Germans, the report said. Around 708,000 were EU citizens, while 400,000 were from so-called third countries.

 The highest number of immigrants came from Poland (190,000), followed by Romania (139,000) and German citizens (118,000). Around 61,000 people came from Bulgaria. The most who moved out of the country were also German (140,000), Polish (119,000), Romanian (87,000) and Bulgarian (39,000) citizens.

After the immigration of skilled and highly qualified persons continually rose from 2009 to 2012 (16,000 in 2009 and 27,000 in 2012), there was a decrease in 2013 (24,000). The report attributed this fact particularly to Croatia’s EU accession – and thereby the freedom of movement for Croatians within the bloc – causing stagnation around last year’s level.

The report made it clear that Germany is well-positioned with regard to immigration, said German Internal Affairs Minister Thomas de Maizière in Berlin.

“All of us know that Germany depends upon skilled workers from abroad. The migration report shows that the course is still set correctly for immigration of skilled workers from third countries.”

Regarding the acceptance of refugees and asylum seekers, the Internal Affairs Minister said it has become clear that Germany takes its humanitarian commitments seriously and upholds them.

“Our acceptance of Syrian and Iraqi refugees sets an example for most states in Europe,” he emphasised.

From 1990 to the end of 2013, Germany received 2.584 million asylum applications. Since 2007, applicant numbers are growing again. In 2013, the number of first-time applicants was 109,580, a 70% increase compared to the previous year.

Approximately 39% of all applicants came from Europe in 2013, compared to almost 39% from Asia. The share of asylum seekers from Africa increased compared to the previous year, with 20.5% coming from Africa in 2013 (2012: 12.9%).

SPD calls for new immigration legislation

Amid these trends, Germany’s governing coalition is currently mulling the creation of a new immigration law.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), in particular, is making a special effort to attract foreign skilled workers. The party’s Bundestag faction leader Thomas Oppermann also sees this as an opportunity to shift the critical immigration debate, spurred by the anti-Islamist Pegida movement, in a different direction.

“If one wants to cut off Pegida’s resources, the immigration question has got to be cleared up,” Oppermann said last week in Berlin. The SPD faction leader said he would submit a position paper for an immigration law in February, hoping to bundle existing regulations.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) is also calling for such a law. In a guest essay for Tagesspiegel, he said it is necessary regardless of the reception of refugees. It must be made clear, he explained, “to whom we would like to extend an offer, because we depend on it economically”. But at the same time, Gabriel said the immigration law must “also make it clear, who we cannot and do not want to take in”.

For the Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), a law like this one is long overdue. In light of the latest peak in immigration, Green faction leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt is calling on the German government to develop a plan.

Speaking with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, she said she wants immigrants and their families to be offered the best-possible living and integration opportunities.

“Otherwise the people we would like to receive will not come to us but, rather, go to more attractive countries,” Göring-Eckardt pointed out.

A law on immigration and a large-scale debate in society on the issue are both long overdue, she said. “A country, in which right-wing populism is breaking fresh ground is anything but attractive for immigrants,” the Green politician commented. Evidence, especially from recent years, demonstrates that immigration benefits everyone, she pointed out.

 At the presentation of the report on Wednesday, de Maizière referred to the four principles of existing law in paragraph 1 of the German Residence Act. “I have again come to the conclusion, that our legal regulations fulfill all the criteria of an immigration law and that, for this reason, we already have an immigration law and do not need a new one,” he said.

At a time when Pegida is gaining strength in Germany, de Maizière was asked whether such a law could send a message to right-wing populists, showing that Germany is an immigration country. “Of course”, the Minister said, he could understand such an argument “and surely our residence law does not take the prize for clarity”.

But, de Maizière said he would like to know from those calling for a new law: “What do they actually want? To make existing law more clear and put a different title on it? Or other regulations? If other regulations are desired, then it should be clear which ones.” And the fact that now the SPD and the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) now both want a new immigration law, de Maizière said makes him rather sceptical.

The populist AfD is calling for a controlled immigration model similar to that in Canada. On Tuesday (20 January) Frauke Petry, spokesperson for the AfD, accused the SPD of taking over the AfD’s call for a new immigration law. Petry said, it was not clear to her how Gabriel could set plans for such a law in motion against the “declared will” of the centre-right alliance, the SPD’s counterpart in the Grand Coalition.

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