The World from Berlin Germany Takes a New Look at Immigrants

After protracted negotiations, Germany's governing coalition has finally agreed on a new set of laws regulating the status of immigrants in Germany. But will it actually help them? German commentators attempt to answer that question.

Immigration law in Germany has been changed.

Immigration law in Germany has been changed.

The issue has been on the agenda for what seems like an eternity. What to do with the 178,000 documented immigrants in Germany who are living here with neither a residency permit nor even a temporary "right to remain." For years, they have lived in the country, knowing they could be deported at any time. But they have been allowed to remain on humanitarian and political grounds.

On Tuesday, Germany's governing coalition reached a compromise deal which will provide the group of "tolerated" immigrants with some legal standing. Should the new legislation be approved by Germany's parliament, "tolerated" immigrants will receive the right of residence if they demonstrate they have found work by the end of 2009.

But there are a number of limitations. Spouses can only follow "tolerated" immigrants to Germany if they are aged 18 or over and can demonstrate language competence in German. Likewise, various services available to German residents can be withheld, such as child credits and welfare. The new legislation would also allow authorities to verify the background of immigrants.

Edmund Stoiber of the conservative Christian Social Union -- which fought hard for the restrictions -- said on Tuesday that excluding "tolerated" immigrants from Germany's social services saves tax payers "a nine-digit sum." German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the agreement on the new legislation "very helpful" while the Green Party criticized the "massive" new restrictions it imposes on immigrants.

German commentators on Wednesday are likewise all over the map on the issue.

Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes: "The fact that the 'right to remain' was the issue that most jeopardized the agreement has to do with both money and the politics of symbolism. The Social Democrats fought for more generosity towards 'tolerated' immigrants in order to compensate for concessions it made on the issue of family members following immigrants to Germany. The (conservative) parties were opposed to the costs involved….

"They now have to say goodbye to the illusion that the status of being 'tolerated' can be made so unattractive that immigrants will leave the country voluntarily. That has never worked for the simple reason that many 'tolerated' immigrants have nowhere else to go. Keeping these people off the job market led to just the thing that was supposed to be avoided. They began making use of the welfare system. The question is not between deporting immigrants or allowing them to remain; the question is rather that of how to give those who are maintained by the state an incentive to earn a living for themselves."

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes: "Germany's 'tolerated' immigrants will hardly have celebrated Berlin's compromise….

"The much sought-after permanent right of residence will remain unachievable for most of the 180,000 people whose application for political asylum in Germany has been rejected -- including those who have already lived here for a long time. The members of Germany's governing coalition have introduced several hurdles into the new legislation. For example, those foreigners who 'misled' the state when they applied for asylum will continue to be threatened with deportation -- even if all they did was wrongly state the age of a child that accompanied them. The legislation envisions immigration authorities being able to punish refugees even for false statements made years ago. What is needed, though, is for these refugees to be integrated."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes: "By its very nature, migration is a chaotic process that cannot be planned from beginning to end. Politicians are always trying to keep up, and if things go well, they can intervene in a regulatory manner and set up a few guardrails. The new legislation on the right to remain ... is one such guardrail.

"On closer inspection, it turns out not much is at stake…. The state has had to adjust its legal framework to conform with reality…. And those who have been 'tolerated' until now have been given a chance to step out of the shadows. But this chance is linked to the willingness and ability of those concerned to help themselves and stand on their own two feet …

"The new right to remain has a symbolic quality. And it will provide many with practical help. It may not be much, but it's more than nothing."

Left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes: "'Toleration' is an ugly word. But not only does it accurately describe the condition of the roughly 180,000 refugees living in Germany -- people who have almost no rights and who in many cases have already been living here for several years -- it also says a lot about the German attitude toward those who have fled their home countries to escape war, persecution or economic distress. They're tolerated, but not accepted.

"The consequences of this rigid immigration policy are terrible. Those who have failed to get past Germany's tough asylum laws, and yet cannot return to their home country because of the situation there, sometimes live in shelters for years. And they live in constant fear, since they can be deported at any time. They are not allowed to work -- or finding work is made exceedingly difficult for them by German employment legislation. And so they are forced to accept welfare, which they are then reproached for depending on. Many want to work and want to integrate themselves, but this is made as difficult for them as it possibly could be…

"Now Germany is returning to an immigration policy that denies reality. In a globalized world where nation states are increasingly in need of the knowledge immigrants bring, Germany's governing coalition is setting up further obstacles to immigration. It's heading in the wrong direction."

-- Max Henninger, 12:30 p.m., CET


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