DIn the coalition agreement, the traffic light government laid down a “new beginning in migration and integration policy” in order to do justice to a “modern immigration country”. The previous governments had also passed various immigration laws, but always avoided committing themselves to Germany as an immigration country. The change in this position is not surprising, because the Union in particular had struggled on this issue.
However, one can argue about the concept of a new beginning. In fact, the traffic light continues a process of liberalization in various areas. This even applies to the right of residence, which passed the Bundestag on Friday. In future, long-term tolerated residents will be able to enjoy this special title for 18 months in order to meet the requirements for a long-term residence permit, which includes knowledge of German, for example.
There is now a real change of lane from the asylum system to labor migration. In the last legislative period, however, the grand coalition had already paved the way with the so-called employment tolerance. Since then there has been a kind of small change of direction: Rejected asylum seekers who have been employed subject to social security contributions for 18 months, earn their own living and speak good German receive this special form of toleration, which is to be converted into a residence status after two and a half years.
Paradigm shift through red-green
Traffic light’s plans to reform nationality law are particularly controversial these days. In the future, it should be enough for a foreigner to have their “lawful and habitual residence” in Germany for five years in order to become a German, or even three years in the case of special integration achievements. The previous period of eight years has been in effect since January 1, 2000. It was decided in 1999 under the red-green federal government. Until then, a foreigner had to have lived here for fifteen years before he could become a German.
The red-green law completed a paradigm shift in the question of the citizenship of children born in Germany. The birthplace principle (ius soli) was introduced for the first time. Previously, only the principle of descent (ius sanguinis) applied. After the change, children of foreign parents who were born in Germany could also acquire German citizenship.
This initially entailed the obligation to decide between the German and the foreign nationality of the parents when they reached the age of 18. Since December 20, 2014, Ius soli children who have grown up in Germany no longer have to choose between German citizenship and their parents’ citizenship.
Heil: Skilled labor immigration country
The cabinet has so far decided on the cornerstones of the amendment to the immigration law for skilled workers. According to this, among other things, a “chance card” based on the Canadian model is to be introduced, which should allow third-country nationals “with good potential” to come to Germany to look for a job. Immigration should also be made possible for third-country nationals who have at least two years of professional experience and a professional qualification of at least two years that is state-recognized in their country of origin.
In the previous legislative period, the Bundestag had already passed a Skilled Immigration Act. The innovations at that time did not go as far as those planned now. For example, it was easier for people from countries outside the EU to enter the German labor market because there was no longer any need to check whether an applicant from Germany or the EU could also be considered for a position.
Since then, anyone with a professional qualification has been able to enter the country to look for a job, which was previously only available to university graduates. According to Hubertus Heil, who was Minister of Labor at the time, Germany has been a “country of immigration for skilled workers” ever since.
The first German immigration law came into force in early 2005. It created the immigration opportunities for highly qualified professionals and foreign graduates. The law also marks the beginning of a targeted integration policy: for the first time, foreigners were now entitled to take part in language and integration courses, but were subject to sanctions if they evaded the offer. For unskilled and low-skilled workers, the recruitment freeze remained.
Controversy in the Federal Council
The law has a famous history. Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily (SPD) was responsible. The political signal came from Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD), who said in his government statement in 1998: “Reality teaches us that irreversible immigration has taken place in Germany in the past few decades.” With that, he had clearly strayed from the line of the government cabbage removed. Manfred Kanther (CDU), the last Minister of the Interior under Kohl, stated in 1998: “There is agreement that the Federal Republic of Germany is not and should not become an immigration country.”
Schily’s draft was passed in the Bundestag in 2002. Brandenburg had not voted uniformly in the Bundesrat: CDU Interior Minister Jörg Schönbohm had voted no, Prime Minister Manfred Stolpe (SPD) had voted yes. The Federal Constitutional Court upheld a lawsuit by six Union-led countries and declared the law null and void. A few months later, the Bundestag voted for a second version with red-green votes, but there was no majority in the Bundesrat and the efforts of the mediation committee failed. A political agreement between the government and the Union, which was necessary because of the majority in the Bundesrat, was not reached until spring 2004.