Immigration to Germany

Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States of America.[21] By UN estimates, as of 2017, 12,165,083 people living in Germany are immigrants, or about 14.8% of the German population.[22]

Demography of Germany
Population background
Total population
82 million
Regions with significant populations
 Russia3,500,000 (estimate, 2013)[1] (including Russian Germans)
 Turkey2,774,000 (incl. Kurds from Turkey)[3]
 Romania1,163,789 (including Romanian Germans)[4]
 Italy969,000 [5]
 Syria745,645 (2018)[6]
 United States324,000
 Bosnia and Herzegovina158,158
 United Kingdom136,000[4]
 North Macedonia95,976[13]

The German Government has been keen to encourage immigration over the past 50 years, to address the low birth rate in the country.[23]

On 1 January 2005, a new immigration law came into effect. The political background to this new law was that Germany, for the first time ever, was acknowledged to be a destination for immigrants. The practical changes to immigration procedures were relatively minor. New immigration categories, such as "highly skilled professional" and "scientist" were introduced to attract valuable professionals to the German labour market. The development within German immigration law shows that immigration of skilled employees and academics has eased while the labour market remains closed for unskilled workers.

In April 2012, European Blue Card legislation was implemented in Germany, allowing highly skilled non-EU citizens easier access to work and live in Germany, subject to certain requirements. According to the federal statistics office in 2016, over one out of five Germans has at least partial roots outside of the country.[24]

History of immigration to Germany

After World War II until reunification (1945-1980)

Towards the end of World War II,and in its aftermath,up to 12 million refugees of ethnic Germans, so-called "Heimatvertriebene" (German for "expellees", literally "homeland displaced persons") were forced to migrate from the former German areas, as for instance Silesia or East Prussia, to the new formed States of post-war Germany and Allied-occupied Austria, because of changing borderlines in Europe.[25][26] A big wave of immigration to Germany started in the 1960s. Due to a shortage of laborers during the Wirtschaftswunder ("economic miracle") in the 1950s and 1960s, the West German government signed bilateral recruitment agreements with Italy in 1955, Greece in 1960, Turkey in 1961, Morocco in 1963, Portugal in 1964, Tunisia in 1965 and Yugoslavia in 1968. These agreements allowed the recruitment of so-called Gastarbeiter to work in the industrial sector in jobs that required few qualifications. Children born to 'Gastarbeiter' received the right to reside in Germany but were not granted citizenship; this was known as the Aufenthaltsberechtigung ("right of residence"). Many of the descendants of those Gastarbeiter still live in Germany and many have acquired German citizenship.

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) recruited workers from outside its borders differently. It criticized the Gastarbeiter policy, calling it capitalist exploitation of poor foreigners, and preferred to see its foreign workers as socialist "friends" who traveled to the GDR from other communist or socialist countries in order to learn skills which could then be applied in their home countries. Most of these came from North Vietnam, North Korea, Angola, Mozambique and Cuba. Following German reunification in 1990 many foreign workers in the new federal states of the former GDR had no legal status as immigrant workers under the Western system. Consequently, many faced deportation or premature termination of residence and work permits, as well as open discrimination in the workplace.


During the 1980s, a small but steady stream of East Germans immigrating to the West (Übersiedler) had begun with the gradual opening of the Eastern bloc. It swelled to 389,000 in 1990. After the immigration law change in 1993, it decreased by more than half to 172,000.[27]

During the same time, the number of ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) -Germans who had settled in German territory sometimes for centuries until WWII, i.e. in present-day Eastern Europe and Russia- began to rise in the mid-1980s to about 40,000 each year. In 1987, the number doubled, in 1988 it doubled again and in 1990 nearly 400,000 immigrated. Upon arrival, ethnic Germans became citizens at once according to Article 116 of the Basic Law, and received financial and many social benefits, including language training, as many did not speak German. Social integration was often difficult, even though ethnic Germans were entitled to German citizenship, but to many Germans they did not seem German. In 1991, restrictions went into effect, in that ethnic Germans were assigned to certain areas, losing benefits if they were moving. The German government also encouraged the estimated several million ethnic Germans living in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to remain there. Since January 1993, no more than 220,000 ethnic Germans may immigrate per year.[27]

And in parallel a third stream of immigration starting in the mid 1980s were war refugees, of which West Germany accepted more than any other West European country due to an unqualified right to asylum. From 1986 to 1989, about 380,000 refugees sought asylum, mostly from Iran and Lebanon. Between 1990 and 1992 nearly 900,000 people from former Yugoslavia, Romania, or Turkey sought asylum in a united Germany.[27] In 1992, 438,000 applied, and Germany admitted almost 70 percent of all asylum seekers registered in the European Community.[28] By comparison, in 1992 only about 100,000 people sought asylum in the U.S.[29] The growing numbers of asylum seekers led to a constitutional change severely restricting the previously unqualified right of asylum, that former "refugees [had] held sacred because of their reliance on it to escape the Nazi regime".[28]:159 In December 1992, the Bundestag passed legislation amending the Basic Law, in which article 16 was changed to 16a.[28] Persons entering Germany save from third countries were no longer granted asylum, and applications from nationals of so-called safe third countries of origin were refused.[30] As of 2008, the numbers of asylum seekers had dropped significantly.[31]:16


Due to the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars, a rising number of refugees headed to Germany and other European countries.[32] Though only about 5 percent of the asylum applications were approved and appeals sometimes took years to be processed, many asylum seekers were able to stay in Germany and received financial and social aid from the government.[27][33]As of 2013, the approval rate was about 30 percent, and 127,000 people sought asylum.[34] During 2014 a total of about 202,834 people sought asylum in Germany.[35] Even more asylum seekers will be expected for 2015 with more than 800,000 people.[36]

As of 2014, about 16.3 million people with an immigrant background were living in Germany, accounting for every fifth person[34] Of those 16.3 million, 8.2 million had no German citizenship, more than ever before. Most of them had Turkish, Eastern European or Southern European background. The majority of new foreigners coming to Germany in 2014 were from new EU member states such as Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, non-EU European countries like Albania, North Macedonia, Switzerland and Norway or from the Middle East, Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, South America, North America, Australia and Zealandia. Due to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, many people are hoping to seek asylum in the European Union and Germany.[38] The vast majority of immigrants are residing in the so-called old states of Germany.[39][40]

2015 Migration crisis

In 2014 more than 276,000 people entered illegally into the European Union, an increase of 138% from 2013.[42] The numbers of asylum applications and illegal immigration to Europe and especially Germany rose from 2013 onwards, the refugee camps became overcrowded.[43]

On 20 March 2015 the Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany stated that the average duration of an asylum application procedure was about 5 12 months. Because there are often problems with the identification of refugees, finger print scans will be introduced, and individuals will be checked in more detail to identify their true place of origin.[44] Due to the high burden for the several German States, the Federal Minister of the Interior also claims to deport illegals more quickly and individuals with denied asylum applications.[45]

The original prediction of about 450,000 asylum seekers for 2015 in Germany rose to over 800,000 people, which is almost double the number of the previous prediction for this year and four times the amount of the prior year.[36] In a letter written by the Vice-Chancellor of Germany to his fellow party members, the possible number of 800,000 refugees was raised again to over 1,000,000 refugees in Germany.[46]

The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs said that alleged refugees and illegals, especially from the Western Balkans area who have no chance of staying in Germany must be sent back to their country of origin as soon as possible.[47] The number of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans area has dramatically increased during the last year. Migrants from the Western Balkans area especially from Kosovo see that as an opportunity, since they can stay longer and make most of their time, as the application needs more time to be processed.EU Asylum Policy 0.pdf Furthermore, the deportation of illegal residents in Germany has almost doubled in the first 6 months in comparison to the same period in the prior year.[48]

In 2015, Germany received 900 000 asylum seekers and spent €16 billion (0.5% of GDP) on its migrants that year.[49]

In 2017 the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in Germany reported that of the 340,000 migrants who participated in German language courses during 2016, less than half at 113,050 received a passing grade. The authority had no idea why.[50]

In April 2018 more than half, at 55%, of the recipients of unemployment benefits had a migration background.[51] According to the Federal Employment Agency (German: Bundesagentur für Arbeit) this was due to the migrants lacking either employable skills or knowledge of the language.[51]

The 2018 Ellwangen police raid, in which residents of a migrant shelter rioted to prevent police from deporting an asylum seeker whose claim had been deemed invalid, sparked a significant political debate.[52]

Refugee Crisis Impact on the Public and Its Opinion on Immigration

In 2018, a poll by Pew Research found that a majority (58%) wanted fewer immigrants to be allowed into the country, 30% wanted to keep the current level and 10% wanted to increase immigration.[53] Germany initially was extremely positive towards muslim immigrants. In fact, in 2015, the country rallied behind the slogan “Wir schaffen das”, also known in English as we can do it. However, public opinion shifted recently with several high profile crimes committed by migrants. [54] In 2016, about a third of the country donated to refugee efforts and around 10 percent of the country helped on site with refugees. In addition, surveys in the year showed that the more highly educated one was, the more likely they were to support the immigration. [55]

Governmental opinion has also shifted over the years. The intake of refugees has consistently dropped over the last few years; however, the number of deportations only continued to increase and leveled out at around 20,000. [56]

The influx of migrant refugees has had a negative impact on the crime rates of Germany. Since the 1990s, the crime rate has been dropping in Germany until 2014. However, the rate of crime has been increasing over the last few years. From 2014 to 2016, the amount of crime has increased. Violent crimes saw an increase of 7.2% over that period of time. [57] A government backed study of the Lower Saxony Region showed an increase of 10.2% in violent crimes. This region is also one of the regions to take in the most asylum seekers. [58] Asylum seekers are four times as represented in the number of suspects in police investigations compared to the percentage of the total population of Germany. [59]

Immigration regulations

EU citizens

European Union free movement of workers principles require that all EU member state citizens have the right to solicit and obtain work in Germany free from discrimination on the basis of citizenship. These basic rules for freedom of movement are given in Article 39 of the Treaty on European Union. (see also Directive 2004/38/EC on the right to move and reside freely). However, citizens of Croatia are exempt from the free movement of workers principle for a transition period of no more than 7 years (ending 2020), after the country's EU Accession in 2013.[60] (see for more details 2013 enlargement of the European Union#Post-accession access to free movement in other EU member states)

Immigration options for non-EU citizens

Immigration to Germany as a non-EU-citizen is limited to skilled or highly educated workers and their immediate family members.[61]

Self-employment requires either an initial investment of EUR 250,000 and the creation of a minimum 5 jobs.[62]

Student visa

According to a study of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), around 54 percent of foreign students in Germany decide to stay after graduation.[63]

Asylum seekers and refugees

German asylum law is based on the 1993 amendment of article 16a of the Basic Law as well as on the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

In accordance with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Germany grants refugee status to persons that are facing prosecution because of their race, religion, nationality or belonging to a special group. Since 2005, recognized refugees enjoy the same rights as people who were granted asylum.[64]

The distribution of refugees among the federal states is calculated using the "Königsteiner Schlüssel", which is recalculated annually.[65]

Germany hosts one of the largest populations of Turkish people outside Turkey. Kurds make up 80 to 90 percent of all Turkish refugees in Germany while the rest of the refugees are former Turkish military officers, teachers, and other types of public servants who fled the authoritarian government following the coup attempt in July 2016.[66][67][68][69][70][71][72] Among Iraqi refugees in Germany, about 50 percent are Kurds.[73] There are approximately 1.2 million Kurds in Germany.[74]

An institute of forensic medicine in Münster determined the age of 594 of unaccompanied minors in 2019 and found that 234 (40%) were likely 18 years or older and would therefore be processed as adults by authorities. The sample was predominantly males from Afghanistan, Guinea, Algeria and Eritrea.[75]


A person who has immigrated to Germany may choose to become a German citizen. A right to become a German citizen (Anspruchseinbürgerung) arises when a person:[76]:19

  • has a right to reside in Germany
  • has lived in Germany legally for at least eight years (seven years if the Integrationskurs is successfully passed)
  • does not live on welfare as the main source of income unless unable to work, for example, because the person is a single mother with small children
  • is able to speak German to 'B1' standard in the Common European Framework of Reference
  • passes a Citizenship Examination. The examination tests a person's knowledge of the German constitution, the Rule of Law and the basic democratic concepts behind modern German society. It also includes a section on the constitution of the Federal State in which the applicant resides. The citizenship test is obligatory unless the applicant can claim an exemption such as illness, a disability, or old age.
  • has not been convicted of a serious criminal offence
  • is prepared to swear an oath of loyalty to democracy and the German constitution
  • is prepared to renounce all former citizenships, unless the applicant may claim an exemption. The principal exemptions are:
    1. the applicant is a citizen of another European Union country, or the Swiss Confederation;
    2. the applicant is a refugee, holding a 1951 convention travel document;
    3. the applicant is from a country where experience shows that it is impossible or implies extreme difficulties to be released from nationality (i.e. Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia);
    4. such renunciation would cause the applicant serious economic harm; or
    5. he possesses family ties with his former nationality that he can not renounce for either economical, political or personal reasons.
In the first three cases, the exemption is of right, in the fourth and fifth cases, an application for permission to retain the nationality of origin must be made prior to naturalisation. Typical examples of the fourth and fifth cases include where a person would be unable to inherit real property in the country of origin. (Particular problems have arisen in this regard with, e.g. Turkish applicants, in the past).

A person who does not have a right to naturalisation may nonetheless acquire German nationality by discretionary naturalisation (Ermessenseinbürgerung). The applicant must fulfill certain minimum requirements.[76]:38

Spouses and same-sex civil partners of German citizens may also be naturalised after only 3 years of residence (and two years of marriage).[76]:42

Under certain conditions children born on German soil after the year 1990 are automatically granted German citizenship and, in most cases, also hold the citizenship of their parents' home country.

Applications for naturalisation made outside Germany are possible under certain circumstances, but are relatively rare.

Immigrant population in Germany by country of birth

According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany in 2012, 92% of residents (73.9 million) in Germany had German citizenship,[77] with 80% of the population being Germans (64.7 million) having no immigrant background. Of the 20% (16.3 million) people with immigrant background, 3.0 million (3.7%) had Turkish, 1.5 million (1.9%) Polish, 1.2 million (1.5%) Russian and 0.85 million (0.9%) Italian background.[78]

In 2014, most people without German citizenship were Turkish (1.52 million), followed by Polish (0.67 million), Italian (0.57 million), Romanians (0.36 million) and Greek citizens (0.32 million).[79]

As of 2018, the most common groups of resident foreign nationals in Germany were as follows:[80]

Rank Nationality Population % of foreign nationals
1 Turkey1,476,41013.5
2 Poland860,1457.9
3 Syria745,6456.8
4 Romania696,7806.4
5 Italy643,5305.9
6 Croatia395,6653.6
7 Greece363,2053.3
8 Bulgaria337,0153.1
9 Afghanistan257,1102.4
10 Russia254,3252.3
11 Iraq247,8002.2
12 Serbia231,2302.1
13 Hungary212,3601.9
14 Bosnia and Herzegovina190,4951.7
15 Austria187,3701.7
16 Spain176,0201.6
17 Netherlands151,2601.4
18 Ukraine141,3501.3
19 France140,9001.3
20 Portugal138,8901.3
21 China143,1351.3
22 United States119,6451.1
24 United Kingdom106,1551.0

Comparison with other European Union countries

According to Eurostat 47.3 million people living in the European Union in 2010 were born outside their resident country which corresponds to 9.4% of the total EU population. Of these, 31.4 million (6.3%) were born outside the EU and 16.0 million (3.2%) were born in another EU member state. The largest absolute numbers of people born outside the EU were in Germany (6.4 million), France (5.1 million), the United Kingdom (4.7 million), Spain (4.1 million), Italy (3.2 million), and the Netherlands (1.4 million).[81]

Country Total population
Total foreign-born
% Born in other EU state
% Born in a non-EU state
EU 27501,09847,3489.415,9803.231,3686.3
United Kingdom62,0087,01211.32,2453.64,7687.7
Belgium (2007)10,6661,38012.96956.56856.4


Share of foreign nationals among 2017 crime suspects
Forgery of official documents
Rapes and sexual assaults
All types
Social benefit fraud
Murder and manslaughter
Share of population
Source: Wall Street Journal[82]

In 2018, the Wall Street Journal analysed German crime statistics for crime suspects and found that the foreigners, overall 12.8% of the population, make up a disproportionate share of crime suspects (34.7%), see horizontal bar chart.[82]

In Germany federal authorities have largely failed to provide sufficient resistance to ethnic organized crime gangs (German: Clankriminalität) as fear of stigmatizing and discriminating minorities takes precedence. All ethnic crime gangs are collectively treated as organized crime.[83]

The profitable activities of Arab clans have been noted by other minorities and Chechens, Albanians, Kosovars have created similar clan-based gangs. The clan-based structure has advantages in the individualised German society where people want to live in peace under the protection of the state. On the other hand, clans do not recognize rule of law and consider it incomprehensible that of police and courts protect people. A modern society only functions when people voluntarily follow its rules, while clan member consider themselves members of a family rather than citizens of a country. As such, they consider all people who follow the laws and rules weak and without protection.[83]


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"6.180,013" Ausländer in Deutschland
"Unsere Aufnahmekapazität ist begrenzt, ..."
German Foreign Office
Federal Office for Migration and Refugees


Legal Guide to Germany
German Citizenship Test
Information for moving to and working in Germany for immigrants
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