Marieluise Beck has been Germany's commissioner for integration for nearly seven years. In an interview with DW-WORLD, she cited the 2004 Immigration Act as her greatest achievement.
She sees Germany as 'rising to the challenge' of immigration
At 25 percent, the rate of unemployment among foreigners is double that of native Germans. Despite this, the federal minister for migration, Marieluise Beck, is convinced that she has made significant progress during her almost seven years in office.
For Beck, the keystone of the current government's immigration policy is the Immigration Act, which was passed in August 2004 following hard wrangling with the opposition. The new law came into effect on Jan.1, 2005.
"With the new immigration law, we’ve cleared the way for Germany to welcome new migrants and to rise to the challenges of integration," said Beck.
Canada as a role model
Asylum seekers in Hamburg
If Beck and the governing coalition had their way, the new immigration law would have gone a step further still. They had hoped, for the first time in German history, to build a legal framework that would allow qualified migrants easy access to immigration.
"We wanted to adopt the points system, like they have in Canada. Under this system, immigrants would receive a point score according to their personal credentials, which would permit them to enter Germany," Beck said.
But this section of the act floundered in the mediation committee and in the Bundesrat, the German upper house of parliament. Regulations for self-employed people wanting to settle in Germany were also severely tightened.
Self-employed migrants must invest at least one million euros in Germany or commit to creating at least 12 further jobs. Beck’s particular bone of contention is that access to the German job market is still very difficult for foreign academics who have studied in Germany.
Germany needs immigration
Meanwhile, most observers agree Germany needs immigration. But how can the country be sure to prevent an influx of poorly-qualified economic migrants?
"First we need to make it clear once and for all that the recruitment of unqualified labor was national policy in the 50s and 60s," asserted Beck. "We have accepted this responsibility, and we must make allowances for this, for example with extensive education strategies directed at the children of first- and second-generation immigrants."
Migration is the future
Advocates of liberal immigration policies emphasize that Germany will need even more migrants in the future in order to stabilize its social security system.
The German economy needs qualified immigrants in order to thrive.
While that may be true in theory, the reality can be quite different, Beck said. Many immigrant families come to Germany and make claims on the welfare system, and economics experts warn of an unchecked flow of migrants seeking the fruits of the generous German welfare state.
But Beck argues that many immigrants only make welfare claims because they are excluded from the German job market.
"Yes, there is immigration into the welfare state," Beck conceded. "But these migrants tend to be ethnic German immigrants who can’t get a foothold in the job market, or Jewish immigrants (whose) ...very respectable professions are often not respected here. Or they are refugees, to whom we effectively deny access to employment."
Beck insisted that more should be done to tackle this issue. The best way forward would be to implement those sections of the Immigration Act which failed to win a majority in 2004, she said.