2012 saw a significant increase in Germany's population. It is not due to a sudden baby boom, but to the many immigrants flocking to the country. Experts point out chances and risks.
Germany is an attractive destination for hundreds-of-thousands of immigrants from all over the world, particularly from southern and eastern EU nations. In 2012, authorities recorded about 300.000 more immigrants than emigrants. Germany's Federal Statistical Office Destatis recorded a population of almost 82 million. Most of the immigrants settle in sprawling urban areas in and around Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich while rural areas record very little growth.
Many Greeks, Spaniards and Bulgarians see a move to Germany as their last chance to find a job. Their native countries are grappling with severe unemployment and no change for the better in sight. Inevitably, the migrants are disappointed when they realize Germans do not welcome them with open arms. Germany needs to develop a more welcoming culture, Steffen Kröhnert of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development said.
"In the past, Germany has often isolated itself," Kröhnert said and argued the country needs well-qualified migrants. "Their qualifications must be recognized, they must be able to live here with their families." Apart from legal issues, a welcoming culture would also not force immigrants to stand in line for hours in various offices for papers and documents, an often degrading process.
Good for Germany
The current wave of immigrants brings mainly well-qualified and trained people to Germany: engineers, academics and skilled workers. German businesses stand to profit, as does all of society. However, putting too much of an emphasis on qualification is nearsighted, Kröhnert warned. "Germany needs more than engineers," he said, and added workers for lesser positions, such as people who can work in the health care sector, are sought for as well.
Immigrants today learn German in the framework of integration courses. However, as many are looking to work as engineers, scientists, doctors or nurses, the new migrant generation needs specialized language classes, Günter Heinecker of arenalingua language institute told Deutsche Welle. "Of course, a doctor needs different language abilities than a scientist or someone who works in a restaurant."
While not all employers require foreign employees to take language courses, an upper-intermediate knowledge of the language is mandatory for employment in Germany in some sectors, including health care. That and the steep rise in immigration to Germany are the reasons why the number of participants in language classes has "skyrocketed", Heinecker said.
Integration vs. subculture
Migrants from EU member countries are special in that they want to work and integrate into society, Steffen Kröhnert said; they don't seek to form a subculture that isolates them from the rest of society
Another aspect in the immigration of foreign workers to Germany is evident only at second glance: migration benefits Germany, but is a loss for the countries of origin. While foreign workers pay into Germany's social security funds, their homelands suffer from brain drain. In the long run, that could become a problem for several countries in the south of Europe, where sinking birth rates translate into a shrinking young population. While these countries at present have fewer unemployed to look after, they are bound to lack workers at a later date to help them get back on their feet economically.
Steffen Kröhnert is convinced the current spate of immigration offers German society a chance; however, he appealed to politicians to better prepare the local population to ensure the newcomers a welcome without reservations.
The demographics expert also indicated the wisdom of pondering the effect of a possible new economic crisis. Let Spain serve as an example, Kröhnert warned. In 2005, migrants flocked to Spain, found work in the construction industry - and are now the first to lose their jobs. "Germany faces the same threat," Kröhnert said. "In a phase of decline, it will be the migrants who are confronted with massive social problems."