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Germany

Immigrants are Germany's future, says integration commissioner

With one in three young children born in Germany coming from an imimigrant background, Germany is quickly becoming even more diverse. There's a lot of work ahead in solving the problem of Germany's ethnic underclass.

a circle of paper figures holding hands

Germany wants to see immigrants better integrated

Immigrants are Germany's future, according to Maria Boehmer, the government's commissioner for integration, and yet foreigners living in Germany still face immense hurdles to successful integration.

"We must make integration more compulsory during this session of parliament," Boehmer urged Wednesday in Berlin during the government's eighth public report on people with an immigrant background living in the country. Boehmer advocated better access to education for immigrants and an acceleration of the naturalization process.

Boehmer's report indicated that integration had improved, with more migrants learning German, finishing school and gaining access to professional training. Yet she also reported that immigrants still had less access to education and work opportunities than their German counterparts, and were more often affected by poverty.

The Minister stressed that this decade would determine "if we are able to secure social cohesion long-term," especially in light of the fact that one third of Germany's children come from migrant backgrounds - making migrant children the only growing faction in Germany's aging population.

The Germany of tomorrow

"Immigrants are the skilled labor force of tomorrow," the Integration Commissioner said in her speech, which otherwise largely addressed impediments to successful integration.

Marie Boehmer

Marie Boehmer is pushing legislation to make education more accessible

Dr. Gunilla Fincke of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Immigration and Migration called Boehmer's statement "very optimistic."

Migrants are now more likely to attend university-preparatory high schools than in previous years, but as a whole they are still not on par with their German counterparts. Of immigrant youth, 43 percent only get as far as Germany's basic school leaving certificate, compared with 31 percent of ethnic Germans. Thirteen percent of non-Germans aged 15-19 drop out of school altogether.

"That's double the percentage of the native population," said Fincke, who finds it alarming that "these people [without a qualification] will not be able to take part in the labor market," becoming candidates for government aid.

"First and foremost we need more investment in the education sector," Fincke said. "If you look at comparisons with other industrialized countries, Germany is investing much less in education, and that is wrong."

Talking the talk

On average it takes 17 months for a young person with an immigrant background to secure an apprenticeship or traineeship, whereas ethnic Germans on average need 3 months.

Boehmer said that a lack of language abilities was the main reason for immigrants' lack of educational success. A determining factor, she said, was whether German was spoken at home.

Boehmer's report stated that the costs of kindergarten were too high for many immigrant parents, with the result that their children were not immersed in German until they entered school. Boehmer advocated for the state to make the last year of kindergarten free of charge. She also announced plans for an interstate task force of Germany's education ministers to promote educational opportunities for migrant children in schools and kindergartens.

So far, the federal government has promised Boehmer an extra 15 million euros for integration courses. The integration commissioner is also pushing a bill for better recognition of foreign degrees and professional accreditation.

Living in Germany, yes … but becoming German?

A man writes at a chalkboard

Foreign students are more likely to drop out than their German peers

For the first time, the report included Germans with an immigrant background, and not just foreigners. Of the 82.1 million people living in Germany, in 2008, 15.6 million had foreign backgrounds – only 8.3 million of whom have German passports. Foreigners are eligible for German citizenship after living in Germany for eight years, but non-EU citizens must renounce their first citizenship in order to gain a German passport.

Fincke said that this exclusivity of citizenship is a major barrier to many foreigners who might otherwise become German citizens and identify more strongly with their host nation.

"It's a very difficult decision for people who live here, who are interested in German citizenship, but who also have loyalties to the origin of their families and are thus put in a very difficult position to choose between one or another."

Another major impediment to integration, according to migration expert Klaus Bade, is the difficulty of German national identity. Bade believes that many immigrants lack the motivation to become citizens because German identity is not presented as something worth aspiring to. Compared to France or the United States, there is more ambivalence toward national identity in Germany - mostly due to German's role in two world wars.

Integration through soccer?

Boehmer's report comes out during the soccer World Cup, when German national pride is high and the national team is being touted as a symbol of Germany's immigration success. Eleven of 23 German team members were either born outside Germany themselves or have immigrant parents.

German Turks in front of a cafe with a German flag behind them

The World Cup has united Germans and immigrants

Boehmer on Wednesday referred to the national football team a "motor for integration," saying their message to Germany's migrant children was that "you can make it in this country."

Fincke agreed, but with some reservation.

"We can currently see in the national soccer team that, yes, diversity can work to the best of the team. But it's still something that needs to be cultivated. It's not a success that's already granted."

Author: David Levitz

Editor: Michael Lawton

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