Immigration carries a negative connotation in Germany. But it is about time for that to change, migration researchers say. They have proposed corralling immigration issues into a federal Ministry for Integration.
"If you tell someone whose family has been living in Germany for three generations to integrate properly, it is an insult," said Klaus Bade, a migration researcher from Berlin.
Germany has been a country of immigration since the 1950s when the first "guest workers" from Italy, Spain and Turkey came to the country and stayed. One out of five Germans has a migration background, but the term "immigration" still has a negative connotation. It sounds like problems and unsolvable contradictions, like "yes, but..."
Immigration's bad reputation might be caused by the fact that integration policy falls mainly under the domain of the Interior Ministry. There, the main tasks deal with taking care of security and regulatory issues, suppressing left and right-wing extremism as well as Islamic threats. Burdened with these tasks, the Interior Ministry has paid less attention to helping people with migration background acquire professional qualifications or creating good jobs and enabling people to take part in Germany's social and cultural life.
That needs to be changed, according Bade. "Today, integration policy is not about social therapy for people with migration background but participation-orientated social policy for everyone," he said. Along with other researchers from the Council for Migration, he called for a new beginning for Germany's migration policy in an open letter.
The competence hurly-burly of the integration policy
The signatories' topmost priority was a reform of the many offices that deal with immigration issues. The Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees is responsible for integration classes; the Labor Ministry deals with labor migration; and the Foreign Ministry handles the granting visa. Additionally there is the mainly symbolic post of the Commissioner for Integration with his office in the Federal Chancellery.
"The efforts are not sufficient any more," said Mehmet Tanriverdi, chairman of the Federal Consortium of the Immigrants Associations. The existing institutions and laws cannot cope with the demographic change and the challenges of a modern immigrant society.
The open letter called for the creation of an Integration Ministry that would be responsible for all migrant-related dealing with population, business, society and culture.
Integration ministries exist on federal state levels
There is nothing new about the idea of an Integration Ministry. The commissioner for integration, Maria Böhmer, has even called for such an institution. But the idea was rejected mainly by Germany's free-market liberal FDP party, which was a junior coalition party in federal government that took over in 2009.
But the FDP did not earn enough votes in the most recent federal election last month and will not be able to retake a spot in government. Instead, Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to form a coalition with either the Social Democratic Party (SPD) or the Greens. Tanriverdi said he sees good chances for an Integration Ministry because both, the SPD and the Greens, support the idea of an Integration Ministry.
Several German states have taken steps to redefine immigration policies. Baden-Wuerttemberg has its own integration ministry. In Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate there are multi-purpose ministries that are also responsible for integration issues.
Participation instead of integration
A Federal Minister for Integration could be an important signal - and such a minister does not need to have a migration background, said Kenan Kolat, chairman of the Turkish Communities in Germany.
"It is important that the topic is well communicated in the public and especially in the majority society," Kolat said, adding that his association would like do away with the word "immigration" to see such a ministry called the "Ministry for Participation and Migration."
But the office needs more than reforms on the political level that integration gets rid of its problematic connotation, Bade said.
"We should not have any illusions, you do not create new politics with new institutions," he said. Instead, progress is about creating a different climate, an open culture that lets everyone actively take part in shaping the country.