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Residency extended

December 4, 2009

Thousands of asylum-seekers, some of whom have been in Germany for as long as a decade, have been told they have another two years in which to prove they are willing and able to find work, and stay in Germany.

A family of Iraqi asylum seekers on their couch, 2006
Many asylum-seekers are here only "on sufferance"Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Friday's ruling affects around 30,000 asylum-seekers in Germany who are classified as "long-term cases." These are mostly people who were refused asylum, but who nonetheless could not be sent back to their countries of origin.

Often this was because the situation in their home country was considered too dangerous. It may also have been for personal reasons, such as illness or pregnancy.

An initial ruling in 2006 sought to address the problem by granting limited, conditional rights of residency - including the right to work - to asylum-seekers in this group who had been living in Germany for at least six years.

Asylum seekers wait for their papers to be processed
Asylum seekers have difficulty finding workImage: dpa zb

Under the ruling they were given until the end of 2009 to find employment, and were required to prove that they could support themselves and their dependents. The current economic crisis has made this particularly difficult for many to achieve.

Thousands of asylum-seekers who had not succeeded in fulfilling the requirements by the end of this month faced a return to the uncertainty of not knowing when, or whether, they would be deported.

Two-year extension

At their conference in Bremen on Friday, the interior ministers of Germany's 16 federal states had to decide what would happen to this group when the ruling expired at the end of this month.

The ministers voted to extend it for another two years, giving the refugees more time to find work. In order to remain in Germany as residents they will then be required to prove that they have "made a concerted effort" to find employment and can be expected to support themselves in the future.

Asylum-seekers who are following a course of studies are also included in the ruling. Those who have already succeeded in finding part-time jobs will be granted work permits.

The decision was a compromise between conservative ministers and those who wanted a permanent solution, rather than a deferral.

Germany's state interior ministers at the conference in Bremen
Germany's state interior ministers voted to extend the residency ruling by two yearsImage: dpa

Bavaria's conservative interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, commented that "for people to get permanent residency status it's vital that they pay their way and are not a long-term burden on the German welfare system."

Germany's commissioner for migration, refugees and integration, Maria Boehmer, welcomed the ruling, saying that it offered those affected a "second chance," and "the possibility of a long-term perspective in our country."

Temporary solution

However, some politicians and human rights organizations have criticized the ministers' failure to resolve their status once and for all.

The General Secretary of Caritas Germany, Georg Cremer, welcomed the reprieve but stressed that "in particular people who are old, sick, or traumatized and cannot work must also be granted a residency permit without having to prove that they can support themselves by their own means."

Failed asylum-seekers who cannot be sent home are granted a so-called "Duldung," or temporary stay of deportation, indicating that they are in Germany "on sufferance." The "Duldung" may be valid only for a few weeks or months, after which the holder must apply for it to be renewed. Freedom of movement is restricted, and the holder must apply for special permission in order to work.

According to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), around 22,000 people applied for asylum in Germany in 2008 – less than a quarter of the number applying a decade ago.


Editor: Kyle James