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Germany gets top marks for integration of migrants

July 7, 2024

A new OECD study has found Germany is successfully integrating migrants despite obstacles such as migrants often having little education.

A man holding a comb and scissors gives a customer a haircut as another man in a pink shirt stands in the background
Some 70% of those who migrate to Germany find workImage: Ponizak/Caro/picture alliance

If you were to listen to many in Germany, you would think the country's integration of migrants and asylum seekers was going rather poorly. But a new study by the 38-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that isn't the case.

Despite a number of challenges — such as further education and training — Germany is doing a better job than many of its European neighbors when it comes to integrating new arrivals, the study finds.

Most migrants coming from within the EU

For the study, OECD migration expert Thomas Liebig compared data from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France and Italy, as well as from Scandinavian nations. For the first time, comprehensive data from the EU was also used.

His finding: Although much attention is focused on asylum seekers and refugees, most migration in Germany comes from citizens moving within the European Union.

At a press conference, Liebig said that refugees made up only about one out of five migrants who arrived in Germany in the past 10 years.

"The overwhelming number of new arrivals to Germany come from within the European Union," he said.

A glance at Germany's migration map makes that clear: Almost 60% of people come because EU citizens can find easier access to work here.

The study also makes clear that migrants have long become part of German society.

'We're a country of immigrants'

German integration commissioner Reem Alabali-Radovan, who commissioned the study, shares this view.

"We were always a country of immigrants and that has made us strong," she said. "Germany's immigration history is very diverse. It consists of refugees from the Second World War, guest and temporary workers, resettled ethnic Germans, and refugees from the former Yugoslavia and later from Syria and Afghanistan."

Workforce participation is a major characteristic of successful integration. The OECD study found that 70% of those coming to Germany have found employment. That figure, which temporarily dipped during the coronavirus pandemic, is higher than in nearly all other EU countries and is a record for Germany.

Problems with lack of migrants' education

Still, there are plenty of problems: Although nearly two-thirds of immigrants can speak good German within five years of arriving in the country, that number drops dramatically among those with little or no formal education — with only a quarter of poorly educated arrivals being able to speak the language after five years.

Employment is also lower among such arrivals, hovering around 50%. On the other hand, only Italy hosts more migrants without a formal education.

Alabali-Radovan sees this as an area for improvement: "The education system still isn't geared toward serving the immigrant society we've long since become. That's why we all need to pull together."

Another issue is employment among young women who have come to Germany with at least one child but without a partner. In 2021, around 40% of those women were actively working, compared to 70% of similarly situated women born in Germany. That gap is much larger than it is in other countries and has most recently affected women with children arriving from Ukraine.

German Ingetration Commissioner Reem Alabali-Radovan
Migration Representative Reem Alabali-Radovan says the debate around migration needs to be more objectiveImage: Malte Ossowski/Sven Simon/picture alliance

Calls for more objectivity in an emotional debate

But, despite the issues of migration, Germany simply cannot afford long, drawn-out debates about whether it is a country of immigrants or not, the study finds.

"There are now more than 14 million immigrants in Germany. And when we add those who were born here to immigrant parents, that means one-in-five people here were either born abroad or born in Germany to immigrant parents," migration expert Liebig said.

Ingegration commissioner Alabali-Radovan added that she commissioned the study to bring greater objectivity to what she called "an emotional debate."

"Integration is going far better than is generally thought, when we look at it internationally," she said.

US the only OECD country with more immigrants

Beyond the 14 million migrants already living in Germany, 2022 saw the arrival of 1 million Ukrainians as well as another 600,000 asylum seekers.

Among OECD countries, only the United States takes in more immigrants than Germany.

This German village is embracing integration

This article was originally written in German.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau