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Germany: Hamburg begins issuing Visa cash cards for refugees

February 15, 2024

Asylum seekers in Hamburg will now be able to receive their social benefits on a prepaid debit card, the first German state to enact such a policy. The card cannot be used online or abroad.

An asylum seeker with a payment card in his hand
Pilot projects similar to Hamburg's "SocialCard" are already underway in several German statesImage: Philipp von Ditfurth/dpa/picture alliance

Hamburg has become the first German state to introduce payment cards for asylum seekers. The cards will initially be issued to new arrivals in initial reception facilities, the city's social welfare authority announced Thursday.

This is a pilot project for the nationwide introduction of such a payment card.

As of Thursday, newly arrived refugees who are entitled to social benefits in Hamburg will receive a special Visa prepaid card called the "SocialCard." Benefit recipients would no longer have to visit a public authority or cash point, saving them time and effort.

Each adult is to receive a monthly credit of €185 ($199) on the card, which could be used to buy and pay for everyday items. Benefits for children would also be credited to a parent's card.

Why is Germany introducing the card?

In November, German state premiers decided to introduce a payment card for asylum seekers.

At the end of January, 14 of Germany's 16 federal states, including Hamburg, agreed on a joint format for the introduction of such a card. The other two states, Bavaria and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, also intend to introduce a card for migrants, but will follow their own standards.

The switch is intended in part to prevent migrants from transferring welfare benefits to relatives or friends in their home country, an issue that has been raised by some German politicians.

It also aims to streamline the distribution of benefits and reduce the administrative burden on local authorities.

Polls show Germans concerned by influx of asylum seekers

How can the card be used?

The "SocialCard" can be used in all stores and at service providers that accept card payments. It can also be used via a cell phone app.

Cash withdrawals of up to €50 per month per adult, plus €10 for each child, would also be possible. However, the "SocialCard" cannot be used abroad or in online shops.

Pilot projects similar to Hamburg's "SocialCard" are already underway at the municipal level in several German states. But nationwide implementation is not expected before the summer, according to the Hamburg Senate.

dh/wd (dpa, KNA)

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