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Home away from home

January 13, 2012

Germany is making progress when it comes to integrating people with immigrant backgrounds. The government in Berlin has released its latest study on the matter - showing considerable improvement, if not equality.

A student neatly writes the word 'integration' on a chalk board
There's progress in classrooms, colleges and the workplaceImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The government's second "integration indicators report" - the first appeared two years ago - focused on integration in Germany between 2005 and 2010. Maria Böhmer, the government's special representative for migration, refugees and integration, unveiled the study in Berlin.

Key questions in the study included school qualifications secured by people with immigrant backgrounds, their participation in apprenticeships and their performance in the job market. Government researchers also sought to establish to what extent Germany's 16 million residents with immigrant backgrounds were an established part of society.

Böhmer alluded to significantly improved integration over the past decade, saying that people with foreign roots were more and more active in many parts of German society.

"That's especially the case for people born in Germany with immigrant backgrounds. And it's also the case in the core areas of society - early education, education more generally, on-the-job training and also on the job market," Böhmer said.

Start them young

Kindergarten and other forms of pre-school education remain a key focus of the study - with Böhmer saying that attending such institutions played a key role in the early development of German language skills. Despite the fact that 34 percent more immigrant families were sending their young children to pre-school education in 2010 compared to 2008, Böhmer also acknowledged that "when it comes to attendance in children's daycare facilities, we still have a smaller participation level compared to that of German children."

Two children of different race eat lunch at a Kindergarten in Berlin
Pre-school learning was highlighted as a key areaImage: picture-alliance/dpa

This can also sometimes be explained, Böhmer said, either by the availability of places in various states or by the working hours of the children's parents.

Improvements at school

The special representative for migration and information also lauded positive trends among schoolchildren observed in the report. In the five-year period studied, the number of young people with migrant backgrounds who left school without a basic level graduation fell by 15 percent. What's more, the number of second-generation immigrants who failed to graduate (2.8 percent) was a little under half the number of first-generation immigrants (5.7 percent) non-graduates.

Böhmer also said that the study suggested that a child's home lifestyle was a more decisive factor in such matters than their foreign heritage, and that it was extremely important that children spoke German at home.

"Parents must live up to their responsibilities. We need to better integrate them into the education process," Böhmer said.

Room for improvement in training sector

Apprenticeships and other forms of on-the-job training for young adults were an area Böhmer highlighted that must still be improved, despite some positive developments. Roughly 13 percent of 15-25-year-olds with migrant backgrounds undertake apprenticeships, compared to 16 percent among the population as a whole.

Maria Böhmer
Maria Böhmer emphasized the importance of learning German earlyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

On the other hand, the number of children with foreign roots who attended higher education - either technical colleges or universities - rose by 28 percent between 2005 and 2010.

There were some positive trends in the job market as well, most notably a drastic reduction in immigrant unemployment - from 18.1 percent in 2005 to 11.8 percent in 2010. That new, lower figure remains well above the national average though.

One enduring problem here is the difficulties people with foreign qualifications can have in Germany, where their achievements have been rarely recognized - at least until recently.

"The recently-approved 'recognition law' is bringing considerable progress here. It's an integration milestone," Böhmer said.

Lack of immigrants in public sector jobs

The integration minister also highlighted the need for government to do more. Roughly 10 percent of public sector employees are from immigrant backgrounds, which is not a representative ratio, according to Böhmer.

"The public sector must also reflect the diversity of our society. We need more employees with foreign roots in the public sector; they can build bridges," Maria Böhmer said, going on to explain that a recruitment drive had already been launched.

The educational sector proved an exception to the rule, with the proportion of foreign staff increasing in elementary schools, high schools and higher education.

Böhmer concluded by admitting that the ultimate goal of complete equality was by no means a reality in many areas of society.

"But the development is clearly on the right path. The results for people born in Germany with immigrant backgrounds show this above all," she said.

Author: Sabine Rippberger / msh
Editor: Nancy Isenson