Immigration into Germany in the year 2003, for the first time in many decades, dropped below 800,000 as the influx of foreigners throughout the 1990s has receded, according to government statistics released on Monday.
The immigration boom of the 1990's has begun to tail off in Germany
According to the latest statistics from the German government’s special commisssioner for foreigner's affairs, it is specifically the number of asylum-seekers and the influx of Russians with German ancestry which were markedly lower in 2003.
The commissioner also said that the numbers are expected to decline even further this year, as a new German immigration law will be laying greater emphasis on qualitative aspects of immigration into Germany.
Marieluise Beck, the government’s ombudswomen for foreigners' affairs, says the years of the immigration boom of the 1990s are over.
The ethnic war in the former Yugoslavia and an influx of Russians of German origin brought about 14 million foreigners to Germany between 1991 and 2003. But only about 5 million have actually stayed here since then.
In 2003 -- the year for which the latest immigration statistics are available -- the number of migrants to Germany for the first time dropped below 800,000. A figure, Beck says, which could continue to raise xenophobic fears among native Germans, but which should be seen in the light of about 620,000 people who left Germany for good in that year.
"Statistics are dry and complicated but unfortunately they are our only chance to tell people: Be rational, take your time and look at who is coming and who is going. We might have problems but they are not so overwhelming," Beck told DW-Radio.
Overall figures have remained stable at just under nine percent of foreigners among the population in this country. From the 768,000 migrants to Germany in 2003 about two thirds came from Europe, mostly from Italy, Poland, Russia and Turkey. Migrants from Africa make up only a fraction of that with about 5 percent mainly asylum-seekers.
Beck says that immigration in 2003 was still largely unregulated causing problems of integration. But she also adds that the influx of foreigners is necessary for German society.
"You have groups of foreigners where the necessity to qualify them is very big and which creats costs," said Beck.
"On the other hand, you have people which we badly need. We are already feeling the effects of a society which is growing older and older and we already have a lack of personal to take care of those people. Historically seen one can always say migration always brought about cultural pushes in a positive way."
Estimates for 2004, according to Beck, suggest that the decline in immigration to Germany will continue and that there may be yet another 70,000 migrants fewer than in 2003. This month a new immigration law has come into effect in Germany placing greater emphasis on qualified immigration.
Beck says it is too early to say how this will affect immigration statistics, but experts are already saying that the hurdles for skilled foreigners to come to Germany are still be too high compared with the United States, Britain or other industrialized countries.