Around 6.93 million people with only foreign citizenship lived in Germany at the end of 2011 - 177,300 more than a year earlier. Federal Statistical Office figures showed that the increase of 2.6 percent was the highest in 15 years.
The vast majority, some 88 percent, of arrivals moved to Germany from other European Union countries.
"The higher figures are, of course, due to implementation of free movement for new EU member states last year," Ilona Riesen of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research said.
Last year saw Germany open its borders to workers from all EU countries except Romania and Bulgaria. The Statistics Office figures showed significant growth in the number of Poles and Hungarians coming to Germany in 2011.
Language barrier in the euro crisis states
While the statistics alone say little about foreigners' motives for coming to or leaving Germany, the researchers found a strong correlation between immigration and employment opportunities.
More people came to Germany from the EU crisis states than in previous years, but perhaps not as many as might be expected given the economic misery in some EU states. Riesen said.
"My guess is that people do not just immediately pack up their things and move to another country, even when a crisis breaks out in a country," she said.
High interest in jobs in Germany
The language barrier plays a role in keeping people from moving to Germany, according to labor market expert Marion Rang, of the Federal Employment Agency's foreign placement department, which specializes in luring highly skilled job seekers to Germany.
"We focus our work on the euro crisis countries, because they have a workforce that we can use here in Germany," she said. "There are many unemployed engineers in Spain, while in Germany we are looking for engineers."
The department also tries to recruit suitable applicants for German companies. Language skills are also a key issue, she said: "In Germany, most vacancies are found in small and mid-sized companies, who want to be able to converse with their employees in German." There has been no real mass influx of job seekers from the euro crisis countries - but a lot of interest, which can also be seen in the booming German language classes at the local Goethe Institute.
Rang said there are often family reasons that can frighten people into abandoning emigration plans. German companies also have to confront job-seekers expectation that they will be in cities like Berlin, Hamburg or Munich.
"If they hear that the vacancies tend to be in rural Baden-Württemberg or eastern Germany, a lot of them will take a deep breath," Rand said before adding that geography is less of an obstacle for people who really want to live in Germany.
In contrast, immigrants from outside the EU require a work permit. Statistics show there has been a positive development over the last five years, Riesen said, with the proportion of non-EU nationals with a permanent settlement permit increasing significantly.
"This settlement permit brings with it the right to permanent residence in Germany," she said. "This is the most important aspect for third-country nationals, because if someone is allowed to live in Germany permanently and without restrictions, then the hopes and possibilities for better integration are of course much better."
Author: Michael Gessat / sgb
Editor: Sean Sinico