Although some action has been taken in recent years to regulate migration/integration (e.g. through Blue Card provisions), the urgency to speed up the political efforts in this arena has clearly increased over the last few years. Mass emigration from primarily Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan has led to rising numbers of asylum applications (an 500% increase in the first few months in 2016, especially for the just-mentioned countries), and has impelled the coalition in Berlin to step up in terms of planning integration on a structural level.
SPD and CDU seem to be finally willing to live up to the changes proposed in the seminal, but hardly implemented, 2001 report of the independent Commission for Migration (chaired by Prof. Dr. Rita Süssmuth), which underlined that “immigration can not succeed without integration.” Without a Law for Integration, the report suggested, it would become sheer impossible to “meet up to one's own standard of humanitarian responsibility, safeguard the social welfare state, and improve the coexistence of Germans and immigrants”. The current draft, then, constitutes nothing less than a milestone in Germany's decade-long "pragmatic improvisation", as the 2001 report asserted". Scrutinizing some of the key aspects of the Law more closely, however, also raises serious questions.
Important Improvements, Unnecessary Hierarchization
The future Law wants to create 100,000 jobs for those refugees who have – according to the current, fast-changing asylum legislation – a realistic chance of staying in Germany. The Law enables a quicker access to the job market (also for temporary work), as well as the integration courses. Moreover, many refugees would receive improved financial support and would be able to stay in Germany for the time needed to absolve a vocational training. Finally, to avoid social hot spots, the refugees in question will be distributed all over the country.
Surely, these are important and much-needed measures. At the same time, however, many questions remain.
Firstly, does the number of planned jobs really suffice in light of the current immigration numbers: Germany has just started processing 500,000 asylum applications from 2015 (similar numbers, if not more, are expected in 2016)? What kind of jobs will be created? Do they contain health care and retirement benefits; do minimum wage standards apply to them; and are these jobs as diverse as the people who are going to perform them? In order for the Law to have any positive, integrative effect, these questions will have to be answered as soon as possible in the most practical fashion possible.
Secondly, why are most improvements limited to immigrants who have a solid shot at staying permanently in Germany? What happens to refugees from, amongst others, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, and Russia, who already face disproportional long waiting times in the current asylum recognition process (these waiting times are likely to increase in the future due to the Law for Integration, is seems, as the most 'fortunate' refugees from the countries mentioned above will be clearly prioritized)?
Without a commitment to speed up various procedures for all the newcomers, the Law will create first- and second-class refugees, strengthening the impression that there are “deserving” and “undeserving” migrants, of which only the former can benefit from faster procedures. This kind of hierarchy is unnecessary, divisive, and will likely contribute to social tensions among refugees, as well as between the latter and civil society actors.
Redundant Compulsory Aspects
The planned Law for Integration emphasizes the compulsory character of the refugees' participation in the proposed measures, especially for the integration courses, which must be attended within the year of registration. On top of that, refugees must stay put in the places allocated to them. Those who fail to do so face “serious consequences", as the draft goes.
The implicit skepticism of the willingness of immigrants to attend the language-, orientation-, and value courses is unwarranted. Since their implementation, large numbers of migrants have participated voluntarily in the integration courses, exceeding all expectations (and surpassing the number of available courses, which might, in the end, become a real problem). There is no real reason to believe that the eagerness to learn German and to participate in other courses will be less pronounced this time. Given the continuous enthusiasm of migrants to attend these classes, it remains unclear why the threat of repercussions is necessary in the draft of the new Law.
Limiting the mobility of refugees raises serious questions as well. It should be clarified, whether this regulation is acceptable against the backdrop of basic human rights, such as the freedom of movement or the right to reunite with one's family? Moreover, it remains to be shown how this aspect of the Law will be enforced in practice? Moreover, can there be exceptions to this rule, thus enabling families and friends to be re-united or well-suited job candidates to relocate? The German government walks a very thin legal line here.
Overall, the regulations of the draft rightly focus on improving the economic opportunities for refugees. “Structural integration”, i.e. providing newcomers with the ability "to get on their feet again" and find their economic place in society, is an important first step. But is will not suffice.
What remains unaddressed is the reciprocal quality of integration.
Integration is, in the end, a two-way street which requires serious social efforts from the locals too. The recent tide of populism has shown that long-time residents in Germany perceive refugees as a “a threat”, and not as “an enrichment”, as the 2001 Report phrased it. As the latter showed, only an all-encompassing socio-economic plan - which would benefit both locals and newcomers - can lower the social tensions and the sense of increased competition. The current draft does not yet provide such a plan: it is thus a promising start, a milestone even, but more legislation and action plans have to follow.