Professor Bernd Müller-Jacquier, who heads the department of Intercultural German Studies at the University of Bayrueth, is the author of a study entitled ‘German Authorities and Foreign Academics’ (‘Deutsche Behörden und ausländische Akademiker’).
The study, which took place over a period of two years, has its basis in anecdotal evidence from international students in the town who complained of being unfairly treated when confronted with immigration authorities.
“Some of our students have been accused of telling lies and of forging report cards,” Professor Müller-Jacquier told The Local. He attributed the behaviour of the authorities to a wider “culture of mistrust” at the city’s Ausländeramt.
Researchers carried out interviews with 80 foreign academics in Bayreuth, as well as further afield, and examined the systems in place at immigration offices which had been distinguished as centres of “best practice.”
“I’ve been aware of problems in Bayreuth for at least ten years,” said Müller-Jacquier, who teaches a Master’s programme made up of 90 percent international students.
“We put so much into mentoring these students,” he said, “and they’re very satisfied with the university. But many end up so frustrated by the immigration authorities that they leave the town.”
He gives the example of a Brazilian student who came to Bayreuth to do an internship.
“He ended up loving the town so much he wanted to study here,” said Müller-Jacquier. “But the immigration office told him that since the ‘purpose of his stay’ had changed, he would have to return to Sao Paulo to make the adjustment … well what happened in the end? The student chose to study in Dresden instead. And Bayreuth lost him.”
Müller-Jacquier points out that four other Brazilian students who came to Germany as part of the same internship programme and who subsequently decided to stay on to study there, were not required to return home in order to ‘change the purpose of their stay’.
Immigration offices in Germany are advised to handle such issues on a case-by-case basis. “But that doesn’t mean decisions should just be arbitrary,” said Müller-Jacquier.
The two most important factors in the treatment of foreign students, according to Müller-Jacquier, are the personalities of the authorities themselves and the wider political culture. “It’s very difficult to effect change if the political system is against you,” he said.
When asked whether students from certain countries were treated worse than others, he said “luckily, in a sense, we found that all foreigners were treated equally badly.”
In a statement sent to The Local on Monday afternoon, Bayreuth’s immigration office said it wanted to “further improve its culture of welcome to international citizens” and that Müller-Jacquier’s study presented “important points.”
It said that by co-operating with the University of Bayreuth and discussing the possibility of participating in the ‘Welcoming Authorities’ model project it had already taken steps towards improving the system.
Bayreuth Mayor Brigitte Merk-Erbe, who was given a copy of the study some weeks ago, said international visitors “should feel welcome from the beginning.”
But Müller-Jacquier describes the behaviour of some staff in the immigration office as “unfriendly and unwelcoming.”
Despite that, he believes Germany’s shortage of highly-qualified professionals is leading to a change in political sentiment. “Formerly, the message being filtered down was rather anti-immigrant,” he said.
While that was now changing, he said that “sadly, not everyone has grasped it yet.”