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IMMIGRATION

What Germany’s new controversial immigration laws mean for foreign workers

Earlier this month, Germany passed a series of controversial measures to make it easier to integrate migrants, as well as to deport rejected asylum seekers. Here's what it all means.

What Germany’s new controversial immigration laws mean for foreign workers
Germany is struggling to fill positions across the board, including in the metal industry. Photo: DPA

What are they?

The new package of laws, passed on June 7th, aims to attract foreign skilled vocational workers with German language skills, including those from outside the EU, and promises them eased visa procedures and reduced red tape.

They were created last year in a bid to address the shortage of skilled workers in many regions and industries across Germany. The law is aimed at both foreign citizens who have applied for asylum in Germany and to those applying for a work visa.

But the new immigration rules are also being created to be able to deport rejected asylum seekers more easily.

READ ALSO: 'Historic day' as Germany takes step forward in easing immigration rules for foreign workers

Okay, so what does it mean for workers?

The new law on this part of the measure was passed with a clear majority in the Bundestag, paving the way for qualified workers from non-EU states to come to Germany.  

According to government estimates, the new rules will bring an additional 25,000 skilled workers to Germany every year.

As The Local has reported, Germany is desperate to plug the gaps in its worker-starved industries.

READ ALSO: Explained: How Germany plans to fight its drastic shortage of care workers

One of the most significant changes is getting rid of a rule that requires bosses to prove that neither a German nor an EU citizen could be found to fill a position before it was offered to an immigrant.

The new law is also set to relax restrictions that give preference to foreign workers only filling up so-called “bottleneck occupations” – jobs that have a lot of vacancies – including in the care sector, the IT industry and electrical engineering. This will open up other industries to skilled foreign workers.

Another part of the law is for skilled workers – such as cooks, metallurgy workers, builders or IT technicians – to be able to enter the country for six months in order to look for a job in Germany, provided they can financially support themselves.

When it comes to asylum seekers, the government has previously said it wants to make sure it doesn't deport the wrong people. So asylum seekers who speak German, have no criminal record and have some skills or willingness to learn are more likely to be allowed to stay although that's not guaranteed.

Lars Castellucci, spokesman for migration policy for the centre-left Social Democrat (SPD) parliamentary group, stressed that “Germany needs immigration”.

The care sector is another area where Germany is struggling to fill vacancies. Photo: DPA

Deputy SPD faction leader Eva Högl said that the legislative package should send a signal that qualified job seekers from non-EU countries can come to Germany.

However critics, such as in the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), said it could increase the risk of people abusing the system to take advantage of benefits.

What about the other part of the laws?

The package of laws includes the “Geordnete-Rückkehr-Gesetz,” which roughly translates to Orderly Repatriation or Return Law.

This is intended to make it more difficult for rejected asylum seekers to evade an ordered deportation.

Essentially, the government wants to extend the powers of the police and immigration authorities so that fewer deportations fall through.

READ ALSO: Explained: The best and worst paid jobs in Germany

Among other things, there will also be sanctions on benefits for rejected asylum seekers.

In future, those awaiting deportation could also be accommodated in regular prisons. Currently they are placed in detention centres.

But the coalition's plan has been met with strong opposition. The Left party called it “unconstitutional.”

After a heated debate, a total of 372 members of parliament voted in favour of the coalition's plan and 159 delegates rejected the draft.

A total of 111 Bundestag members abstained. Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU) said: “An obligation to leave the country must be followed by an actual departure.”

Why are these laws controversial?

Immigration has been a polarizing political issue since Germany absorbed more than one million refugees and migrants when Chancellor Angela Merkel of the CDU made the decision to keep the country's borders open in September 2015.

The large influx sparked a xenophobic backlash that saw the anti-immigration and anti-Islam AfD enter parliament in 2017 as the biggest opposition party.

It continues to split opinion in Germany. However, the head of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations, Ingo Kramer, was positive last year when he said that, of those who arrived since 2015, “more than 400,000 are in employment or training… even I am surprised at how quickly it's progressing”.

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IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: Who is entitled to German citizenship by descent and how to apply for it

German citizenship law is based on the principle of descent, which means that a child automatically acquires the citizenship of a parent regardless of their place of birth. However, when you were born and whether your parents were married can affect this right.

EXPLAINED: Who is entitled to German citizenship by descent and how to apply for it

Shortly after taking office last year, Germany’s traffic light coalition government announced a plan to loosen citizenship laws and make it easier for foreign nationals to gain a German passport. Almost a year later, however, those plans have still not come into force. In the meantime, here is a look at another way foreign nationals may be able to gain German citizenship.

READ ALSO: Reader question: When will Germany change its citizenship laws?

The principle of descent 

In Germany, das Abstammungsprinzip – the principle of descent – was originally the only basis for German nationality under the Reich and Nationality Act which came into force in 1914. Since then, it has been broadened by various amendments to the law. 

Here is a guide to understanding who is entitled to German citizenship by descent and how to apply.

Children born to married parents

Before 1975, in almost all cases where the parents were married at the time of birth, you could become German only if your father was a German citizen.

The law was broadened slightly in 1964 so that children who would otherwise have been stateless were able to gain German citizenship if only their mother was German. This law applied until December 31st, 1974.

Then, those born to married parents after 1975 automatically became German citizens if one of the parents – father or mother – was a German citizen at the time of their birth. This rule still applies today.

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

However, if you were born outside of Germany after December 31st, 1999 and your German parent was also born outside of Germany after December 31st 1999, then you were not born a German citizen unless your birth was registered in Germany within one year of your date of birth.

For those who were born before 1975 and after May 23rd, 1945, when the old rules about paternal inheritance still applied, there is now a possibility to become a German citizen by applying for ‘citizenship by declaration’.

Photo: A newborn baby at the Vivantes Klinikum in Friedrichshain, Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

This possibility came into force in August 2021 and involves submitting an application form called an Erklärungserwerb (declaration application) and proof of parentage, with documents such as birth, parentage and marriage certificates. The application procedure itself is free of charge, though you may need to factor in costs for getting documents translated or certified by a notary.

A checklist for those who are entitled to apply for citizenship by declaration is available, in German, on the Federal Administration Office’s website

Children born to unmarried parents

Before July 1993, in almost all cases where the parents were not married at the time of birth, you could become German only if your mother was a German citizen.

If you were born before July 1993 and only your father was a German citizen, you could only become a German citizen by legitimation i.e. if your parents got married after your birth. 

After July 1st, 1993, another change in the law meant that having either a German mother or father meant that a child of unmarried parents was a German citizen. However, if only the father was a German citizen, legal paternity had to be established before the child’s 23rd birthday. This meant obtaining a Vaterschaftsannerkennung (acknowledgement of paternity).

A father twirls his child in the air in Munich, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance / Tobias Hase/dpa | Tobias Hase

This is still the case today, and, as with children born in wedlock, if you were born outside of Germany after December 31st, 1999 and your German parent was also born outside of Germany after this date, then you do not automatically gain German citizenship. In this case, your birth must be registered in Germany within one year of your date of birth.

Adopted children

If you were adopted as a minor (under the age of 18) by at least one German citizen on or after January 1st, 1977, you automatically gain German citizenship. If the adoption took place outside Germany, the adoption must be recognized in Germany and have the same legal effects under German law to qualify for German citizenship.

German grandparents

Unlike in some other European citizenship laws, you can‘t jump a generation and apply for citizenship in Germany just because of a German grandparent. However, your parent might have acquired German citizenship by descent from your German grandparent(s) through one of the above categories, which could mean that you could also qualify as a German citizen. 

People living outside of Germany

Not living in Germany doesn’t mean that you are not a German citizen under the principle of descent. However, if you want to get a German passport, you’ll need to obtain a certificate of proof of citizenship – a Staatsangehörigkeitsausweis. 

READ ALSO: How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Germany

To do this, you will have to fill out a form and submit it to the Federal Office of Administration, which investigates whether or not applicants are German citizens. Along with the form, you will also have to submit various documents including proof of parentage, birth and marriage certificates.

Dual citizenship

The children of a foreign parent and a German parent have a right to both nationalities, as long as the law of the foreign parent’s home country allows it.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: what you need to know about dual citizenship in Germany

Children born to at least one German national abroad also have a right to dual citizenship, as long as the country of their birth also recognises the principle of ‘jus soli’ – the right to citizenship to those born in the territory of a state. The parents have to register this birth with the local diplomatic mission within the first 12 months of the child’s life. 

Exceptions and developments

In June 2021, the so-called “reparation citizenship” law was passed in the Bundestag, which closed legal loopholes which had led to descendants of people who fled Nazi Germany to escape persecution having their applications for a German passport rejected.

Under the new law, descendants of those deprived of German citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds between 1933 and 1941 can claim citizenship through their parents’ restored citizenship.

READ ALSO: How Germany is making it easier for Nazi victims’ descendants to get citizenship 

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