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In maps: Where do foreigners live in Germany?

Germany is the second top destination for migrants behind the United States, UN figures show. We break down which states and cities internationals are drawn to.

In maps: Where do foreigners live in Germany?
Flags from all over the world fly in front of Berlin's convention center in early 2019. Photo: DPA

In 2019, Germany had the largest foreign-born population of any country in Europe, with 13 million migrants. The country's diversity is also boosted by large numbers of foreign students and temporary workers moving to and from the Bundesrepublik.

READ ALSO: In numbers: Who are Germany's international students?

The map below shows which states in the nation have the highest percentage of foreigners. While western and southern Germany hold a clear lead, city-states like Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg also pull high numbers. 

Map prepared for The Local by Statista.

Taking into account the different subgroups that make up the expat population in Germany, what maps are most important to describe the country's foreign population?

Here's our breakdown. 

Migration backgrounds

Since 2005, German officials have used the term “individuals with migration backgrounds” to classify migrants and naturalized individuals as well as their children. This term offers more precision for categorizing different ethnic groups, rather than just using citizen or non-citizen distinctions.

READ ALSO: One in three people in Germany 'will have migrant background in 20 years'

It also shows a more nuanced picture of what areas in Germany are the most culturally mixed over numerous generations.

This map shows the proportions of Germans without a migrant background in 2016 using data from Destatis. Photo credit Underlying lk via Wikimedia.

While some of these numbers can be attributed to larger populations, it's also clear that more foreigners live in western Germany in general. 

READ ALSO: Who are Germany's foreign population and where do they live?

What about citizenship?

Populations of foreigners are not the only valuable statistic. How many people actually stay long-term? 

If you're interested to see what Bundesländer enjoy the most new citizens, here's a map showing what states welcome the most newly-naturalized Germans every year. Like the map above, it's clear that western and southern states hold the lead.

Interestingly, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland in the far west do not naturalize as many citizens as states like Bavaria or North-Rhine Westphalia. 

Source: Naturalizations of Foreigners, including Yearly Percentage Change in 2018, Screenshot via Destatis

Younger generations

Germany's youngest generations also give some good insights into migration history. According to the country's Federal Office of Statistics, the cities and Bundesländer with the most children of migration backgrounds are Bremen, Berlin, Hesse and Hamburg.

Bremen is the clear leader. Using recent statistics published in 2015, the map below shows just how diverse Bremen's youngest generations are, as well as which areas of the city they live. Bremen is a city divided into two enclaves: the southern city centre and the harbour in the north. The map has been shortened to include both. 

A map of Bremen showing the percentage of children with a migration background living in every part of the city. Data comes from 2015 city statistics. Based on TUBS via Wikimedia. 

Berlin, another famously diverse city, is Germany's global capital. Each neighborhood has its own distinct subculture and trends. The map below shows the two largest non-German ethnic groups in every part of the city. From Russians to Poles, Berlin is proudly Multi-Kulti, or multicultural. 

A map showing the most common minority groups in every Berlin Bezirk. Based on Berlin.svg via Wikimedia. 

International students

In 2016, Germany had the fifth-highest rate of international students globally. Many foreigners begin their stay in Germany on student visas. German certifications and credits are highly valued internationally, making it a sought-after country to study abroad.

Using the most recent rankings from QS World University Rankings, the map below shows the top ten most popular universities for students studying abroad. 

Source:, altered using university rankings from

Aachen, where RWTH Aachen University is located, is also the top city for expats in Germany, according InterNations 2019 Expat City Ranking. Globally, Aachen placed 11, above Düsseldorf at and Hamburg at 31 and 42 respectively.

While things like degree paths and housing obviously play a large role, these German cities will also likely provide a great scene for international students.


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What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’