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IMMIGRATION

How one German immigration office plans to tackle long waiting times

For years, the Darmstadt Immigration Office or Ausländerbehörde has been criticised for poor accessibility and chaotic conditions. Last week, the city’s mayor presented a new plan that could finally solve the problem. What could other cities learn?

A staff member at a Hamburg immigration office helps a member of the public.
A staff member at a Hamburg immigration office helps a member of the public. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

The city of Darmstadt near Frankfurt in southwest Germany is home to three universities and around 35,000 international residents. In fact, national statistics from 2020 show that internationals make up 20,5 percent of the population in the city.

It’s little wonder then, that problems with the Ausländerbehörder (the international immigration offices) have been widely reported as negatively impacting lots of foreign residents in the city. 

Determined to combat the issues once and for all, last week the city’s Mayor, Jochen Partsch (Greens) presented a new concept for restructuring the service.

What are the problems?

Darmstadt’s immigration office has had a bad reputation for years, due to long waiting times, and problems getting hold of staff or arranging appointments. According to local immigration lawyers, the processing of applications for naturalization currently takes around two years.

READ ALSO: ‘Nothing is easy’: How foreigners struggle to get settled in Germany

There have been numerous reports of foreign residents being unable to renew expired residence permits due to the impossibility of getting hold of the authorities. A report by the German regional news site Hessenschau.de from February included an account of a student calling over 80 times, even during office hours, and never getting a response.

Immigration and asylum lawyer, Sonja Plückebaum, who is based in Darmstadt, said: “We have clients who have lost their apprenticeship or job because they did not get their residence permit extended in time.” Major problems also often arise when people are looking for an apartment or signing a mobile phone contract.

What’s causing the problems?

City officials have claimed that the problems with the immigration office ultimately come down to staffing and workload.

For some time now, there has been a high level of staff turnover and an above-average level of sick leave among employees at the immigration office.

The city’s former Mayor, Rafael Reißer, said earlier in the year that the loss of experienced workers had led to a “continuous reduction” in expertise, while, at the same time, work had piled up. New employees in particular were plagued by “self-doubt and insecurity” due to the “daily pressure to perform,” which in most cases led to them resigning.

READ ALSO: Germany ranked as ‘worst country in the world’ for expat needs

These issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. 

An application for a residence permit lies on a desk at the Foreigners' Registration Office in Baden-Württemberg.

An application for a residence permit lies on a desk at the Foreigners’ Registration Office in Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Wolfram Kastl

What are the new plans?

The first step will be to set up a service team to coordinate the allocation of appointments and be the first point of contact for all issues, to help tackle the problems with reaching staff at the immigration office.

New specialised teams will be put together, which will deal with specific areas affecting foreign residents, such as education, employment and resident rights. 

The electronic filing system in the immigration office is also being fast-tracked and should be operational by the autumn, which will help speed up workflows.

The city also announced 12 new full-time positions to be filled as soon as possible.

The new organisation will also help reduce the workload for individual employees, he said: “All the measures taken now will add up to ensure that people will once again receive the comprehensive service they deserve.”

READ ALSO: Berlin to revolutionise immigration office ‘experience’

Useful vocabulary:

immigration office – (die) Ausländerbehörde

residence permit – (die) Aufenthaltserlaubnis

waiting time – (die) Wartezeit

to reach someone by phone – jemanden telefonisch erreichen

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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WORKING IN GERMANY

‘More jobs in English’: How Germany could attract international workers

Germany is overhauling its immigration system as it struggles with a huge worker shortage. We spoke to an expert to ask how the country can attract more people - and compete with other popular expat destinations like the US or the Netherlands.

'More jobs in English': How Germany could attract international workers

As the Local has been reporting, Germany is currently facing a significant worker shortage.

We spoke to Panu Poutvaara, Professor of Economics at the University of Munich and Director of the Ifo Center for International Institutional Comparisons and Migration Research to find out if Germany’s immigration policies are affecting this and how they could be improved.

The Local: Why is there currently such a shortage of workers in Germany?

Panu Poutvaara: Before the pandemic, the German economy was actually doing very well. After the 2008 financial crisis, in fact, it was one of the best performing European economies which meant that the need for workers increased and this trend has been growing for the last 14 years.

Now, there are more people entering retirement than there are entering the workforce.

Which sectors are seeing worker shortages?

With an ageing population, there is a growing demand for workers in healthcare and in old age care.

But there is also a lack of skilled workers such as tradesmen, plumbers, and electricians. IT specialists are also in high demand globally, which means that there is a lot of international competition, particularly from the US.

A woman uses her kitchen worktop as a standing desk while working from home.

A woman uses her kitchen worktop as a standing desk while working from home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

Is Germany an attractive place for foreigners to come and work?

Germany certainly has a lot of opportunities to offer and, in terms of the total number of immigrants, Germany has become one of the most popular destinations worldwide.

But there are also significant disadvantages for foreigners moving to Germany.

For IT specialists, for example, the US is a more attractive prospect for many people, especially from countries like India that also have English as an official language. Furthermore, salaries are higher and taxes are lower in the US than in Germany and American companies are the market leaders in these sectors.

Do you think language is a big issue then, in terms of putting people off coming to Germany?

Yes, and I think Germany needs to be more flexible with its language requirements. In fact, I expect the current government to propose acknowledging English skills in the immigration process, in addition to German skills.

The Netherlands, for example, have an advantage over Germany in that is much easier to live there without speaking the local language and most services are available also in English.

READ ALSO: ‘Appointments in English’: How Germany wants to attract talent from abroad

In my opinion, it would be good to have more jobs in English too, as far as possible. This would mean that employers should think about whether German is really necessary to be able to do the jobs they’re recruiting for.

What other things do you think Germany could do to encourage immigration?

One thing would be to improve the immigration process. I know that a lot of people currently face very long waiting times at the German embassies, and this presents an unnecessary hurdle that could quite easily be alleviated.

Another thing that Germany could do, would be to broaden the offer of German language learning in foreign countries.

For professions like healthcare, it’s imperative that workers speak German so that they can communicate with their patients. Therefore, it would be good to offer young internationals the chance to learn German in their home countries.

The Goethe institute around the world has the potential to improve such offers, to strengthen partnerships with countries like India and offer students German language learning programmes.

READ ALSO: Germany looks to foreign workers to ease ‘dramatic’ worker shortage

Panu Poutvaara, Professor of Economics at the University of Munich and Director of the Ifo Center for International Institutional Comparisons and Migration Research.

Panu Poutvaara, Professor of Economics at the University of Munich and Director of the Ifo Center for International Institutional Comparisons and Migration Research. Photo courtesy of Panu Poutvaara.

What do you think about the new points-based immigration system that the German government recently announced?

I welcome it. It’s an improvement.

The proposals aren’t fully fleshed out yet, and it will be interesting to see how the points system will work exactly in case of excess demand in a given year. Will preference be given to those who get the highest number of points, or is everyone who has the required number of points allowed to come until the quota is reached?

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s points-based immigration plans

One thing that is good about the proposals is that they also target less qualified people and not just those with a certain type of education.

As part of plans to overhaul immigration laws, Germany is planning to allow non-EU nationals to hold multiple citizenships. Do you think the proposed changes could help attract more skilled workers to the country?

I think it will clearly have some effect, but that it’s not the most important factor.

The problem is that some of the countries from which migrants are coming, such as India, don’t allow dual citizenship themselves.

I think reducing bureaucratic hurdles and speeding up the process of giving visas to people who want to come to Germany from non-EU countries, will have a bigger impact than offering dual citizenship.

Are there any other factors that could help alleviate the worker shortage?

Another thing to mention is that Germany still has a challenge when it comes to integrating people who are already in the country.

Unemployment rates are higher among refugees and Germany should definitely try to improve labour force participation in this section of society. 

READ ALSO: ‘Happy to work here’: How refugees in Germany are easing labour shortage

I welcome government plans to give people who initially came to Germany as asylum seekers before January 1st, 2017 and who have been given only temporary permission to stay, an opportunity to obtain permanent permission to stay, provided that they find a job and learn German.

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