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How many people in Germany have a 'immigration history' in 2023?

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How many people in Germany have a 'immigration history' in 2023?
Children hold hands at a Kita in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

Newly released micro-census data reveals that the international population is growing in Germany, with around a quarter of the population being classed as first- or second-generation migrants. And there's also a new official term for describing these groups. Here's what you need to know.

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Whether they moved for work, stayed in the country after studying or arrived after fleeing war and persecution, the international population in Germany is on the rise.

According to the latest micro-census data released by the Federal Office of Statistics (Destatis), just under a quarter of the people living in Germany have some kind of immigration history, meaning they have at least one foreign parent.

As of 2022, there were around 20.2 million first- or second-generation migrants in Germany - making up 24.3 percent of the total population. The figures show how the makeup of German society is changing and becomes more diverse every year. Back in 2021, 23 percent of the population were foreigners or had foreign parents - and there's a clear upwards trend. 

READ ALSO: Germany's population grows to 84.3 million amid record migration

Another thing that's changing is the way Destatis is talking about Germany's international population. This year, in addition to term 'migration background', the census started using a new category: 'immigrants and their immediate offspring', or people with an 'immigration history'. 

What falls under this new category - and why have they changed it? 

The authority defines people with an immigration history as those who have themselves moved to Germany anytime after 1950, as well as their direct descendants: the "second generation". Compared to 2021, the number of people with an immigration history increased by 6.5 percent or 1.2 million people. Refugee migration played a major role in this - especially the influx of refugees that arose from the war in Ukraine.

This wave of refugees also led to a significant increase in first-generation migrants. This group grew by 7.3 percent due to those who fled mainly from Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan. Over the same period, the number of children born to foreign parents (i.e. second generation immigrants) rose by four percent.

While the census continues to track people with a 'migration background', the term has become increasingly controversial since it was first introduced in 2005. Critics say the term is used pejoratively and to pigeonhole people, which may be one key reason for the re-brand.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany's foreign population

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However, the 'immigration history' category isn't entirely the same: it differs from 'migration background' in tracking people with two parents who were born abroad rather than just one. 

The new category also isn't devoid of critics. In an interview with Die Zeit on Wednesday, Magdalena Nowicka, a sociologist at Berlin's Humboldt University, said it wouldn't solve the problems associated with the 'migration background' term.

"In itself, this does not change anything," she said. "I am thinking of my own children, who statistically have a migration background because their mother was born in Poland. Their father has no migration background, our children were born in Germany. Our neighbours' children, on the other hand, both have a migration background. They both go to the same school. Now the children fall into different categories. What use is that?"

Who are the internationals living in Germany?

According to the Federal Statistical Office, a total of 6.1 million people and thus just under 40 percent of all first-generation immigrants living in Germany have arrived in the country since 2013. This huge influx appears to have been influenced by the refugee crisis in both Syria and Ukraine, as well as new countries entering the EU in the early and mid-2000s. 

Of this group of 'new' immigrants, quite a few things stand out. For example, with an average age of 29.9 years, those who immigrated from 2013 are significantly younger than the population without an immigration history, whose average age last year was 47.

A refugee studies German

A refugee studies German at a school for asylum seekers in Kusel, Rhineland Palatinate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

In terms of gender, however, the people who arrived in the last decade are relatively evenly split, with 47 percent women and 53 percent men. 

The three main countries of origin of immigrants since 2013 are Syria with a share of 16 percent, Romania with a share of seven percent and Poland with a share of six percent. Ukraine follows in fourth place with five percent. However, those who have fled Ukraine in the past year since the Russian invasion are not yet fully recorded in the micro-census, Destatis said.

READ ALSO: Germany's citizenship reform aims to meet needs of immigrants, draft law reveals

And what about the people with a 'migration background'?

Given the broader categorisation, the share of people with a migration background in the population in Germany is even larger. It amounted to 28.7 percent or 23.8 million people last year. According to the definition of the Federal Statistical Office, a person has a migration background if he or she or at least one parent was not born with German citizenship.

More than half of the 12.2 million Germans with a migration background have held German citizenship since birth. They have a migration background because at least one parent is foreign, naturalised, German by adoption or a late repatriate.

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A total of 23 percent came to Germany themselves as late repatriates, while 22 percent are naturalised. People without German citizenship accounted for 48.8 percent of all people with a migration background and just under one sixth of the population.

Other statistics showed how deeply former migrants had become embedded in German society. For example, 3.9 million people born in Germany - 4.6 percent of the total population - had a father or mother who themselves had an immigrant background. This corresponded to an increase of 3.5 percent compared to 2021. These 3.9 million people are not themselves counted in the population with an immigration history.

On the flip side, 71.1 percent of the population in Germany had no immigration history at all - or at least not a recent one.

READ ALSO: How Germany's population has developed through immigration

What were the reasons for migrating to Germany?

According Destatis, the most important main reason for immigration from 2013 was flight, asylum and international protection with a share of 27.9 percent.

This was closely followed by immigration for employment with a share of 24.2 percent and family reunification with a share of 23.9 percent.

Slightly more than eight percent of those who had immigrated since 2013 had come to Germany mainly to study or to receive training and further education.

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