New German immigrant integration law prioritises language skills

Language classes and mastery of German have been prioritised in the new law. [Florian Maganza/Twitter]

New job opportunities, more integration courses and new rules on housing: Germany’s new integration law is on its way towards final approval – but is not without its critics and shortcomings. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“As the SPD chairman, I am sure that in a few years this law will be seen retrospectively as the first big step towards a modern immigration law,” said Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the vice-chancellor, back in April about the planned law.

Nevertheless, it got bogged down in the parliament for about a month. Now the German cabinet has finally adopted the new law, which may still go before the Bundestag and the Bundesrat, the German council, before the summer break. Chancellor Merkel labelled the development as a “milestone”.

The main points of the draft, from jobs minister Andrea Nahles (SPD) and interior minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU), include easier access to jobs and integration measures like German language courses. As a result, refugees will not be deported during the course of their vocational training and will be given additional time to find employment. In addition, 100,000 non-profit minijobs are planned, similar to the existing one-Euro-jobs for the long-term unemployed that are currently offered.

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“The 100,000 one-Euro-jobs are an alternative to doing nothing,” insisted Nahles at a press conference called to launch the new law. The scheme, which does not allow participants to hold other jobs, is intended to improve language skills and help people forge contacts in the German labour market.

For those with little or no prospects of being able to stay in Germany, too little had been done so far, De Maizière added. “These jobs are to help tide people over,” the minister explained. Moreover, the state may reward those who quickly integrate. “When someone can speak German well and mostly support themselves, then after three years a residence permit can be granted,” he added.

The minister also announced further funding and measures for integration courses. The number of hours will be extended to 100 and the teaching of values will be given an even greater focus. An initiative by the family affairs minister, Manuela Schwesig, will prioritise the role of women in society and equality.

However, the new measures have a potential downside. “The government will share responsibility for integration on both sides,” De Maizère continued. Migrants will therefore have their destiny in their own hands, with less benefits being awarded if they do not engage with integration measures or cooperate with asylum procedures. Being granted a permit will also depend on efforts made to learn German.

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The new law also allows the country’s regions to allocate housing to recognised refugees, which is another “prerequisite for integration. Nobody wants ghettos”. Furthermore, families will no longer be separated, a measure upon which the church had insisted.

The new law has been met with little encouragement from several social organisations. PRO ASYL, among others, wrote a joint letter to the government a few days ago, criticising Berlin for the new hurdles that new arrivals will have to negotiate in order to get a residence permit, the allocation of housing and the threat of benefit cuts if integration does not progress as planned.

“This integration law is pure deception and will instead lead to disintegration,” warned Günter Burkhardt, CEO of PRO ASYL. Other social groups criticised the new law for disregarding evidence that has been provided by migration studies.

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