Passage of the German Immigration Law



Borders Citizenship Identity & Belonging

With the coming into force of the “Act to Regulate and Restrict Immigration and to Regulate the Residence and Integration of EU Citizens and Foreigners”, or simply the Immigration Act (ZuwG), on January 1, 2005, important aspects of German legislation concerning aliens were reformed.

With the passage of this legislation and after years of political debate, a federal coalition government comprised of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Green Party was able for the first time to officially acknowledge Germany’s reality as a country of immigration. A key reform therein was the Residence Act (Article 1 of the Immigration Act), which superseded the existing Alien Act. Concretely, the new act eased the immigration of highly qualified persons, broadened the scope of asylum and refugee law by recognizing gender-specific and non-state persecution as legitimate grounds for flight, and permitted the children of migrants to legally join their families in Germany. At the same time, however, the pressure on migrants to integrate was intensified and the the deportation of persons classified as criminal aliens (that is, persons without German citizenship) was made easier.

Initially celebrated as a ‘paradigm shift’, the Immigration Act of 2005 nonetheless proved insufficient to address the demands being made of migration policy in Germany. Interest and advocacy groups, NGOs, and rights organizations such as Pro Asyl have criticized the law for not adequately taking into account complex issues such as integration, the regulation of residence rights, and adherence to international refugee conventions. The original goal of facilitating immigration, encouraging integration, and protecting refugees has yet to be reached.

In addition, critics such as the FDP (Free Democratic Party) politician Burkhard Hirsch fault the current legislation for continuing to rely upon a dated understanding of state and nationality, in which the state is regarded “not as a political community, but as a kind of ethnic blood-brotherhood in which the foreigner ‘really’ has no business taking part.”