Immigration to Germany

Demography of Germany
Population background
Total population
82 million
Regions with significant populations
 Germany 65,000,000
 Russia 3,500,000 (estimate, 2013)[1]
 Poland 2,850,000[2]
 Turkey 2,714,000–2,800,000 (including Turkish Kurds)f[]b[][3][4]
 Italy 830,000[5]
 Romania 657,000 [6]
 Serbia 313,198-500,000
 Greece 395,000g (2012 estimate)[7]
 Syria 366,000 (2015)
 Netherlands 350,000[8]
 Austria 345,620[9]
 Croatia 227,510 [10] 350,000 (est.)[11]
 Albania 300,000 (including Kosovo)[12]
 Spain 235,000[13]
 Ukraine 229,510[14][15]
 Bulgaria 226,926
(Bulgarians citizens)[16][17]
 China 204,828[17]
 Portugal 170,000[18]
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 158,158
 Hungary 156,812[19]
 Vietnam 150,000[20]
 Iraq 150,000[21]
 Morocco 140,000[22]
 Afghanistan 131,454[23]
 France 126,739
(French citizens)[24][25]
 United Kingdom 115,000
(British citizens)[26]
 Brazil 113,716[27]
 United States 111,529
(US citizens)[23]
 Macedonia 95,976[23]
 India 86,324
(Indian citizens)[23]
 Nigeria 80,000[28]
 Iran 72,581[23]

Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States.[29] On 1 January 2005, a new immigration law came into effect. The political background to this new law was that Germany, for the first time ever, acknowledged to be an "immigration country". The practical changes to immigration procedures were relatively minor. New immigration categories, such as "highly skilled professional" and "scientist" were introduced to attract valuable professionals to the German labour market. The development within German immigration law shows that immigration of skilled employees and academics has eased while the labour market remains closed for unskilled workers.

In April 2012, European Blue Card legislation was implemented in Germany, allowing highly skilled non-EU citizens easier access to work and live in Germany, subject to certain requirements.

As of 2014, one out of five Germans has at least partial roots outside of Germany.

History of immigration to Germany

A so-called "guest worker" (Gastarbeiterin) from Cuba, working in an East German factory, 1986

After World War II until reunification (1945-1980)

Towards the end of World War II, and in its aftermath, up to 12 million refugees of ethnic Germans, so-called "Heimatvertriebene" (German for "expellees", literally "homeland displaced persons") had to migrate from the former German areas, as for instance Silesia or East Prussia, to the new formed States of post-war Germany and Allied-occupied Austria, because of changing borderlines in Europe.[30][31] A big wave of immigration to Germany started in the 1960s. Due to a shortage of laborers during the Wirtschaftswunder ("economic miracle") in the 1950s and 1960s, the West German government signed bilateral recruitment agreements with Italy in 1955, Greece in 1960, Turkey in 1961, Morocco in 1963, Portugal in 1964, Tunisia in 1965 and Yugoslavia in 1968. These agreements allowed the recruitment of so-called Gastarbeiter to work in the industrial sector in jobs that required few qualifications. Children born to Gastarbeiter received the right to reside in Germany but were not granted citizenship; this was known as the Aufenthaltsberechtigung ("right of residence"). Many of the descendants of those Gastarbeiter still live in Germany and many have acquired German citizenship.

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) recruited workers from outside its borders differently. It criticized the Gastarbeiter policy, calling it capitalist exploitation of poor foreigners, and preferred to see its foreign workers as socialist "friends" who traveled to the GDR from other communist or socialist countries in order to learn skills which could then be applied in their home countries. Most of these came from Vietnam, North Korea, Angola, Mozambique and Cuba. Following German reunification in 1990 many foreign workers in the new federal states of the former GDR had no legal status as immigrant workers under the Western system. Consequently, many faced deportation or premature discontinuation of residence and work permits, as well as open discrimination in the workplace.


During the 1980s, a small but steady stream of East Germans immigrating to the West (Übersiedler) had begun with the gradual opening of the Eastern bloc. It swelled to 389,000 in 1990. After the immigration law change in 1993, it decreased by more than half to 172,000.[32]

German repatriates from Kazakhstan arriving in a camp in Friedland in 1988

During the same time, the number of ethnic Germans (Aussiedler) -Germans who had settled in German territory sometimes for centuries until WWII, i.e. in present-day Eastern Europe and Russia- began to rise in the mid-1980s to about 40,000 each year. In 1987, the number doubled, in 1988 it doubled again and in 1990 nearly 400,000 immigrated. Upon arrival, ethnic Germans became citizens at once according to Article 116 of the Basic Law, and received financial and many social benefits, including language training, as many did not speak German. Social integration was often difficult, even though ethnic Germans were entitled to German citizenship, but to many Germans they did not seem German. In 1991, restrictions went into effect, in that ethnic Germans were assigned to certain areas, losing benefits if they were moving. The German government also encouraged the estimated several million ethnic Germans living in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to remain there. Since January 1993,no more than 220,000 ethnic Germans may immigrate per year.[32]

And in parallel a third stream of immigration starting in the mid 1980s were war refugees, of which West Germany accepted more than any other West European country due to an unqualified right to asylum. From 1986 to 1989, about 380,000 refugees sought asylum, mostly from Iran and Lebanon. Between 1990 and 1992 nearly 900,000 people from former Yugoslavia, Romania, or Turkey sought asylum in a united Germany.[32] In 1992, 438,000 applied, and Germany admitted almost 70 percent of all asylum seekers registered in the European Community.[33] By comparison, in 1992 only about 100,000 people sought asylum in the U.S.[34] The growing numbers of asylum seekers led to a constitutional change severely restricting the previously unqualified right of asylum, that former "refugees [had] held sacred because of their reliance on it to escape the Nazi regime".[33]:159 In December 1992, the Bundestag passed legislation amending the Basic Law, in which article 16 was changed to 16a.[33] Persons entering Germany save from third countries were no longer granted asylum, and applications from nationals of so-called safe third countries of origin were refused.[35] As of 2008, the numbers of asylum seekers had dropped significantly.[36]:16


Due to the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars, a rising number of refugees headed to Germany and other European countries.[37] Though only about 5 percent of the asylum applications were approved and appeals sometimes took years to be processed, many asylum seekers were able to stay in Germany and received financial and social aid from the government.[32][38]As of 2013, the approval rate was about 30 percent, and 127,000 people sought asylum.[39] During 2014 a total of about 202,834 people sought asylum in Germany.[40] Even more asylum seekers will be expected for 2015 with more than 800,000 people.[41] Mainly in 2015 there has been massively wrong information especially in some African, Arabic etc., media channels concerning the conditions of coming to and living in Germany. False promises of money, easy living and easy jobs were made.

As of 2014, about 16.3 million people with an immigrant background were living in Germany, accounting for every fifth person[39] Of those 16.3 million, 8.2 million had no German citizenship, more than ever before. Most of them had Turkish, Eastern European or Southern European background. The majority of new foreigners coming to Germany in 2014 were from new EU member states such as Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia or from the Middle East and Africa. Due to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, many people are hoping to seek asylum in the European Union and Germany.[42] The vast majority of immigrants are residing in the so-called old states of Germany.[43][44]

Refugee, asylum and illegal immigration crisis

Police intercepts refugees and potential illegal immigrants at Munich Central Station
Refugees stuck in Salzburg (Austria) on their way to Germany in September 2015.

In 2014 more than 276,000 people entered illegally into the European Union, an increase of 138% from 2013.[45] Since the numbers of asylum applications and illegal immigration to Europe and especially Germany rose tremendously from 2013 onwards, the situation for them in Europe and Germany in many cases is not good and refugee camps are completely overcrowded.[46]

On March 20, 2015 the Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany stated that the average duration of the assessment of an asylum application of about 5 12 months is too long. Because there are often problems with the identification of refugees, finger print scans will be introduced, and individuals will be checked in more detail to identify their true place of origin.[47] As there is a high burden for the several German States, the Federal Minister of the Interior also claims to deport faster illegals and individuals with denied asylum applications.[48]

The original prediction of about 450,000 asylum seekers for 2015 in Germany is corrected to potentially over 800,000 people, which is almost double the number of the previous prediction for this year and four times the amount of the prior year.[41] In a letter written by the Germany Vice-Chancellor of Germany to his fellow party members, the number of 800.000 potential refugees was raised again, now up to over 1,000,000 refugees for Germany.[49] The Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs said that alleged refugees and illegals, especially from the Western Balkans area who have quite no chance to stay in Germany have to be sent back to their place of origin as soon as possible.[50] The number of asylum seekers from the Western Balkans area has dramatically increased during the last year. A possible reason can be the increased time for application processes. The refugees from the Western Balkans area especially from Kosovo see that as an opportunity, since they can stay longer and make most of their time, as the application needs longer to be processed.EU Asylum Policy 0.pdf Furthermore, the deportation of illegal residents in Germany has almost doubled in the first 6 month in comparison to the same period in the prior year.[51]

Immigration regulations

EU citizens

European Union free movement of workers principles require that all EU member state citizens have the right to solicit and obtain work in Germany free from discrimination on the basis of citizenship Treaty on European Union Article 39 providing basic rules for Freedom of movement for workers. (see also Directive 2004/38/EC on the right to move and reside freely). However, citizens of Croatia are exempt from the free movement of workers principle for a transition period of no more than 7 years (ending 2020), after the country's EU Accession in 2013.[52] (see for more details 2013 enlargement of the European Union#Post-accession access to free movement in other EU member states)

Immigration options for non-EU citizens

Immigration to Germany as a non-EU-citizen is still limited to skilled workers (individuals with either a university or polytechnic degree or at least 3 years of training together with job experience), students and their immediate family members. Germany has 3 types of immigration titles: Visas (validity of up to 90 days), (temporary) residence permits, and settlement permits (permanent residence permits). Work permits, if granted, are no longer issued independently but included within the immigration title and are available for foreigners that either fall into one of the several available permit categories (IT specialists, company trained specialist within a group of companies, managing personnel, scientists, highly skilled workers with exceptional income, etc.) or can prove a public interest in the employment. The categories and all requirements are listed in the ordinance on employment.[53]

The former information technology(IT)Greencard program has been updated with a specific category within the ordinance on employment that allows IT specialists with a university or polytechnic degree to migrate to Germany for employment. Self-employment requires either an initial investment of EUR 250,000 and the creation of a minimum 5 jobs[54] or the support of the local chambers of commerce or similar organizations that confirm the business plan' s socioeconomic value for the region.

After obtaining a university degree in Germany, foreign students may stay for one additional year to find a job that matches their qualifications.

Plans were discussed in 2009 to open the labour market for all foreigners holding a university degree, that have a specific job offer and for all graduates of German schools, including those located abroad.

Any person married to a German citizen or being a parent of a German minor may immigrate to Germany.

Immigrants need to be either enrolled in a school or university, have a specific job offer that fits the requirements of one of the work permit categories or intend to reunify with close family (spouse or minors) already residing in Germany (family reunification visa).

Business visa

Business visas are available for 90 days within every 6 months. Although it is possible to act as managing director, teacher, university scientist, sportsperson, actor, model or journalist on the basis of a business visa, businesspersons may only attend contract negotiations and buy or sell goods for an employer abroad. All other economic activity is considered work and must not be performed on the basis of a business visa.

Germany is offering two different types of work or business visa categories: employment visa and self-employment visa.[55]

Student visa

In Germany, there are student applicant visas and student visas. The former can be applied for when the admission to a university is not yet completed, and lasts for three months, which can be extended up to six months. When a student visa is granted, the application for an extended residence permit should follow at the respective university office. This is relevant for non-EU citizens and all students who intend to stay longer than 90 days.[56][57] While applying for a German national visa it is necessary for foreign student prepare in advance with documents that need to be submitted[58]

In general, public German universities don't charge tuition fees. This usually also applies to foreign students.[59] The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides support for international students and academic cooperation.

After graduating, citizens of the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA) have free access to the German job market. Graduates from other countries can extend their residence permit for up to 18 months to look for employment. While many employers prefer proper German-language skills, there is also a great variety of English-language and globalised jobs in Germany, especially in multinational companies, many startups and in research fields.[60][61] According to a study of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), around 54 percent of foreign students in Germany decide to stay after graduation.[62]

Asylum seekers and refugees

German asylum law is based on the 1993 amendment of article 16a of the Basic Law as well as on the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

In accordance with the Geneva Convention on Refugees, Germany grants refugee status to persons that are facing prosecution because of their race, religion, nationality or belonging to a special group. Since 2005, recognized refugees enjoy the same rights as people who were granted asylum.[63]

Distribution of refugees within the federal states has been accomplished by the annually recalculated "Königsteiner Schlüssel".[64]

Germany hosts one of the largest populations of Turkish people outside Turkey. Kurds make up 80 to 90 percent of all Turkish refugees in Germany.[65][66][67]


A person who has immigrated to Germany may choose to become a German citizen. A right to become a German citizen (Anspruchseinbürgerung) arises when a person:[68]:19

In the first three cases, the exemption is of right, in the fourth and fifth cases, an application for permission to retain the nationality of origin must be made prior to naturalisation. Typical examples of the fourth and fifth cases include where a person would be unable to inherit real property in the country of origin. (Particular problems have arisen in this regard with, e.g. Turkish applicants, in the past).

A person who does not have a right to naturalisation may nonetheless acquire German nationality by discretionary naturalisation (Ermessenseinbürgerung). The applicant must fulfill certain minimum requirements.[68]:38

Spouses and same-sex civil partners of German citizens may also be naturalised after only 3 years of residence (and two years of marriage).[68]:42

Under certain conditions children born on German soil after the year 1990 are automatically granted German citizenship and, in most cases, also hold the citizenship of their parents' home country.

Applications for naturalisation made outside Germany are possible under certain circumstances, but are relatively rare.

Immigrant population in Germany by country of birth

Further information: Demographics of Germany

According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany in 2012, 92% of residents (73.9 million) in Germany had German citizenship,[69] with 80% of the population being Germans (64.7 million) having no immigrant background. Of the 20% (16.3 million) people with immigrant background, 3.0 million (3.7%) had Turkish, 1.5 million (1.9%) Polish, 1.2 million (1.5%) Russian and 0.85 million (0.9%) Italian background.[70]

In 2014, most people without German citizenship were Turkish (1.52 million), followed by Polish (0.67 million), Italian (0.57 million), Romanians (0.36 million) and Greek citizens (0.32 million).[71]

As of 2015, the numbers of selected groups of resident foreign nationals in Germany were as follows:[72]

Rank Nationality Population


1 Turkey 1,506,113
2 Poland 740,962
3 Italy 596,127
4 Romania 452,718
5 Syria 366,556
6 Greece 339,931
7 Croatia 297,895
8 Serbia 260,212
9 Russia 230,994
10 Bulgaria 226,926
11 Kosovo 208,613
12 Austria 181,756
13 Hungary 178,221
14 Bosnia and Herzegovina 167,975
15 Spain 155,918
16 Netherlands 147,322
17 Iraq 136,399
18 Portugal 133,929
19 Ukraine 133,774
20 Afghanistan 131,454
21 France 126,739
22 China 119,590
23 United States 111,529
24 United Kingdom 105,965
25 Macedonia 95,976
26 Vietnam 87,214
27 India 86,324
28 Iran 72,531
29 Morocco 72,129
30 Albania 69,532
31 Pakistan 61,720
0unknown 61,221
32 Thailand 58,784
33 Czech Republic 53,908
34 Slovakia 50,889
35 Kazakhstan 46,344
36 Lithuania 43,057
37  Switzerland 39,780
38 Brazil 38,650
39 Nigeria 37,404
40 Lebanon 37,160
41 Japan 35,004
42 Eritrea 31,100
43 Tunisia 30,696
44 South Korea 30,243
45 Latvia 30,157
46 Ghana 29,590
47 Slovenia 27,222
48 Belgium 26,613
49 Sri Lanka 25,759
50 Somalia 23,350
51 Egypt 22,979
52 Montenegro 22,773
53 Georgia 22,030
54 Belarus 21,151
55 Philippines 21,007
56 Denmark 20,828
57 Algeria 20,505
58 Sweden 19,305
59 Cameroon 19,800
60 Armenia 19,222
61 Azerbaijan 18,766
62 Luxembourg 16,848
63 Indonesia 16,738
64 Finland 14,580
65 Ethiopia 14,510
66 Mexico 14,204
67 Colombia 13,992
68 Libya 13,123
69 Ireland 13,108
70 Moldova 14,815
71 Israel 12,835
72 Australia 12,295
73 Senegal 12,090
74 Democratic Republic of the Congo 10,688
75 Kenya 10,395
76 Togo 10,071
77 Jordan 10,041
78 Republic of Congo 8,891
79 Chile 6,976
80 Taiwan 6,705
81 Guinea 6,608
82 Norway 6,536
83 Gambia 6,362
84 Estonia 6,286
85 Uganda 5,599
86 Angola 5,611
87 Sudan 5,400
88 South Africa 5,308
89 Rwanda 4,888
90 Argentina 4,791
91 Palestine 4,596
92 Tanzania 3,688
93 Zambia 2,480
94 Liberia 1,998
95 Burundi 2,119
96 Sierra Leone 2,111
97 Cyprus 1,998
98 Iceland1,503
99 Djibouti1,213
100 Malta610
101 Liechtenstein251

Comparison with other European Union countries

According to Eurostat 47.3 million people lived in the European Union in 2010, who were born outside their resident country which corresponds to 9.4% of the total EU population. Of these, 31.4 million (6.3%) were born outside the EU and 16.0 million (3.2%) were born in another EU member state. The largest absolute numbers of people born outside the EU were in Germany (6.4 million), France (5.1 million), the United Kingdom (4.7 million), Spain (4.1 million), Italy (3.2 million), and the Netherlands (1.4 million).[74]

Country Total population
Total foreign-born
% Born in other EU state
% Born in a non-EU state
EU 27501,09847,3489.415,9803.231,3686.3
United Kingdom62,0087,01211.32,2453.64,7687.7
Belgium (2007)10,6661,38012.96956.56856.4

See also


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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Immigration in Germany.


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German Foreign Office
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Legal Guide to Germany
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Information for moving to and working in Germany for immigrants
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