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New Law Library Report on the Development of Migration and Citizenship Law in Postwar Germany

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In 2015, there were slightly over 17 million people in Germany with a “migrant background”, accounting for 21% of the country’s total population. A person with a “migrant background” is defined by the German Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) as someone who was not born a German citizen or who has at least one parent who was not born with German citizenship. This includes foreigners, naturalized Germans, ethnic German resettlers, and descendants of these groups.

Emigrant party on the road to California. Wagon train of women, men, and children, moving through the mountains. 1850. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Significant postwar migration into Germany started in the 1950s. Refugees, expellees, and emigrants were allowed to immigrate to West Germany because of their German heritage and because they were fleeing discrimination or persecution in the former communist “Eastern bloc” (ethnic German resettlers). On the other hand, there was actively planned labor migration into West Germany (guest workers) to address the labor shortage that resulted from the economic boom. Guest workers were recruited from GreeceItaly, Morocco, Portugal, SpainTurkeyTunisia, and the former Yugoslavia until the programs were discontinued in 1973. Many of them opted to stay in Germany instead of returning to their home countries. Despite that fact, the German government was reluctant to admit that Germany had in fact become an immigration country.

The rising number of asylum seekers and immigrants in the late 1980s made migration policy a focus of the federal elections in 1990 which ultimately led to an amendment of the until then unrestricted right to asylum for political persecution. The biggest overhaul of the legal migration and citizenship framework took place in 2005 when the Migration Act was adopted. That new legal framework was amended several times over the coming years. The current large numbers of immigrants coming to Germany - a total of 2.14 million people in 2015 – necessitated more changes to the legal framework, in particular to better integrate refugees into German society.

A recently published Law Library of Congress report titled “Germany: The Development of Migration and Citizenship Law in Postwar Germany” describes the development of migration and citizenship law in postwar Germany. The report provides an overview of the legislation and political background from the 1950s to the latest amendment to the migration framework, the Integration Act, which entered into force in August 2016. It also covers legislation applicable to the migration of EU citizens into Germany regarding freedom of movement for workers and freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services.

We invite you to review this report along with the many other multinational and single country reports, including several on Immigration, Nationality, and Citizenship, available on the Law Library’s website. To receive alerts when a new report is published, you can subscribe to email updates and the RSS feed for our Law Library Reports (click the “subscribe” button on the Law Library’s website).

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