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Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States. On 1 January 2005, a new immigration law came into effect that altered the legal method of immigration to Germany. The political background to the introduction of the new immigration law being that Germany for the first time ever acknowledged to be an "immigration country". Although the practical changes to the immigration procedures were relatively minor, new immigration categories like the ones for highly skilled professionals and scientists have been introduced to attract valuable professionals for the German labour market. The development within German immigration law clearly shows that immigration of skilled employees and academics is eased while the labour market remains closed for unskilled workers.
Recently, a new Europe-wide law has been passed, allowing high-skilled non-EU citizens easier access to work and live in Germany, after meeting certain requirements.
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In 2007, 91.2% (75.0 million) of residents in Germany had German citizenship, while 81% of the population were Germans with no immigrant background and 19% were German citizens with immigrant background (15.3 million people) Of the remaining 8.8% (7.2 million), 1.7 million (2.1%) had Turkish, 0.5 million (0.6%) Italian and 0.4 million (0.5%) Polish citizenship.
One of the biggest immigration waves 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 for 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 to reside"). Many of the descendants of those Gastarbeiter still live in Germany and many picked up German citizenship.
The GDR also recruited workers from outside its borders, but did so in a different way to the Federal Republic. The GDR criticized the Gastarbeiter policy, viewing it as 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. As a result of the differing policies used by each state, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification in 1990 many of the foreign workers within the GDR did not have legal status as immigrant workers, as they would be classified within the Western system. Consequently, many faced deportation, premature discontinuation of residence and work permits as well as open discrimination in the workplace.
According to Eurostat 47.3 million people lived in the European Union in 2010 who were born outside their resident country. This 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).
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European Union free movement of workers principles require that all 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). However, citizens of Bulgaria and Romania are exempt from the free movement of workers principle for a transition period of which the same will affect Croatia, after the country's EU Accession in 2013.
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 knows 3 types of immigration titles: Visa (validity of up to 90 days), residence permit and settlement permit (permanent residence). 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.
The formerly well known IT-Greencard program has been followed by the introduction of a specific category within the ordinance on employment that allows IT specialists with a university or polytechnic degree to migrate to Germany for employment purposes. Self-employment is also possible but requires either an initial investment of EUR 250,000 and the creation of a minimum 5 jobs or the support of the local chambers of commerce or similar organizations that confirm the socioeconomic value of the business plan for the region.
As Germany does not allow immigration without cause, it is necessary to be either enrolled with 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 within Germany (family reunification visa).
After obtaining a university degree, foreign students may stay for one year to find a job that matches their qualifications.
Plans are discussed to open the labour market in 2009 for all foreigners holding a university degree that have a specific job offer as well as for all graduates of German schools (including those located abroad).
Any person married to a German person or is a parent of a minor German child may immigrate to Germany.
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.
Until 1993 persons politically persecuted had the right to apply for asylum in Germany based on article 16 of the basic law. However, the growing numbers of asylum seekers in the late 1980s and early 1990s with a climax of over 400,000 applications in 1992 lead to a constitutional change. Article 16 was changed to 16a, which included tighter regulations. Persons entering Germany save from third countries were no longer allowed to receive asylum, also applicatons from nationals of so-called safe countries of origin were refused. The numbers of asylum seekers have dropped significantly since then.
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.
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:
(a) the applicant is a citizen of another European Union country, or the Swiss Confederation; (b) the applicant is a refugee, holding a 1951 convention travel document; (c) the applicant is a from country where experience shows that it is impossible or implies extreme difficulties to be released from nationality (i.e. Iran, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon); (d)such renunciation would cause the applicant serious economic harm; or (e) he possesses family ties with his former nationality that he can't renounce for either economical, political or personal reasons. 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 second case 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.
Spouses and same-sex civil partners of German citizens may also be naturalised after only 3 years of residence (and two years of marriage).
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.