Migration and Integration

Nicole Lieb, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Relevance of the Practice

The integration of refugees has in the recent years become an urgent task in Germany due to the immigration of over 1 million people since the late summer of 2015. Due to the character of the integration task as primarily person –  and location-related, the focus of the task completion – at least after recognition as an asylum seeker – lies with the local governments.[1] This is where the urgently needed integration of the various tasks (education and training, social affairs, employment promotion, housing provision but also social participation) can most likely succeed (or fail). In the emerging ‘integration administrative law’ the local governments play a central role. At its core is the question of which level in the federal state can most effectively solve which task in the area of asylum and integration administration (first reception/asylum application processing/integration). An answer to this is always found in the tension between fundamental considerations with regard to the distribution of competences in the federal state and the existing administrative structures. The fact that only from January 2015 to June 2018 a total of 876,000 persons received a positive BAMF (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees) decision (in addition to persons whose deportations are suspended) demonstrates the need for action. This is also why the integration of new immigrants is the more protracted and fundamental task that requires more attention. Particularly with regard to various factors (security, peace and quiet, cleanliness, support from volunteers, mobility, job opportunities, housing) there are major differences between but also pros and cons of integration in the urban and the rural area.[2] Overall, it should be a high priority to create the same organizational conditions both for urban local governments (ULGs) and rural local governments (RLGs). If this is not so easy to accomplish for RLGs (with regard to their financial situation) on their own, intergovernmental relations can (or should) often give them a better starting position.

Description of the Practice

The BAMF is a central higher federal authority (Bundesoberbehörde) and was founded to ensure uniform application of the law, i.e. equal treatment of all asylum seekers. The task portfolio can be fundamentally divided into the two pillars ‘migration’ and ‘integration’. The migration-related tasks result mainly from the implementation of the asylum procedure (acceptance of applications, examination in the Dublin procedure, personal interview, decision on the application). In the field of integration, the BAMF has constantly expanded its range of tasks since the Immigration Act (Zuwanderungsgesetz) came into force in 2005. This includes in particular the nationwide responsibility for the two central language courses and the integration courses. The increasing expansion of competences is leading to concerns on the part of local governments that the BAMF could develop in the direction of a ‘Federal Integration Agency’ (Bundesintegrationsagentur). A coordination of language courses at local level can be seen as a better way of linking integration courses with measures for labor market integration that are also at local level. At federal level can also be found the Central Register of Foreigners (Ausländerzentralregister) which is a database where personal data records of foreigners are stored. Data are stored on foreigners in Germany who have or have had a residence permit, as well as on those who have applied for asylum, had applied for asylum or are recognized asylum seekers. The register is maintained by the BAMF. The Central Register of Foreigners is one of the most comprehensive automated registers of public administration in Germany. 6,500 partner authorities have access to this large database, including all immigration authorities, the BAMF, the federal government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration and the German police and customs services. The majority of the integration-related administrative tasks lie with the local governments as ‘Immigration Authority’ (Ausländerbehörde). Local integration includes all measures for the integration of refugees who either have a ‘good prospect of staying’ or are already recognized by the BAMF with regard to one of the forms of protection. Immigration Authorities are the municipalities themselves in urban regions and the counties with their county offices (Landratsämter) in rural areas.

Asylum procedures need to be completed as quickly as possible in order to obtain early clarity on the residence status of protection seekers. Anchor centers (AnkER) are certain reception centers for asylum seekers in Germany. The designation stands for ‘Centre for Arrival, Decision, Return’. Refugees are to be accommodated in an anchor center until they are distributed in communities or deported to their country of origin. In an anchor center, various authorities should work together, such as a youth welfare office or the BAMF. In principle, there is an ‘obligation to stay’. People with positive prospects of an asylum status are to be quickly distributed among the municipalities, the rest remaining in the anchor center until deportation or voluntary return. The responsibilities of establishing and operating the anchor centers lie in the administrative competence of the Länder.

In recent years, integration policy in the Länder has been significantly upgraded. In the meantime, one ministry in each Land is in charge of integration, and the Länder have created the office of a Commissioner for Foreigners and Integration almost nationwide. In addition, a large number of the Länder have so-called state advisory councils, which advise governments on integration policy issues. In addition, four Länder have enacted their own integration laws. An essential task of the Länder is the promotion of municipal integration tasks. Looking at the support measures of the Länder in detail, it becomes clear that the variety of support measures is hardly manageable and that the associated problem is that there is hardly any transparency about these various support options (‘support jungle’). There is a clear need for action with regard to the design of funding measures at Länder and federal level. The aim should be to dovetail and focus measures and to evaluate their effectiveness, as well as to enable a better overview (e.g. through a comprehensive funding portal). Many local governments have already had positive experiences with an integrated administrative unit for migration and integration. In essence, it is a question of bringing together the three areas of migration, integration and service and accommodation in one organizational unit. Integration is a ‘cross-cutting task’, which leads to the visibility of many different fields of law and to the competence of different administrative bodies and authorities. It is precisely for this reason that coordination between the federal government, the Länder and the local governments is indispensable (as a tri-level mechanism). Integration is primarily a personal task. Both with regard to the (individual) person to be integrated and with regard to the integration environment, i.e. the persons or the collective into which the integration takes place. Within the Länder, it is the municipalities to which all the integration tasks of the Immigration Authority are assigned, but above all the tasks of child day care, school sponsorship, social assistance or basic security (there and in vocational training projects in cooperation with the Federal Employment Agency), child and youth welfare, urban planning and housing, as well as cultural work and adult education center sponsorship.

Assessment of the Practice

The opinions, in which area – urban or rural – refugees are better integrated, divide. On the one hand, the urban areas offer more jobs and, in general, a better variety of activities. On the other hand, there are better housing options in the rural area (housing bottlenecks in large cities) and a more communal atmosphere than the anonymity-driven metropolitan areas. The manageable size of rural local governments (RLGs) and the proximity and intensity of living together can also have a positive effect on integration, in that old-established residents and immigrants meet and cooperate with each other in everyday life much more frequently than is the case in urban local governments (ULGs). In local kindergartens and schools, there is a good mix of children from the different groups of origin. In small RLGs, civil society actors and institutions – volunteers, associations, churches and other religious communities – play a key role in the integration of immigrants. Here too, geographical proximity creates far more opportunities for cooperation than in sprawling structures of a large ULG.

In summary, it is a fact that integration takes place on site. Therefore, the role of the local governments as central actors in the integration process and as bearers of important integration offers must be further strengthened, but also be adapted to local (urban or rural) needs. The BAMF must be limited to its existing competencies and must not develop into a ‘Federal Integration Agency’ because that would not have a positive impact on the efficiency of implementation. This is particularly true with regard to the integration courses. In order to enable such courses to start quickly and to coordinate them with other integration programs, the local governments must be given the opportunity to assign participants to a suitable course instead of the BAMF.[3] The integration administration represents a local task in the main focus. Another note can be added with regard to report section 6 of this report and the participation of citizens: In all Länder, even if only partially on an explicit legal basis, there are advisory committees or advisory boards in which foreigners living in the community can bundle and articulate their concerns. These foreigners’ advisory councils (Ausländerbeiräte) or, more recently, some ‘integration councils’ (Integrationsräte) are elected by the foreigners living in the community.

References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications

Bogumil J and others, Bessere Verwaltung in der Migrations- und Integrationspolitik – Handlungsempfehlungen für Verwaltungen und Gesetzgebung im föderalen System (Nomos 2018)

Bogumil J, Hafner J and Kastilan A, Städte und Gemeinden in der Flüchtlingspolitik. Welche Probleme gibt es – und wie kann man sie lösen? (Stiftung Mercator 2017)

Burgi M, ‘Das werdende Integrationsverwaltungsrecht und die Rolle der Kommunen‘ (2016) 131 DVBl 1015

[1] On the fact that the accommodation of asylum seekers is not a local task, see BVerwG NVwZ 1990, 1173; NVwZ 1994, 694.

[2] An interesting insight into the perspective of refugees with regard to integration in rural areas (in Bavaria) with practical comments can be found here: ‘Sicht der Geflüchteten auf ländliche Räume’ in Peter Mehl (ed), Aufnahme und Integration von Geflüchteten in ländliche Räume: Spezifika und (Forschungs-)herausforderungen  (Thünen Institut 2017) <https://www.thuenen.de/media/ti-themenfelder/Laendliche_Lebensverhaeltnisse/Thuenen-Arbeitsgruppe__Integration_von_Fluechtlingen_/Integration_als_Forschungs-_Herausforderung/5_TR53_Teil_II.pdf>.

[3] Detailed recommendations for future action at Jörg Bogumil and others, Bessere Verwaltung in der Migrations- und Integrationspolitik – Handlungsempfehlungen für Verwaltungen und Gesetzgebung im föderalen System (Nomos 2018) 289ff.