The End of Multiculturalism? Immigration and Integration in Germany and the United Kingdom

By Laura Muchowiecka
2013, Vol. 5 No. 06 | pg. 3/12 |

Guest workers – “We wanted a labour force, but human beings came”

The other large group of immigrants was formed by the so-called guest workers (Gastarbeiter) together with their families and offspring. Although the inflow of the foreign workers spanned primarily between 1955 and 1973, the impact of their arrival has proved to be a far-reaching demographical and social process, the consequences of which are still a huge issue in the contemporary German society. “We wanted a labour force, but human beings came” – although the statement of Max Frisch referred to immigration in Switzerland, it does accurately convey the story of Gastarbeiter in Germany too.

It all started in the mid 50s, when West Germany experienced an ‘economic miracle’ (Wirtschaftswunder), which led to a rapid increase of labour demand. It became apparent that without additional workers in some branches of industry the economical success of Germany would not go ahead. To this end bilateral agreements with several countries within two decades were signed: Italy (1955), Spain and Greece (1960), Turkey (1961), Morocco (1963), Portugal (1964), Tunisia (1965) and Yugoslavia (1968).

Those agreements allowed citizens of the countries to be recruited particularly in low-qualified jobs. The number of foreign workers increased rapidly from 95 000 in 1956 to 1.3 million by 1966.21 Then, due to the recession in 1966/1967, the foreign influx temporarily declined. Based on the rotational model Gastarbeiter were expected to go back after one or two years and be replaced by the next ‘shift’ of workers, if such was the requirement of the market. This was the core idea of the gust workers: recruitment of a temporary foreign labour force that would not settle in Germany and as such its integration was not considered at all – partial accommodation was enough for those who were supposed just to fill the transitional post-war demographical deficiencies and labour shortages.22

However, rotational system, at first well accepted by all, failed. It turned to be inconvenient both to West German employers and foreign workers. The first group did not want to continuously arrange recruitment, training and socialisation process for new arriving staff, just because the 2-year long work permission of those already recruited expired. That is, employers realised it was uneconomical. In the criticism of the rotational system joined trade unions and some countries from the treaty. It all resulted in enforcing German government to give up the 2-year limit policy in the early 60sand to ease a possibility of renewal of a residence permit. Similarly, many guest workers themselves did not longer find a short stay in Germany beneficial. They did not manage to make as much savings as they had hoped before within two years.

A relatively high number of them not only ‘overstayed’ their visit but began to bring over their relatives. By1970 the tendencies of family reunions escalated and number of foreigners reached nearly 2.5 million. This applied above all to Turkish immigrants, whose home country’s labour market suffered unemployment.

Because of that, a law to advance the willingness to return home was introduced (Gesetz zur Förderungder Rückkehrbereitsschaft) in 1983.23Every person returning to the country of their origin received a so called Repatriation grant (Rückkehrprämie) for himself and for his spouse. The aim was to reduce the foreign resident population who were afflicted with unemployment. As a result around 150 000 foreign workers left Germany together with their families.24 Nevertheless, the gust workers remained the most culturally visible and discussed foreigner group in Germany.

Asylum seekers and war refugees­­– “different to us”

Another wave of immigrants has been asylum seekers and war refugees. According to the German Constitution, every person persecuted for political reasons has the right to asylum. Based on this statement, thousands of applicants have been granted asylum right since 1953. Annual figures depend greatly on the political affairs of other countries. Thus, the maximal number of asylum request came in during the Yugoslav Wars: in 1992 and 1993 more than 700 thousand people have applied to stay in Germany as refugees.25 Conversely in 2011 there were 53 347 asylum requests, from which 22,3% were accepted. Currently more than 34 000 asylum seekers live in Germany. The top ten countries of origin among refugees in 2012 (to 31.08.2012) are Afghanistan (14,4%), Iraq (10,6%) and Syria (8,9%).26

What is the public opinion about this foreign social group? Based on the studies conducted by the Leibnitz Institute for the Social Science, the vast majority of respondents thinks that difference in lifestyle of asylum seekers compared to Germans is strong or very strong (altogether 58,5%).27 What is more, 57% claims that a marriage of asylum seekers into their family would be unpleasant or very unpleasant (see figure 1). Similarly to Great Britain, they are least accepted immigrant group among all.

A8 citizens

The interior immigration (from other Member States of the European Union) is becoming increasingly intense both in Germany and in Great Britain. Nearly one million of immigrants moved to Germany in 2011, which is 20% more than in the previous year.28This immigration was the largest influx of foreigners within 15 years.29 The main group of foreigners was neither from Turkey, as in the previous years, nor from countries most affected by euro crisis such as Greece or Spain, but from the new EU member states, so called EU-8 + 2 (that is: Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and additionally Romania and Bulgaria). Most of newcomers come from Poland and Romania.

The influx is strictly related to the date of 1st May 2011, which marked the removal of restrictions on the right to work. In other words: that day freedom of movement for workers came into effect in Germany. The German government had concerns about the impact of the total liberalization of the free movement of labour and used the option of limiting the rights of free movement for the new countries. It was postponed for seven years from the date of accession of A8 in 2004. Both Austria and Germany introduced the transitional arrangements, so called ‘2+3+2 model’.

The transitional arrangements covered 3 phases. For the first two years countries do not open their labour markets and citizens of new states must apply for the work permit (except when a country decides to take the option of opening the market instantly, like the UK, Sweden and Ireland did). After that, countries can continue the restrictions, if they provide substantiation of such a decision (serious disturbances of the economic balance of their labour market) for the next three years. If the countries want to extend this period, they are allowed to do so up to two more years, provided that they prove to the Commission that it is necessary. There are only two countries – Germany and Austria – which restricted the right of free movement to the maximum 7-year period that just expired in May 2011.

The reason why those two countries took the longest transition phase is explained by their strong concerns about the large-scale immigration. In 2004 Germany and Austria were frightened that due to the high number of employees the competition on the labour market and the unemployment would be on the rise and the wages would decrease. Some institutions (e.g. Das Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung – ifo) warned against the mass immigration.

The scenario turned to be a bit exaggerated. The massive immigration did not happen. However, it was possible to notice an increase in the number of newcomers. In the months between May and October 2011 there was an increase of immigrants compared to the previous year. While in 2010 in this period only about 30 000 people came to Germany, in 2011 it was more than 76 000.30

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