Deal reached onimmigration law

17th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

17 June 2004, BERLIN - Ending more than four years of often heated debate, Germany's Social Democrats-Greens government and the conservative opposition finalised a legislative bill Thursday for major reforms in the country's immigration rules.

17 June 2004

BERLIN - Ending more than four years of often heated debate, Germany's Social Democrats-Greens government and the conservative opposition finalised a legislative bill Thursday for major reforms in the country's immigration rules.

The new immigration law covers enticements to highly skilled foreigners, calls for better efforts to integrate foreigners in German society, reforms the rules on granting asylum on humanitarian grounds and paves the way for quicker ways to expel those foreigners deemed to be a security threat.

The final details of the text were worked out by Interior Minister Otto Schily and opposition politicians Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Saarland Premier Peter Mueller of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Emerging from the meeting in Berlin, Schily said that a "practicable compromise" had been found in what was an "historical change" in Germany's immigration legislation.

He said the new law for the first time is a recognition "that we have immigration in our society and will continue to have it". What is important is that there will be a "controlled" immigration.

The draft bill must pass the federal parliament, the Bundestag, as well as the opposition-controlled federal assembly representing the 16 states, the Bundesrat.

The breakthrough in the slow tortuous process towards the new legislation had come on 25 May when Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder held top-level talks with CDU leader Angela Merkel and CSU leader and Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber to reach a bipartisan compromise.

Given Germany's declining birth rates and ageing population, all parties agreed on the need for the country to permit immigration, particularly of skilled persons.

But the debate between the government and conservative opposition often got sidetracked by security issues, especially in light of activities of Islamic fundamentalists in the country. The conservative camp insisted on rules to make it easier to expel foreigners deemed to pose a security threat.

The overall debate was triggered in February 2000 when, at the height of the New Economy boom and with Germany facing a shortage of information technology expertise, Schroeder first proposed a "Green Card" system to entice foreign experts.

After studies by a commission on Germany's demographic needs, the Berlin cabinet passed its first immigration draft legislation in November 2001. The law was approved by the Bundestag in March 2002, and then passed in a controversial vote in the Bundesrat.

But the opposition challenged that vote on procedural grounds and won a supreme court verdict to overturn it in December 2002. In January 2003, the Berlin government then drafted a new law.

This passed the Bundestag in May 2003, but was promptly vetoed by the opposition-controlled Bundesrat the next month. Since then, the draft bill has been in mediation, finally gaining the approval of all the parties on Thursday.

For many observers of Germany's dealings with its own foreign population, the legislative proposals on improving integration posed one of the most interesting aspects.

The Berlin government agreed to pick up most of the tab on language courses to help foreigners become more quickly involved in German society, with Schily saying the costs would come to between EUR 215 and 235 million.

The courses are to be more or less mandatory for new immigrants, with the state permitted to impose sanctions - a 10 percent cutback in unemployment or social welfare support - for those who refuse to attend the language instruction.

DPA

Subject: German news

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