and its prophets: the new berlin wall
Germany is trapped
in an immigration paradox. What to do with the ‘foreign’ pros
including from India, says Matthias Becker
When Hirianto Wijaya
came to Germany four years ago, he received a warm welcome: ministers
were eager to shake his hand, press reporters asked for interviews, and
virtually everyone stressed that the computer expert from Indonesia was
an asset to the country’s economy. After his university studies
in the town of Aachen, Wijaya had applied for a permit to stay under the
new residency regulation, and was the first migrant to receive a so-called
Green Card. But now, Wijaya wants to leave again. “You cannot build
a career when you have to go after five years,” he says.
His complaints reflect the feelings of the 14,000 Green Card holders in
Germany. For many, the maximum limit of five years is a major flaw in
the government’s scheme. A residence permit can only be obtained
if the applicant has a specific job offer — and the permit ends
immediately with the loss of the job. Only after five years and a lengthy
bureaucratic process can a permanent permit be obtained.
This Green Card scheme, however, was originally intended only as a provisional
regulation “until a modernised immigration law will be in effect”.
There is still no general law that regulates immigration into Germany,
only a cluster of administrative regulations, most of them designed to
prevent permanent settlement. Not surprising that the ruling coalition
of Social Democrats and the Green Party campaigned heavily for a new immigration
law during the general elections in 1998. They won, but after six years
of intense negotiations, several drafts and a permanent media debate,
there is no compromise in sight.
The two camps remain entrenched. On one side is an unlikely coalition
of anti-racists, human rights activists, and the general left-liberal
public, together with entrepreneurs and their organisations; they support
a law that not only controls further immigration, but actively promotes
it. The CEOs of major German firms increasingly feel the need for a more
open labour market, and are afraid of losing the competition for brain
power against more migration-friendly countries like Great Britain or
the US. On the other side, many of the working and lower middle classes
are fearful of “yet more foreigners”.
The oppositional conservative parties can seldom resist the temptation
to play the popular race card. Ulrich Beckstein, politician of the conservative
Christlich-demokratischen Union, announced last week that he will only
support the new draft if “national security interests are taken
into account”, and calls for easier deportations of terror suspects.
For many Germans, immigration is still a topic connected with fear. Today
some 7.3 million non-Germans live in the country, mostly from Southern
Europe and Turkey. Many have settled, brought their families, and have
no intentions, and indeed no other place, to go. Daily life is separated
between them and the other 63 million ‘native’ Germans.
Two recent opinion polls show the prevailing attitude. When asked, “Are
you in favour of allowing qualified foreigners to come in order to work
here?”, a slim majority of 56 percent answered “Yes”.
However, confronted with the question “Are you in favour of allowing
foreigners to migrate to Germany, if there is demand in the labour market?”,
the number shrank to only 45 percent. The population has a very specific
notion of what constitutes ‘good and bad migrants’, and the
key word is qualified. One group of migrants, therefore, will certainly
lose out in the new legislation: asylum seekers.
The question is how to select wanted and unwanted migrants, and how to
bring IT experts into the country, including from India, while rejecting
refugees from civil wars and ethnic violence. This will continue to concern
German minds for the next year, at least. But by this time, Hirianto Wijaya
will certainly have left the country.
The writer is a London-based journalist