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Does Germany welcome immigrants?

Every year, more immigrants arrive in Germany than in any other European country. Thousands come in the hope of finding work and a better life. Yet newcomers only remain if they feel comfortable. How do Germans currently feel about immigrants? Our survey provides some answers.

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Germans are getting used to the fact that the Federal Republic is a destination country for immigrants. That is one of the findings of a survey carried out by research institute TNS Emnid on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. More people in Germany now believe the country is welcoming of newcomers than was the case just a few years ago. Six out of ten people queried believe that immigrants receive a friendly welcome when they arrive. In 2012, the last time the survey was carried out, only half the respondents said that was true. Yet Germans remain unsure whether immigration benefits society or is detrimental to it. In addition, people in the country's east are more skeptical of immigrants than people in the west.

Higher expectations of both immigrants and society

People of both German and non-German heritage believe they live in a country that is becoming increasingly accepting of immigrants. Overall, 68 percent of the survey's respondents of non-German heritage and 73 percent of those of German heritage say that German authorities are welcoming to immigrants (2012: 57 and 66 percent, respectively). At the same time, people increasingly believe that immigrants should make an effort to integrate. For example, 97 percent say newcomers should try to get on well with the native population (2012: 88 percent), while 80 percent would like to see more civic engagement on the part of immigrants (2012: 72 percent).

The German population also feels, however, that more must be done to make newcomers feel welcome. In order to make it easier for immigrants to get a foothold, 82 percent of the respondents say the country's Federal Employment Agency should offer immigrants special assistance (2012: 68 percent). In addition, 76 percent believe it should be easier for immigrants to have their non-German educational degrees or qualifications recognized in Germany, and 62 percent are in favor of permanent residence permits (2012: 69 and 55 percent, respectively). Moreover, 56 percent believe Germany should make it easier for non-natives to become citizens and 54 percent say that laws should be passed to combat discrimination against immigrants (2012: 44 and 47 percent, respectively). 

"As a destination country for immigrants, Germany is becoming more mature. A mutual give-and-take is the prerequisite for successful integration."

Jörg Dräger, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

Germans remain divided when it comes to immigration's benefits. On the one hand, they recognize there are clear advantages, such as international business organizations choosing to locate in the country (68 percent). On the other hand, a majority associates immigrants with problems in schools (61 percent) and increased burdens on social welfare programs (64 percent). Moreover, 63 percent believe a general potential for conflict exists between the native population and newcomers.

People in the east more skeptical of immigration

People in the country's east have more reservations about immigrants than people in the west, regardless if the topic is problems in schools (east: 64 percent; west 61 percent), alleged burdens on social welfare programs (69 vs. 63 percent) or the potential for social conflict (73 vs. 61 percent). While in the west only one-third of respondents believe that the general population does not welcome immigrants, almost half in the east say this is true.

"The varied numbers of participants at anti-immigration demonstrations are a visible expression of the contrasting social currents in east and west."

Jörg Dräger, member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

At the same time, considerably fewer immigrants live in Germany's eastern states than in its western states. Moreover, because of demographic change, the eastern states will have an especially great need of immigrants in the future. The general population, however, does not sufficiently appreciate the impact demographic change will have. For example, more than one-fourth of the respondents believe that, without immigration, Germany's population will not shrink at all in coming decades or by one million people at most. In contrast, the Federal Statistical Office estimates that, without immigration, Germany's population will decline by more than 20 million people by 2060. Consequently, Germans are divided about which strategies should be used to help their aging society overcome the impending shortage of highly skilled labor. The survey shows that 34 percent believe Germany should recruit more highly skilled workers from abroad. In contrast, one in five believes there is no shortage of highly skilled workers.