The number of ethnic Germans born abroad who immigrated to their ancestral homeland in 2003 was much lower than the previous year, and this downward trend is expected to continue, according to the German government.
Preliminary official figures show that about 72,000 "Aussiedler"—ethnic Germans, mainly from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—and their dependents came to Germany in 2003, Jochen Welt, the federal government's commissioner for Aussiedler affairs, told the press in December 2003. In 2002 and 2001, the corresponding numbers were approximately 90,000.
The number of applicants also decreased, Welt said. In 2003, about 46,000 ethnic Germans applied to immigrate to Germany. In 2002, this number was 66,833.
Large numbers of ethnic Germans lived in Eastern Europe and the territories of the former Soviet Union until World War II. Subsequent expulsions, discrimination, and deteriorating economic conditions led huge numbers to emigrate. Between 1950 and 1987, about 1.4 million ethnic Germans and their dependents came to Germany under special provisions. The flow increased dramatically as the Iron Curtain fell into tatters starting in the late 1980s, removing more barriers from their path. This immigration peaked in 1990, when nearly 400,000 Aussiedler immigrated to their ancestral homeland.
The total number of Aussiedler who have "returned" since 1987 is about three million. Over the years, this flow has shifted from Aussiedler born in Eastern European states such as Poland and Romania to those born in former territories of the Soviet Union, such as Kazakhstan. Since 1993, more than 90 percent of the total Aussiedler immigration has come from the territories of the former Soviet Union.
The number of ethnic Germans born and still living abroad in the wake of this massive "return" is unknown; Germany's Ministry of Interior estimates the number at around 1.5 million.
More Decline Predicted
In the years to come, even fewer Aussiedler are expected to settle in Germany, according to Welt. He attributed the drop in numbers mainly to Germany's policy of helping to improve conditions for Aussiedler in their countries of origin. The policy has "strengthened the Aussiedlers' will to stay" in the land of their birth rather than move to Germany, Welt said.
Discouraging the continued massive "return" of Aussiedler—now a central pillar of Germany's migration policy—involves vocational training, loans, language training, the establishment of cultural institutions and hospitals, and work among youth in communities of origin.
The policy of encouraging Aussiedler to stay put, and the quotas limiting their "return," emerged in the beginning of the 1990s. The quotas and measures may have been related to the fact that in this period, Germany's unemployment rates rose and post-reunification euphoria declined, and with it the public's enthusiasm for admitting more immigrants. But due to the extraordinarily high numbers of Aussiedler admitted in previous years, restrictive changes were already being discussed in political circles as early as 1989. Since 1990, in fact, Aussiedler have had to submit immigration applications from their countries of birth. Previously, they could even enter Germany illegally, and subsequently apply for and be granted citizenship rather easily. From 1993 to 1999, the Aussiedler quota was set at 225,000 people per year; this was subsequently reduced to 103,000. In 2000 and 2001, the immigration of ethnic Germans hovered at roughly 100,000 per year.
Welt did not address other factors that may have prompted the decrease, such as the failure of some applicants to pass the required German language exam.
Compared to other immigrants, Aussiedler enjoy certain privileges that are believed to foster their integration into society and the labor market. These privileges include assistance with language training, employment, and welfare. Nevertheless, Aussiedler, especially those who came during the 1990s, continue to face severe economic and social integration problems.
While the total number of immigrating Aussiedler and their dependents has decreased, Welt said, integration problems have increased. He attributed this, in part, to low German language skills among those admitted under the Aussiedler program, particularly among the dependents who now make up the majority of the flow.
In 2003, ethnic Germans made up approximately 20 percent of the immigrants admitted under the Aussiedler quota. The remaining 80 percent was made up of their dependent family members. This is in sharp contrast with 1993, when ethnic Germans made up approximately 75 percent of this flow, with the rest composed of family members.
Sufficient knowledge of German is a necessary precondition for social and vocational integration, Welt said, pointing to the situation of juvenile Aussiedler. The commissioner said these youths were "vulnerable to criminal activities and drug abuse, not least because they fail at school because they lack knowledge of German and they had to leave their country of origin and friends with their parents, against their will."
Welt called for a new immigration law that would address such concerns and require dependents to pass a test to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of German before they would be admitted to Germany.
Welt, a member of the ruling Social Democrats, urged the opposition Christian Democrats "to give a green light" to an immigration law that would tackle these issues.