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Governance of migrant integration in Germany

In the 1950s and 1960s, following the industrial boom, Germany signed bilateral agreements with countries such as Italy and Turkey to recruit foreign workforce. Large-scale family reunification began in the late 1960s and early 1970s but it was not until in 1978 that the federal government appointed a commissioner for the integration of foreign workers and their family members which led to a consensus among all major parties that Germany became a country of immigration.

The statistics in the chart above are based on Eurostat's Non-national population by group of citizenship, 1 January 2020, with third-country nationals (TCNs) counting 6.009,3 million and representing 7.2% of Germany’s population. EU citizens make up another 5.3%.

Additionally, on 1 January 2017, 5.76 million TCNs were living in Germany, according to Statistisches Bundesamt. They represented 7% of the total population. Most came from Turkey, Syria and Russia.

At that time, 1.8 million of them had valid temporary residence permits and 2.5 million were permanent residents. The remaining TCNs had permits for specific purposes. Out of the 1.8 million permits issued in 2016, 694,605 were for family reasons, 633,625 for international or humanitarian protection, and 200,665 for education. In addition, approximately 10 million German citizens come from a foreign background, and 40,421 TCNs naturalised in 2016.

Integration strategy

By establishing a commissioner for integration in 1978, the federal government acknowledged that an increasing number of temporary guest workers had permanently settled in Germany.

This laid the foundation at the start of the new millennium for the government’s first large-scale reform of the immigration system in 2005 and the establishment of a systematic integration policy.

To foster the inclusion of migrants, German governments have so far set up 2 integration plans.

The National Integration Plan of 2007 focused on education, training, employment, and cultural integration, while the National Action Plan on Integration of 2012 created instruments to render the results of the integration policy measurable. It included general objectives, timeframes, as well as indicators to verify the attainment of the set goals:

  • optimising individual support provided to young migrants
  • improving the recognition of foreign degrees
  • increasing the share of migrants in the civil service of federal and state governments
  • providing health care and care to migrants.

Later, the Meseberg Declaration on Integration adopted by the federal cabinet in May 2016 outlined the government policy (and a draft legislation, see below) based on a 2-ways principle: offering support, training and job opportunities to foreigners but also requiring efforts in return and highlighting their duties (Fördern und Fordern).

Provided services are modular, target various immigrant groups and involve almost all the federal ministries for employment, education and social integration.

In 2018, the National Action Plan on Integration was expanded as part of the 10th Integration Summit in 2018. Five phases of migration and integration were elaborated:

  1. pre-immigration phase: managing expectations - providing orientation 
  2. initial integration phase: facilitating arrival - communicating values
  3. integration phase: enabling participation - demanding and promoting performance
  4. phase of growing together: shaping diversity - securing unity
  5. phase of cohesion: strengthening cohesion - shaping the future

The so-called National Action Plan is designed as a process involving the whole of society, and is being developed jointly by the federal government, the states, local authorities and non-governmental actors, especially migrant organisations. More than 300 different participants are involved.

Furthermore, between 2019 and 2021, the Expert Commission on the Framework Conditions for Integration Capability was created by the federal government to address a wide range of topics in the field of migration and integration. The result is a report which clarifies the dynamics in the integration field, advocates an understanding of integration as a benefit for the whole of society, and contains a wealth of recommendations on how policy-makers and others can work together to better shape the immigration society.

Integration programme

Although the integration plan already provision for integration courses provided by the federal government, Germany introduced its nation-wide Integration Programme in 2010. The main goal was to standardise the large number of co-existing integration measures taken by the federal, state and local governments. The result is a needs-based orientation programme and greater coordination between integration offers. The programme is an entitlement and includes language courses, civic education and vocational training.


The National Action Plan on Integration is an ongoing project. There are reports on each phase that has already been processed:


Law on foreigners

The German Immigration Act, enacted in 2005, contains provisions on the entry and residence of foreign nationals on the federal territory, as well as on the asylum procedure. It was reformed in 2007 to, among other changes, translate 11 EU directives, combat fake and forced marriages, and facilitate the residence of entrepreneurs.

Most recently, the Immigration Act for Skilled Workers came into force on 1 March 2020, and is meant to boost the immigration of qualified individuals from abroad. Now it's easier for skilled workers with vocational, non-academic training from non-EU countries to migrate to Germany in order to work.

Asylum law

A dedicated Asylum Act was adopted in 2015 to regulate the legal status of refugees and asylum seekers. It amends and replaces the previous Asylum Procedure Act.

Integration law

The Integration Act of 2016 is Germany’s first integration legislation at the federal level. It aims at facilitating the integration of refugees and is therefore accompanied by the Ordinance on the Integration Course which details the implementation of the integration system based on a “support and demand” (Fördern und Fordern) approach.

In addition, the Recognition Act which regulates the fast recognition of qualifications and skills of Third Country Nationals entered into force on 1 April 2012.

Citizenship law

The Nationality Act of 2000 regulates the acquisition of German citizenship and introduces the so-called Optionspflicht for children born in Germany to foreign nationals. This means that they can acquire German citizenship at birth (in addition to the foreign citizenship of their parents), if at least 1 of their parents has lived legally in Germany for at least 8 years and had permanent residence at the time of the child's birth. However, these naturalised citizens will have to choose between the German and the foreign citizenship their 21st birthday. The amendment of 20 December 2014 waves this obligation for EU and Swiss citizens.

Anti-discrimination law

The General Act on Equal Treatment of 2006 regulates the fight against discrimination in employment and civil law. It incorporates 4 anti-discrimination EU directives into German law.

Public authorities

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) of the interior ministry leads the governance of asylum, migration and integration issues in Germany. It is in charge of the asylum procedure, the promotion and coordination of integration measures, and data collection and research, while local actors are often responsible for implementing BAMF's measures.

In addition, the Federal Employment Agency, a self-administered public body, is in charge of integrating persons into the labour market, while the commissioner for migration, refugees and integration assists the federal government in developing its integration policy, as well as in promoting the coexistence of all residents of Germany.

Civil society

Civil society plays an important role in the integration process. Since 2006, the federal chancellery organises an Integration Summit (Integrationsgipfel) in which all integration stakeholders participate: from representatives of the federal government and media to trade unions and migrant associations. The first summit resulted in the decision to compile Germany’s first national integration plan, published a year later. The summit is since been organised on a yearly basis, usually with one central thematic focus.

In March 2021, the 13th Integration Summit was held with the participation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Many civic initiatives also assist migrants in all areas of life, especially since the unprecedented arrivals of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016. The Refugees Welcome housing project for example is now a cross-border platform represented in nearly half of the EU countries.


Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several EU funds. The federal government also provides funding for integration and job-related language courses, migration counselling services, labour market integration measures, recognition of professional qualifications, as well as many other integration measures and projects. Some aspects of integration policy, such as education, fall within the responsibility of the Lander. Furthermore, the municipalities also bear a considerable amount of integration cost.

EU funds

The information below has been updated with information for the 2021-2027 funding period where available.

The Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in Germany

  • Details: For Germany, a total of approximately €1.5 billion is expected to be available through AMIF for relevant projects over the 2021-2027 funding period, as well as €500 million for measures under the fund's thematic facility (resettlement and admission for humanitarian reasons, resettlement of persons in need of protection from one EU country to another). German AMIF Programme.
  • National managing authority: The national managing authority for AMIF in Germany is the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) in Germany

  • Details: The ESF, now ESF+, will continue to be the EU's most important financing instrument for investments in people. A total of around €2.3 billion will be made available in Germany - read more here.
  • National managing authority: Several national and regional authorities oversee the implementation of ESF in Germany.

Other EU funds for integration available in Germany

ERASMUS+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe

National managing authority: There are three national authorities responsible for Erasmus+ in Germany

  • Federal Ministry of Education and Research
  • Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth
  • The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting regional imbalances

National managing authority: Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), offering material assistance to the most vulnerable or in need

National managing authority: There are two national authorities responsible for FEAD in Germany

Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs

Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), supporting the development of rural economies and communities

National managing authority: EAFRD is managed by the federal states.

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)

National managing authority: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (EMFF) supports coastal communities in diversifying their economies and finances projects that create jobs and improve quality of life along European coasts

Other funds

Other public funding in Germany

Federal states

Private funding in Germany

Other stakeholders and useful resources

Implementing the integration programme

Providing integration services

Publishing statistics

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