German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere recently said that “part of the pull-effect to Germany" for refugees was that "the benefits for refugees are quite high." But how much money do asylum seekers and refugees in Germany actually get?
In Germany, laws require that asylum seekers and refugees provide for themselves unless they are incapable to do so - if that’s the case, the state steps in to cover their basic needs: shelter, food, clothes, and the like. Here's what that means in detail:
Use own income and assets first
Asylum seekers are legally required to use their own assets for their expenses with the exception of 200 euros worth of assets as well as the assets they need for their work or education. This includes paying the state for services they use, such as rent and food in refugee shelters.
If asylum seekers have an income, they also have to pay for their expenses. They are required to use up to 75 percent of their net income to cover their living costs, such as rent and groceries.
Asylum seekers are generally allowed to work in Germany after three months after filing their paper work, with the permission of the local authorities. Many asylum seekers, however, struggle to find work in Germany and to receive work permits, so they depend on state aid. To counter criticism that people might abuse of the benefits system for asylum seekers, the federal government has sped up asylum procedures for “safe countries of origins," including countries such as Ghana, Albania and Kosovo. People from these countries are also not allowed to seek employment in Germany.
For those who have been granted asylum or subsidiary protection, the same rules apply that apply to Germans, broadly speaking: if they have a job or assets, they have to pay for their expenses themselves and pay taxes and dues to the social security services. If they have a particularly low paying job and no assets, then the state will subsidize their income by e.g. paying part of their rent, health insurance and the like. If they don’t have a job, they receive welfare.
What the state pays people who’ve been granted asylum
Many refugees at least initially struggle to find work in Germany and have to depend on welfare.
The so-called unemployment money II (AG II) is meant to cover the basic living expenses and needs of people who have not recently paid into unemployment funds. How much AG II people get depends on a person’s family status and living situation and how high average living expenses are where they live.
Currently, a single adult receives € 408/month on average for everything but rent and health insurance, which the state pays for. AG II recipients can also apply for extra funds e.g. for the basic furnishing of their apartment or if their child is going on a class trip. The state usually pays enough rent for someone on AG II to live in a reasonably sized apartment, but not enough to live in any sought-after neighborhood, leaving most refugees to find apartments in less popular outer boroughs. To give two examples: In Bonn, a city in central western Germany with comparatively high living costs, a person living alone receives up to 487 €/month plus heating expenses. In Berlin, it’s 365 €/month for singles, 437 €/month for two people living together, plus utilities.
This leaves many refugees with a net income of less than 60 percent of the average German income (917 € and 1530€ for a single person), and thus below the poverty line.
What the state pays asylum seekers
According to Germany's Asylum-Seekers' Benefits Act, the state has to provide accommodation, food, toiletries, clothes, necessary household items and "benefits to cover personal needs in everyday life,” like a telephone card to communicate with family left back home, to asylum seekers.
While an asylum seeker is living in a so-called “Aufnahmeeinrichtung” (a reception center refugees are initially required to live in), the law states that these needs are to be fulfilled with goods and services rather than with cash, as long as this does not require unreasonable administrative effort. Depending which state of Germany's 16 states refugees are assigned to, this might mean that asylum seekers only get vouchers and goods to cover their “personal needs in everyday life” (e.g. in Bavaria) or that they get a cash allowance of up to €135/month for a single adult, €122/month for an adult living together with a partner and between €76 and €83 per month for a child, depending on how old they are.
Once asylum seekers move out of the reception center, the state pays for their accommodation and essential household items, but might provide a larger cash allowance so the asylum seekers can e.g. buy and cook their own food. These allowances range from 216 €/month for a single adult to 133 € for a child age six or younger.
If an asylum seeker has waited for over 15 months to get a result on their asylum request without themselves delaying the process, they receive similar benefits as people who’ve been granted the right to stay.
German and integration classes for asylum seekers and refugees are also paid for by the state.