Refugees at a German language course | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/H.Kaiser
Refugees at a German language course | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/H.Kaiser

Migrants in Germany are expected to learn the language and become familiar with the country's history, culture and legal system. That’s where integration courses come in. But what exactly are these courses, who can participate, and how many people are taking part?

According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) statistics, more than one million people have taken part in integration courses in Germany since the beginning of 2015, almost half of whom were refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Eritrea. Around 25 percent came from other non-EU countries, and the remaining 25 percent were participants from EU member states.

Over the last few years, the share of persons who completed the course with a B1 level has dropped from roughly 70 percent in 2015 to almost half last year. BAMF attributes the drop primarily to the changing composition of participants.

In an online statement from March this year, BAMF said that in recent years, there were more participants with a refugee background who had a greater “distance” to the language and, in some cases, first needed to learn Latin characters. The overall share of participants with a refugee background, however, is declining: While roughly 100,000 new participants from Syria started a course in 2017, that number dropped to close to 40,000 last year (or roughly 20 percent of all participants).

Experts from the Heinrich Böll Foundation and others criticized that the integration courses hadn’t been sufficiently adapted to the needs of the new course participants. Moreover, the study groups were too large given the educational requirements.

InfoMigrants has compiled key information about integration courses for migrants:

What are integration courses?

Introduced as part of the Immigration Act of 2005, integration courses are mandatory if “you cannot make yourself understood in German at a simple, adequate level.” According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), the “immigration authority will decide if attendance is required when it issues the residence title to you.”

Integration courses consist of a language course (600 hours) and an orientation course (usually 60 hours). The languages course, whose goal is to convey B1-level skills, covers “important aspects of everyday life,” including work and career, bringing up and raising children, leisure time and social interaction as well as media and media use.

While topics vary depending on the type of course (a youth integration course, for example, deals with topics of particular interest to young people such as applying for an apprenticeship), every participant will take intermediate tests to “prepare for the final examination.”

The 60-hour orientation course, taken after the language course, includes lessons on the following topics concerning German society:

  • German’s legal system, history and culture,
  • rights and obligations in Germany,
  • ways of co-existing in society, and
  • important values, e.g. freedom of worship, tolerance and equal rights.

Although the general rule is such that attendees take the integration courses on a full-time basis, part-time courses in the afternoons and evenings are available, for instance for employed participants.

Where are participants from?

In 2018, roughly 24 percent of new participants came from EU member states. Roughly 19 percent were Syrians, and around seven percent each were Afghan and Iraqi. In the last years, the composition of the courses changed significantly: While almost half of the participants in 2014 came from EU member states, roughly two-thirds had a refugee background two years later.

New integration course participants in 2018 by nationality  Source BAMF

Signing up and attendance

Before the integration course begins, the provider will carry out a placement test. “The result will help determine which course module you should begin with and whether it would be useful for you to attend a special integration course,” according to BAMF.

To sign up for a course, participants need to send the application, available here (German only), to their regional BAMF office, which they can find here.

Once you have received a certificate of eligibility (“Berechtigungsschein”) from the foreigners' office (“Ausländerbehörde”), you need to choose a course provider in your local area with the WebGIS search engine. Alternatively, you can “obtain a list of course providers from the immigration authority or from an immigration advisory service (“Migrationsberatungsstelle”).”

Next, you need to submit your certificate of eligibility and register for a suitable course with the help of the course provider, according to BAMF. During the course, you have certain rights and responsibilities:

  • "regular lessons, well-trained teachers and well-equipped classrooms"
  • an attendance certificate, provided you attend lessons regularly
  • you must "attend lessons regularly and sit in the final examination"
  • those with mandatory participation in integration courses "must, without fail, attend the course regularly and sit the final examination"
  • pay a "contribution towards the costs" before the start of a course module
  • no-shows must pay for the current classes nonetheless
  • in order to get exempted from the costs, you must submit the application before the integration course starts

If you pass the final examination, which consists of the "German test for immigrants" (DTZ) and the "Life in Germany" test, you'll receive an integration course certificate ("Zertifikat Integrationskurs"). According to BAMF, it not only "certifies an adequate knowledge of German and important basic knowledge of German society," it also helps with naturalization as you may apply for German citizenship after seven instead of eight years of lawful residence.

How much does it cost?

Each lesson of the integration courses costs €1.95, which means the overall cost for an integration course (660 lessons) is €1,287. According to BAMF’s website, participants have the option to pay per “course section of 100 lessons,” which amounts to €195.

You can apply for cost exemption under certain circumstances:

  • if you receive unemployment benefit II (“Arbeitslosengeld II”) or social assistance (“Sozialhilfe”)
  • if you “find it particularly hard to pay because of your financial or personal situation”

You may also be eligible for refunds under certain circumstances:

  • if you pass the final examination at the end of the integration course within two years of the confirmation of eligibility to attend the course, half of your payments get reimbursed
  • if the course venue is at least three kilometers away from your home, and you receive unemployment benefit II or social assistance, travel expenses might be refunded

A representative survey of refugees from 2017 showed that 50 percent of those have either taken an integration course or finished one. Among recognized refugees, that number was 60 percent; among those with a tolerated stay it was 34 percent; and for refugees still undergoing the asylum process, it was 31 percent.

Who must/can(not) participate?

Participation in an integration course is mandatory for refugees if the asylum request is approved and the foreigners' office orders the participation: For instance, if their German skills aren’t sufficient or if they receive unemployment benefit II (“Arbeitslosengeld II”).

Since 2015, the following people are eligible for participation of integration courses, provided enough spots are available:

  • foreigners, who have already lived in Germany for longer
  • recognized refugees
  • both asylum seekers and those whose stay is tolerated who come a country with a ‘good perspective’ to stay in Germany (‘protection rate’ of more than 50 percent)
  • asylum seekers with a tolerated stay ("Duldung")
  • people from EU member states and German citizens can request voluntary participation, although they are not entitled to a spot

Some of the following people "are not entitled to an integration course:"

  • children, young persons or young adults attending school in Germany
  • if there is “little recognized need for integration”
  • those who already speak German to an adequate level (although they may attend an orientation course).
  • currently, both asylum seekers and those whose stay is tolerated who come a country with a poor perspective to stay in Germany (‘protection rate’ of less than 50 percent)

Under the following circumstances, you must not be obliged to attend the course:

  • those training or attending/have attended a comparable education program (e.g. further education, continuing education) in Germany
  • if long-term attendance at the integration course is impossible or unreasonable, for example if you have to look after a member of your family
  • if you work and even attending a part-time course is not possible.

How did participants perform in 2018?

  • 52 percent reached B1 level (“sufficient German skills”) of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
  • Roughly 33 percent achieved level A2
  • Around 15 percent scored lower
  • Of the 82,000 people who repeated the test, 29 percent reached level B1, and some 44 percent level A. Roughly 27 percent scored lower

What else you need to know

Also read: Digital support and integration services for migrants in Germany


More articles