Germany’s incoming government has presented its plans for the next four years. This includes many changes for migrants and refugees – including an easier path to citizenship and family reunification.
The three parties set to form Germany's new government released their coalition plan -- an agreement on what policies they are planning to pursue over the next four years -- in Berlin on Wednesday.
After 16 years of conservative rule under Chancellor Angela Merkel, her presumptive successor Olaf Scholz hopes to shift direction on a number of social issues -- including migration and asylum policies.
Scholz tweeted that with the signing of the coalition treaty between his center-left Social Democrats, the ecological Green party, and the pro-business FDP, "progressive" policies would follow in all areas of governance.
"We want to shape a new beginning in migration and integration policy that does justice to a modern immigration country," the coalition agreement reads. "We will reduce irregular migration and enable more regular means of migration."
Easier family reunification, but more repatriations
The three parties set to form the new German government are planning to enable more people who have been granted refugee status, subsidiary protection or any other comparable level of protection to bring their relatives to Germany as part of family reunifications.
The three parties also announced that they are planning to not build any new so-called Anchor-centers -- large, centralized facilities where asylum seekers are housed when they first arrive in Germany. But the coalition also wants to speed up asylum procedures and launch a "repatriation offensive" for individuals who don't have legal grounds to remain in Germany.
The coalition parties in the incoming government announced that they "want to improve the funding of state-sponsored return of people without the right to stay," stressing that voluntary return programs would be treated as a preferable means of sending migrants away — as opposed to deportations. While deportations are set to remain a part of the incoming government's overall migration policy, their coalition plan also promises that provisions will be made to ensure that deportations can be halted temporarily if the security situation in a particular country worsens.
Resettlement for people fleeing persecution
The new coalition government also promised to reduce the backlog of cases at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) in order to speed up asylum procedures: "We want faster decisions in asylum processes as well as a standardization of jurisdiction; to this end, we will quickly present a bill," the three parties announced.
As part of the shift in migration policy, the new government also hopes to create further opportunities for people fleeing persecution to come to Germany using legal means. For example, this could be applied to people from Afghanistan who are suffering under the Taliban regime. If they face persecution, they could be brought to Germany using a humanitarian corridor or a similar program that would be coordinated at federal level.
Becoming 'legal' — at last
In their coalition agreement, the three parties also promised to create permanent right of residence for law-abiding foreigners who have been living in Germany for years without legal status.
They want anyone who has been living in Germany for five years by January 1, 2022, who has not committed any criminal offenses and who is committed to abide by the free democratic order of the country to be able to obtain a one-year residence permit on a probationary basis.
This way, they could move on to fulfilling further requirements for a permanent right to stay in the country — in particular by securing legal employment and being issued legal papers: "We we abolishing effective work bans for people already living in Germany," the coalition agreement states.
In addition to those changes, a new citizenship law is also likely to be introduced, which would make it easier for millions of immigrants in Germany to be allowed to gain citizenship after as little as three years in the country. More importantly, they would also be allowed to keep their prior nationalities upon being naturalized as German citizens. Right now, new German citizens are generally expected to renounce their old nationality to be naturalized, though there are some exceptions which allow for a dual citizenship.
New asylum system at EU level
The designated governing parties said they would seek a fundamental reform to the asylum system within the European Union: "Our goal is to establish a fair distribution of responsibility and jurisdiction for admission of migrants among the EU states," their coalition plan said.
"Effective external border protection based on the rule of law" must be ensured, the new government partners added, highlighting the importance of the EU border protection agency, Frontex.
Criticism from opposition
Politicians from the center-right Christian Democrats or the far-right, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) criticized the planned changes to Germany's migration and asylum policies.
Ralph Brinkhaus, the leader of the Christian Democrats, which is outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's political party, said that the coalition agreement's approach to migration policy could serve as a "pull factor" -- meaning that it could encourage migrants and refugees to attempt to reach Germany. On the issues of migration, the coalition agreement is "certainly very, very, very far to the left," Brinkhaus said.
The leaders of the AfD in the German parliament -- Alice Weidel und Tino Chrupalla -- meanwhile released a press statement expressing a similar sentiment, accusing the soon-to-be governing coalition of creating a policy plan that would transform Germany into a "migration magnet."
With AFP, dpa