How can we make togetherness in diversity work? That is the most urgent question confronting integration policy. This is so because modern societies—even quite apart from immigration—are religiously, politically, and socially diverse and provide space for quite different life plans.
Such diversity is potentially a very positive attribute, but at the same time it can give rise to conflicts that need to be resolved. By “integration” we mean a process that resolves these conflicts constructively while allowing all members of society to develop their full potential. In line with this understanding of integration, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung advocates a policy of integration that enables every individual to become a full participant in society.
A modern society like Germany is diverse. Immigration from other countries also adds to Germany's diversity. For example, while a generation of "guest workers" was only temporarily welcome, their children and grandchildren are now an integral part of this society. The Federal Republic also has a great deal of experience with the immigration of ethnic Germans from the former territories of the Soviet Union. Recently, more and more immigrants from the European Union have come to Germany to exercise their right to freedom of movement, or people from Arab and African countries who are fleeing hardship and violence and hope to live here in safety and with opportunities for the future.
While some already have knowledge of the German language or learn German easily in everyday life, some need special offers tolearn the language. Also, many already have professional qualifications that are urgently needed in a developed economy like Germany. Others, on the other hand, need offers for further education and professional qualification.
Integration does not mean a one-sided adaptation effort by immigrants or other members of minorities, but must be understood as a task for society as a whole and a two-way process. In a nutshell, we do not need special programs for immigrants or refugees, but functioning structures for everyone.
In this sense, Germany needs a policy ...
For social democracy, therefore, a number of challenges and tasks arise in the area of integration that have to do specifically with the integration of new citizens in the immigration society, but also those that have an effect independently of this. Social democracy is based on the fundamental values of freedom, justice and solidarity. These basic values also shape the approaches to integration policy. The basic values provide a clear compass for dealing with cultural diversity: Recognition and participation for all is what must be ensured.
Participation means that the possibilities and opportunities of their society are actually open to all people. Recognition means that people in a religiously and culturally diverse community are accepted and treated as equals. The foundation of coexistence is the Basic Law. It sets boundaries and provides space for cultural diversity. Social democracy opposes understandings of an ethnically homogeneous community of descent, because one is not only German, one can also become German. At the same time, the content of what it means to be German is expanding and changing. The goal must be to ensure social cohesion, equal opportunities and political participation for all and to prevent social exclusion.
Depending on the qualification profile of the immigrants, some succeed better than others in integrating into the German labor market. Internal EU migrants have free access to the German labor market, are often already familiar with the country and thus have easier starting opportunities. Almost 5 million EU citizens now live in Germany.
On average, people who have fled to Germany have a more difficult time. They often do not have sufficient verifiable formal qualifications for the German labor market. In addition, many of those with only subsidiary protection or only toleration have an uncertain residence status. This naturally has a negative impact on the development of longer-term prospects for formal and qualified employment.
The people who have it easiest are certainly those who - despite a hitherto highly fragmented German immigration law - immigrate directly into the labor market. Today, these classic labor migrants are often highly qualified and are usually recruited directly by employers in Germany. In order to expand this access and increase the recruitment of urgently needed skilled workers in some sectors, the German government launched the Skilled Workers Immigration Act in 2019, which came into force in March 2020.