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In 2015, the German Government made the decision to allow over one million asylum applicants into Germany, representing an unprecedented challenge to social integration in the country. But Germany has taken a bold approach to social integration, which may provide some lessons for the social integration challenges the UK faces.

The German Government is predicted to spend around €47 billion in total from 2015-16 to 2021-22 on social integration measures for migrants, including the new asylum applicants. This funds programmes including 600 hours of mandatory German language courses per asylum applicant (and other migrants assessed as requiring German language courses), as well as 100 hour ‘integration courses’ which provide an introduction to German law, culture and history. While the expansion of these courses has taken place with the recent surge in asylum applicants in mind, these courses are also available to all migrants in Germany on a voluntary basis. In 2017, over 350,000 people attended these integration and language courses. This is an impressive number, but it must be noted that this still equates to only one third of the initial one million asylum applicants which were allowed in to Germany in 2015.  

Germany places significant importance on learning the German language. Asylum applicants who refuse to take part in the language courses can have their unemployment benefits reduced. There is significant evidence of the private and public benefits of improved German language skills. A 2014 study found that migrants with proficient or very proficient German language skills had a 9% to 15% higher likelihood of working and earned 12% and 22% more respectively than migrants without proficiency in German language. Furthermore, a survey of German employers found that even for ‘low-skilled’ jobs, half of employers require at least ‘good’ German language skills and this increased to 90% for ‘medium-skilled’ jobs.

There is certainly evidence that, economically at least, Germany’s recent social integration policies are having some success. Employment of asylum applicants from the eight countries which are the source of the largest numbers (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia) increased by more than 100,000 to 307,547 between 2017 and 2018. Roughly three quarters of these had contracts which involved full contributions to social insurance schemes, meaning these individuals are not only financially supporting themselves independently, but contributing to the German economy and welfare system.

The German social integration programme, to prevent ‘ghettoisation’, includes the distribution of asylum applicants throughout the country’s sixteen states using a calculation based on the states’ tax revenue and population. This aims to ensure that local authorities, and local native communities, don’t feel overwhelmed by a sudden influx of new migrants. If asylum applicants violate this obligation to settle in their assigned area, their benefits can be reduced.

The Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) has been supportive of Germany’s approach to integrating asylum applicants, stating in a report that “the overall framework conditions for refugee integration in Germany are relatively favourable” and that “Germany has taken impressive steps to welcome and integrate refugees.”

Of course, this is not to say that the German model is perfect. Hundreds of thousands of asylum applicants in Germany still remain unemployed and in receipt of benefits, limiting their full integration into society. There is also growing concern about the rising number of asylum applicants failing their integration courses and the supervision of the quality of the courses themselves.  

For British policymakers it should be kept in mind that the context of the UK and Germany’s social integration issues are not the same. Germany’s decision to allow the entry of over one million asylum applicants in 2015 marks a very different challenge to the UK’s. Nevertheless, Germany has made a bold commitment to the social integration of a large number of asylum applicants. Germany’s focus on and significant investment in language proficiency, cultural integration and employment is of particular interest.

Sam Lampier is a Researcher at Bright Blue.