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Germany: Act to Integrate Refugees Enters Into Force

(Aug. 15, 2016) On August 6, 2016, the Integration Act and the Regulation on the Integration Act entered into force in Germany. The Integration Act and the Regulation amend several laws in order to facilitate the integration of refugees into German society. The laws provide for more integration classes, vocational training, employment and training opportunities, assignments of a place of residence to avoid concentration in select areas, and permanent settlement permits for refugees who show that they are willing to cooperate and take integration classes. (Integrationsgesetz [Integration Act] (July 31, 2016), BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL GAZETTE] I at 1939; Verordnung zum Integrationsgesetz [Regulation on the Integration Act] (July 31, 2016), BGBl. I at 1950.)

The basic idea behind the legislation is “support and challenge” (Fördern und Fordern). Refugees who show the potential to integrate and have a good chance of staying permanently in Germany will have easier and faster access to integration classes and employment opportunities, while refugees who refuse to cooperate will face a reduction in benefits. (Integration Act to Support and Challenge (July 8, 2016), Federal Government website.)

Integration Classes

In order to facilitate integration into German society, German language classes, as well as classes providing a basic knowledge of German society, history, legal system and values, are offered (integration classes). (Aufenthaltsgesetz [Residence Act], Feb. 25, 2008, BGBl. I at 162, as amended, § 43 ¶¶ 2 & 3, GERMAN LAWS ONLINE.) The Integration Act provides that waiting periods for integration classes will be reduced from the current three months to six weeks and that the number of integration classes offered will be increased. (Regulation on the Integration Act, art. 4, no. 4.) In addition, integration classes will place a larger emphasis than was the case before on communicating values that are essential to German society. (Id. art. 4, no. 6.) If a refugee refuses to attend integration classes without good cause, benefits will be curtailed. Legitimate reasons to refuse attending a class include employment in the regular job market or the commencement of vocational training or university studies. (Integration Act, art. 4, no. 4.)

Vocational Training

Refugees who find a firm that is willing to train them will be eligible for a training grant. (Id. art. 1, no. 3.) During the three-year vocational training period, it is guaranteed that the refugee trainee will not be deported. The current age limit of 21 years to start vocational training has also been eliminated, because refugees generally tend to be older. (Id. art. 5, no. 8.) If the trainee is offered a permanent position after completion of the vocational training, he or she will be granted another two-year residence permit. (Id. art. 5, no. 4.) The Integration Act provides for a grace period of six months for newly trained refugees to find adequate employment. (Id. art. 5, no. 8.)

Job Opportunities

The Integration Act creates a jobs program called “Refugee Integration Measures” that will provide jobs to 100,000 refugees who are waiting for the conclusion of their asylum applications. The program will allow them to gain work experience and to occupy their time in a meaningful way. The jobs will be in the low-wage sector with an hourly compensation of 80 cents. The agencies in charge can assign a place in the program to every refugee over the age of 18 who is fit to work.

A refusal to take part without good cause will lead to a reduction in the refugee’s benefits. Adequate reasons to refuse an assignment are employment in the regular job market or the commencement of vocational training or university studies. (Id. art. 1, no. 4, art. 4, nos. 3 & 4.) Asylum seekers from safe countries of origin and persons who are required to leave Germany are excluded from the program. (Id. art. 4, no. 4.)

Suspension of Labor Market Priority Check

In general, the Federal Employment Agency has to perform a “labor market priority check” before a foreigner can be employed.  A “labor market priority check” is an examination conducted by the Agency to determine whether employing a foreigner will have any adverse effects on the German labor market; whether there are no German nationals, foreigners who possess the same legal status as German workers with regard to the right to take up employment, or other foreigners entitled to preferential access to the labor market under European Union law available for the type of employment concerned; and whether the foreigner would be employed on terms less favorable than the ones that apply to a comparable German worker. (Residence Act, § 39 ¶ 2.)

The Integration Act provides that the labor market priority check will be waived for the employment of foreigners whose deportation has been temporarily suspended (Duldung) or who were awarded permission to stay in Germany pending the outcome of asylum procedures (Aufenthaltsgestattung). This waiver also applies to temporary work. However, the labor market priority check will only be suspended in certain regions in Germany determined by the individual state agencies, taking into account the local labor market conditions. (Regulation on the Integration Act, arts. 1 & 2.)

Assignment of a Place of Residence

The German states are given the competence to assign a place of residence to refugees who were granted asylum or who received subsidiary protection status. This allows the states to spread the burden of providing for new residents evenly and to avoid the concentration of too many refugees from one country in one place, which could be detrimental to integration efforts. The rule does not apply to refugees who start vocational training, university studies, or a job that covers the minimum costs of living expenses and lodging. (Residence Act, art. 5, no. 3.)

Permanent Settlement Permit

A permanent settlement permit will be granted to refugees after five years if they have shown a willingness to integrate by attending integration classes and reaching a language level of A2 (basic user) according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and if they can mostly support themselves independently. In order to provide an incentive for integration, a permanent residence permit will be awarded after only three years if the refugee shows superior language skills (level C1) and fulfills additional requirements, including the integration and independent support requirements. (Integration Act, art. 5, no. 5; Council of Europe, Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (last visited Aug. 11, 2016).)