August 11th, 2005

The law before 2004

The admission of Jews from the former Soviet Union up to December 2004

Faced with an incessant rise in anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union, more and more Jews began settling in Germany from 1990. Initially most of them arrived in former East Germany (GDR), where they asked the Jewish Community of East Berlin to admit and assist them. On 11 July 1990 the GDR government decided to grant entry visas and permanent residence permits to Jews from the former Soviet Union. However, these provisions were not incorporated into the Unification Treaty between the two Germanys, and so the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany referred the matter to the Conference of Home Secretaries, i.e. all federal and state interior ministers in Germany. The heads of federal and state governments agreed on 9 January 1991 that Jews from the former Soviet Union would be allowed to settle in the country following a procedure that remained in force until December 2004.

This procedure granted immigration rights to anyone who could produce official documents to show that they themselves had Jewish nationality or that at least one of their parents had been Jewish.

It followed a decision that entry visas for Jews from the Soviet Union would be granted on a case-by-case basis analogous to the application of the German Quota Law, but without any limitation on numbers or time limits, although subject to the capacity of each federal state to accept new arrivals. The term “analogous” indicates that there was no clear statutory basis for decisions.

As a result, Jewish immigrants allowed into Germany were essentially granted refugee status as defined by the Geneva Convention, which meant they were entitled to certain benefits (e.g. language courses, accommodation, welfare payments). Moreover, their resident permit was issued for an indefinite period. Non-Jewish spouses, children under 18 and unmarried children over 18 living in the same household were able to enter Germany with an eligible immigrant if they had been included in the application.

Up to 31 December 2004 about 190,000 immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union were admitted to Germany on this basis, approximately 80,000 of them joining the Jewish communities.

Until 31 December 2004 there was no binding legal basis for immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union. Entry was resolved in analogy to the Quota Law.