August 11th, 2005

The law since 1 January 2005

Upper chamber adopts coalition Immigration Bill

On 9 July 2004, after four years of debate and two attempts to put the Bill through parliament, the Bundesrat, Germany’s upper chamber, finally voted through an Immigration Act drawn up by the government coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. It came into force on 1 January 2005. The compromise that was finally reached regulates immigrants’ access to the labour market, the social integration of immigrants and humanitarian law on refugees. For Jewish emigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union the new law originally legitimated the status quo that has been laid down in the Residence Law of 1991 and enshrined the government’s willingness to grant permanent residence rights under specific circumstances, such as for Jewish immigrants. The authorities at federal state level were expected to confirm these residence rights in the near future.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany was, therefore, taken completely by surprise in mid-December 2004 when it was informed that the new Immigration Act would also apply from 1 January 2005 to immigrants from countries of the former Soviet Union. In line with a paper produced by the Conference of Home Secretaries (IMK), they may only be admitted under strict conditions.

According to the essentials in this paper, immigrants will only be granted an entry visa to Germany if they

  • can demonstrate that they will be admitted to a Jewish community in Germany,
  • have a command of German,
  • can demonstrate that they will not be dependent on welfare payments.

After the Central Council had voiced its criticism of these harsher criteria and the lack of transition rules, the German Home Secretary Otto Schily promised to work for a mutually acceptable solution. He confirmed that “any new rules on the future admission of Jewish immigrants must be thoroughly and without exception agreed with the Central Council of Jews in Germany”. The Conference of Home Secretaries have so far drawn up a partial regulation granting entry to the 27,000 applicants who have already received a commitment from a federal state to take them in.

(Status early 2005)