In 2018, Germany received 631 000 new immigrants on a long-term or permanent basis (including changes of status and free mobility), -26.7% compared to 2017. This figure comprises 60.7% immigrants benefitting from free mobility, 10.3% labour migrants, 15.4% family members (including accompanying family) and 12.4% humanitarian migrants. Around 48 000 permits were issued to tertiary-level international students and 29 000 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants (excluding intra-EU migration). In addition, 429 000 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2018, an increase of 0.4% compared to 2017. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts. Romania, Poland and Bulgaria were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2018. Among the top 15 countries of origin, Romania registered the strongest increase (21 000) and Syria the largest decrease (-27 000) in flows to Germany compared to the previous year. In 2019, the number of first asylum applicants decreased by -12%, to reach around 143 000. The majority of applicants came from Syria (39 000), Iraq (14 000) and Turkey (11 000). The largest increase since 2018 concerned nationals of Turkey (+600) and the largest decrease nationals of Syria (-4 900). Of the 154 000 decisions taken in 2019, 45.6% were positive.

In June 2019 Germany approved a package of migration-related laws. The ‘Skilled Workers Immigration Act’ opens the labour market to skilled non-EU migrants with vocational training. Labour migrants with an employment contract or job offer no longer need to undergo a labour market test to work in occupations with labour shortage. As already the case for university graduates, skilled labour migrants need to prove professional training qualifications equivalent to German standards. For skilled migrants with vocational qualifications from abroad, in practice this introduces an alternative benchmark, as the German dual education system is unique. As already possible for university graduates, skilled workers with recognised vocational qualifications will be able to come to Germany for up to six months to seek employment. They have to be able to finance their stay and provide proof of at least intermediate German language skills. Changes also allow those whose foreign qualifications are only partially recognised, under certain conditions to come to Germany to undertake further training. The law came into force in March 2020.

The package also introduced changes for non-EU workers residing in Germany. From January 2020, individuals in employment can receive a 30-month toleration and the temporary suspension of deportation if they arrived before August 2018. Individuals and their family have to secure independently their livelihood and must have completed several successful integration steps, including knowledge of oral German. To support the rapid labour market integration of individuals with good staying prospects, further laws of the migration package improve access to integration and occupation-related language courses as well as training support. Changes also adjusted asylum seeker benefits and accelerated administrative procedures by pooling of responsibility and data sharing among relevant authorities.

Policy changes in asylum and return law allow for the detaining of rejected asylum seekers, the easier return of those found guilty of criminal offences and sanctioning of those who refuse to help clarify their identity. Germany reduced social welfare benefits for asylum seekers with protected status in other EU states and created a new tolerated status prohibiting employment and limiting movement across Germany for individuals whose identity remains unclear.

Two independent commissions composed of academics and policy makers were created in 2019. In March 2020, the report on the first of five phases of the new National Action Plan on Integration was presented. It discusses how integration may be supported before migration.

Due to the spread of COVID-19 and following the recommendations of the European Commission Germany restricted travel from outside the Schengen area and introduced temporary checks at its internal borders. Nationals, long-term residents and their immediate family were exempt. Others could enter Germany only for urgent and documented reasons, including for work purposes, while those with EU residency were allowed to pass through. Temporary flows were suspended but exceptions allowed 40 000 seasonal agricultural workers in April and again in May to enter, in order to meet urgent needs. Germany temporarily accepted asylum applications in writing for those who held a proof of arrival. The country temporarily suspended parts of asylum procedure counselling, transfers under Dublin Regulations and return programmes.

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