What does checked mean for immigration

City and society

Inken Carstensen-Egwuom

Inken Carstensen-Egwuom is a geographic migration researcher. Her research interests include transnational migration, intersectionality, postcolonial theories, and positionality and reflexivity in qualitative research. In 2016 she successfully defended her dissertation at the Europa-Universität Flensburg with the title “Thinking Intersectionality and Transnationalism Together. An intersectional perspective on the transnational social positioning of Nigerian migrants in Bremen. ”She works in the contact and advice center for volunteer work with refugees in the city of Flensburg.

On the forms of immigration to the cities

Urban places are the primary destinations for immigrants. Inken Carstensen-Egwuom presents ways of migration and the diversity of the urban migrant population.

(@ Meike Fischer)

The following quotations from introductory texts on migration, urban and spatial research emphasize: Urban development and urban life require spatial mobility. The supply of the people in the cities is only possible with products and raw materials from "elsewhere". The urban economy also depends on people who move to the city to work - and also on people who move “out into the world” and perhaps maintain a connection with their region or city of origin. This is made clear in campaigns such as the “Migrant Strikes” [1]: Many economic activities in large and small cities are based on the labor of migrants. Urban life is thus characterized by a variety of perspectives on current challenges and problems.
  • Migration, urban and spatial research

    "Large cities arise and grow through immigration. Immigration is a constitutive part of urban development. Without immigration, there is not only no population growth, even population stability would not exist in large cities without immigration."

    Häussermann / Oswald 1997
  • Migration, urban and spatial research

    "City stories are always stories of migration as well."

    Yildiz 2013
  • Migration, urban and spatial research

    "Cities, their growth and their processes of change [cannot] be understood without migration processes."

    Pott & Tsianos 2014
  • Migration, urban and spatial research

    "Without migration there are no cities and migrants mostly move to cities."

    Hillmann 2016

In order to think more precisely about the connection between urban society and migration, some definitions are first necessary: ​​What is called migration? Who is called a migrant? Then a distinction is made between different groups of migrants and the migration-related diversity in German cities is described on the basis of current statistics. Finally, different perspectives are shown from which the connection between city and migration can be viewed.

What is defined as migration and who is defined as a migrant?


According to an internationally widespread definition by the UN and OECD, any change of residence in which a person moves to another nation state for more than a year is counted as long-term international migration [2]. Moving within nation states is referred to as internal migration. At the EU level, moving from one EU country to another can also be referred to as EU internal migration [3]. Changes of residence that are of shorter duration but recur seasonally or regularly - such as the migration of seasonal workers or 24-hour caregivers who alternate monthly [4] - are referred to as short-term international migration. Depending on the direction of migration and perspective, the people who migrate are referred to as immigrants or emigrants. This introduction focuses on immigration to German cities [5].

From an analytical perspective, every migration movement can be caused by a large bundle of motives (at the individual as well as at the household or community level) and by aggravating or facilitating institutional conditions (visa requirements, economic conditions, legal restrictions and barriers at borders, assignment of residence, recruitment agreements, recognition of international protection, etc.). So there are a multitude of controlling, enabling and restricting factors for migration beyond the individual freedom of decision-making of migrants. From this perspective, fleeing persecution or war is just as much a part of a definition of migration as the long-term deployment of skilled workers in foreign branches of the same group. Migration is therefore an umbrella term for a wide range of migratory movements with a multitude of complex stories, resources and demands [6].

Migration background

A statistical category used in Germany that also includes family history migration experiences is that of people with a migration background. The category was introduced by the Federal Statistical Office in 2005. With it “all immigrants to what is now the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany after 1949, as well as all foreigners born in Germany and all those born in Germany with at least one immigrant or foreigner born in Germany parent” [7] were summarized. According to the definition of the Federal Statistical Office (2017a, 4), a person now has a migration background if he or at least one of his parents is not German by birth. The category shows how much Germany's inhabitants - and especially the urban population - are shaped by past and current migration movements [8].

At the same time, however, the category of people with a migration background is very rough. It encompasses an even greater variety of life situations and experiences than the category of long-term international migrants described above. In addition, a (now often very old) group of people with their own migration experience is again left out of this definition: namely those who fled or were expelled to what is now the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany in the direct chronological sequence of the Second World War (until 1949). In order to highlight the diversity of experiences of people with a migration background, the following table 1 shows a differentiation of the population with a migration background in Germany according to citizenship (foreign or German) and personal migration experience (with or without). In view of the diversity of experiences and the backgrounds, which are concealed in different categories, more recent research with the concept of post-migrant society tries to question common opposing categorizations as native and migrant. On the one hand, attention is drawn to other significant differences such as income, level of education, gender and racialized categorizations. On the other hand, a space is created for the articulation of ambiguous and “multi-native” perspectives [9]. [10]

What is particularly noticeable about the different definitions: When applying the common UN definition of long-term international migration, only people with their own migration experience are characterized as migrants. In German-speaking countries, however, quite a few people (born in Cologne, Berlin or Düsseldorf, for example) without their own migration experience are referred to as migrants in everyday life. They are thus assumed to have had a “prenatal” migration experience [11]. In dealing with such names, which question their self-evident presence in and belonging to Germany, various groups developed different humorous to serious counter-strategies and interventions: Initiatives, associations and associations such as Kanak Attack [12] or the brown mob e.V. [13] , Comedians like Fatih Çevikkollu and books like “Wir Neuen Deutschen” [14] or “The Manifesto of the Many” [15] are just a few of the many examples. Such civil society movements often develop in large cities. This can be linked, among other things, with the diversity and hybridity of urban identities, with the promotion of various cultural and art institutions as spaces for reflection and discussion, and with the function of urban spaces as nodes of international exchange.

Statistically it can also be shown that (family history) migration experiences and migration-related diversity are more common in urban regions than in rural areas, and are more represented in western Germany than in the eastern German states (excluding Berlin). According to the 2015 microcensus, the proportion of the population with a migration background in the total population in the city-states of Hamburg (28.8%), Berlin (27.7%) and Bremen (29.4%) is over a quarter, just like in Hesse (28.4%), Baden-Württemberg (28.0%) and North Rhine-Westphalia (25.6%). Among the eastern federal states (excluding Berlin), Brandenburg (5.9%) and Saxony (5.4%) are the states with the highest proportions of people with a migration background [16].

Proportion of the population with a migration background in relation to the total population by non-administrative territorial units (2015 microcensus)

Proportion of the population with a migration background in relation to the total population by non-administrative territorial units ( Graphic for download) (& copy bpb)
The comparison between rural, urbanized and urban regions shown in the graphic also makes it clear: In urban regions, the proportion of people with a migration background is an average of 26.9 percent. In rural regions, however, the proportion is only 12.1 percent. The urban diversity and the normality of diverse origins in the cities mean, among other things, that young city dwellers with a migration background can often identify unequivocally with their hometown. On the other hand, it is sometimes more difficult for them to articulate that they are "Germans" [17] If there is a sense of belonging at the level of the (large) city, this does not have to be, as a simple superordinate and subordinate order of spaces would imply, also apply on a larger spatial level. Frankfurt is part of Hesse and Hesse, in turn, part of Germany, but whoever is from Frankfurt is not necessarily recognized as Hessin and DeutscheR or would describe themselves as such. This also changes the view of the city itself:

Source text

Urban diversity

In such projects of belonging, a big city is implicitly not part of a national republic, but a potentially metropolis that offers social and cultural space for life projects in which multiple affiliations and migration histories are normal and transnational, multilocal interdependencies shape the culture.

Source: Carstensen-Egwuom 2011

The diversity of the urban migrant population

But where do international migrants come from and what experiences do they have in German cities? Regarding the question of “where from”, section 3 presents statistical evaluations differentiated according to nationality. This also shows the great differences in the migration-related diversity of German cities as an example. In the following, on the other hand, different groups of immigrants are initially differentiated, whose (institutionalized) residence and living conditions can be differentiated to some extent.

The first group consists of people with a migration background whose stay in Germany is based on the active recruitment of foreign workers (in the FRG from 1955 to 1973, in the GDR from 1965 to 1989). In West Germany these are often people of Turkish, Italian and Greek origin (so-called “guest workers”). In East Germany, the largest group of former labor migrants is of Vietnamese origin (so-called “contract workers”). Most of them now live in the second or third generation in Germany. The migrants of this group did not come to Germany on their own, but were requested by specific companies and, depending on the labor requirements, housed in different places, initially mostly in collective accommodation.

For example, they were used particularly in regions with a high proportion of industrial jobs or with a high demand for workers in the logistics sector. After the recruitment stop in 1973, family reunification began to increase. As a result, the migrant workers often moved with their families to cheap, factory-near apartments and to the redevelopment areas of the inner cities (often districts with planning uncertainties). As a result of the structural change in the economy, many of those who had previously been recruited became unemployed, while overall a base of structural unemployment emerged among former industrial workers [18]. In East Germany, too, the so-called contract workers were the first to lose their jobs immediately after reunification in a chaotic labor market with great legal uncertainties [19]. Due to the concentration on labor-intensive industries and manual activities as well as discriminatory layoffs, the economic structural change and the political and social upheaval in the GDR also hit the contract workers hard.

A very clearly visible strategy of labor migrants (and other groups of migrants) in urban areas to deal with unemployment and structural exclusion, to implement their own dreams and ideas and also to obtain a right to stay is that of building up self-employment. Particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods with a high proportion of people with a migration background, a lively, small-business economy and everyday multiculturalism developed. Entrepreneurial independence is at the same time connected with a hope for greater participation in society as well as with the fear of obstacles to advancement and exclusion [20].

With regard to the current immigration to Germany for the purpose of gainful employment, several categories can be distinguished, since different processes and requirements apply to non-EU citizens depending on the qualification level of gainful employment and a different residence title is issued: Employment for which no professional training is required, qualified Employment, academic professions (EU Blue Card), executives and specialists as well as immigration as part of an international staff exchange within large companies (expatriates) (BMI / BAMF 2016, 65-74).

Another group of migrant workers are citizens of the European Union who have the right to free movement of persons (right of entry and residence in accordance with Section 2 (1) FreizügG / EU). “This includes the right to choose one's job freely. Employees, providers and recipients of services, established self-employed persons and the […] family members of these persons are entitled to freedom of movement ”(BMI / BAMF 2016, 55). With the various rounds of enlargement of the EU, restrictions on the free movement of persons were initially introduced for nationals of new EU member states, but since July 1, 2015, full free movement of persons has been in effect for all EU citizens in Germany (BMI / BAMF 2016, 56). In 2015 Romania, Poland and Bulgaria were the most important countries of origin of EU internal migrants in Germany. A total of around 846,000 immigrants from EU countries were registered. In 2015, internal EU migrants accounted for around 40 percent of total immigration to Germany (BMI / BAMF 2016, 57). In the same year around 518,000 EU citizens moved away from Germany. Overall, however, there remains a positive migration balance vis-à-vis all EU member states (BMI / BAMF 2016, 60).

After a decline in asylum applications in Germany up to 2008, the number of people who seek protection from war, persecution or discrimination in Germany and who apply for asylum rose again continuously until 2015. These people are distributed to the different federal states according to the Königsstein key [21], which is based on population and tax revenue. In order to apply for asylum in Germany, a person must first reside in the federal territory, i.e. cross the EU external and internal borders. In 2015, the so-called summer of migration, a particularly large number of people came to Germany as protection seekers. This year, a total of 1,091,894 people were recorded in the distribution system for asylum seekers and assigned to the federal states (BAMF 2016, 29). The main countries of origin of those seeking protection were Syria with approx. 428,000 people, Afghanistan with approx. 154,000 people and Iraq with approx. 122,000 people (BAMF 2016, 30).

In 2016, the number of new asylum seekers fell again due to restrictions and agreements on dealing with the EU's external borders. However, more asylum applications were submitted than in 2015 because the application can often only be submitted a few months after entry [22]. In the federal states, asylum seekers are initially accommodated in initial reception facilities (BAMF 2016, 31) and then distributed to the municipalities for the duration of the asylum procedure, depending on what is known as the “prospect of staying” [23].

In addition, even after recognition as a person entitled to international protection (recognition of asylum, recognition of refugee or person entitled to subsidiary protection), they are now obliged to take up their residence where they have been assigned as long as they are not employed [24].

The responsibility of the individual branch offices of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) for certain countries of origin also leads to specific patterns in the distribution of different nationalities of asylum seekers across regions and cities, because not every branch office is responsible for every country of origin. An overview of the responsibilities of the various reception centers is compiled annually in a list of the countries of origin [25]. This shows that, for example, only the branch offices of the BAMF in Kiel and Neumünster are responsible for the country of origin Yemen, for Nigeria only the branch offices in Essen, Dortmund, Karlsruhe and Munich are responsible.

If an asylum application has been refused, but the person does not leave the country independently and deportation is temporarily refrained from because the persons concerned are at risk of serious danger to life and limb or deportation is not possible (for example, because there is a war in the country of origin, medical problems or if they have no papers), a so-called toleration exhibited [26]. In many cases people remain in the state of tolerance for a long time. It often has to be extended at short intervals and creates a particularly high level of uncertainty about prospects in Germany. Sustainable integration (employment, knowledge of German, etc.) allows tolerated persons to receive a residence permit after eight years (Section 25b of the Residence Act) [27].

A special case is the so-called “Duldung” apprenticeship, which is intended to ensure that trainees with a Duldung are allowed to stay in Germany for the duration of their training (Section 60a, Subsection 2, AufenthG) [28]. Hannes Schammann [29] states that different municipal immigration authorities design their discretionary decisions differently, especially in the area of ​​tolerance. Depending on the federal state and municipality, the situation for people with insecure residence status can be very different.

Illegalized migrants live in particularly precarious legal conditions [30]. For migrants without a valid residence permit, whose number is difficult to estimate, the locally different routines of surveillance and control or access to rights such as schooling [31] or medical care make a big difference. In many cities in Germany, for example, there are medical practice centers for people without papers, but these are often precariously financed or organized on a voluntary basis [32].

Migrants of German origin from different countries of the former Soviet Union, the former Czechoslovakia as well as Poland and Romania form another group of people with a migration background. According to the law on the affairs of displaced persons and refugees (BVFG), they could enter Germany as repatriates until 1992, and from 1993 as ethnic repatriates in an institutionalized admission procedure that begins in their country of origin [33]. The admission of ethnic German repatriates is based on the construct of “German ethnicity”, which has to be proven and recognized in different ways. Since 2007, the commitment to “German nationality” can be made through a corresponding declaration and proof of language skills at level B1 of the European reference framework (BMI / BAMF 2016, 160). Family members and descendants can also enter the country upon application and under certain conditions after recognition of the ethnic repatriation status. (Late) repatriates must register at a federal initial reception facility after entering the country and - like asylum seekers - are distributed to the federal states according to the Königsstein key (BMI / BAMF 2016, 160-161). The (late) emigrant immigration made up a large part of the immigration to Germany between 1988 and 1990 with 200,000 to almost 400,000 people annually; from 1991 to 1995 it was stable at over 200,000 people annually. Since 1995 the immigration of ethnic German repatriates has been falling continuously since 2006 it has only made up between 1,800 and 7,700 people annually.

Another group, Jewish migrants from the former Soviet Union, has been admitted to Germany since 1990 through a special, legally established and institutionalized procedure. “The admission of Russian-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union or the CIS successor states was presented in the statements of German politicians as an act of special moral obligation,” writes Körber (2005, 23). The revitalization of Jewish life and the strengthening of Jewish communities was and is an explicit goal of accepting Jewish migrants in Germany (Körber 2005, 61). Significant percentages of the membership of Jewish communities in German cities are now of Russian or Ukrainian origin.

Like the immigration of ethnic German repatriates, the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union takes place on the basis of an administrative attribution of ethnic affiliation, with a quoted allocation to a certain federal state and often in multi-generational family associations (Körber 2005, 56-59). The number of Jewish immigrants has tended to decline sharply since 2003; in 2015 only 378 people were admitted in the entire year (BMI / BAMF 2016, 131). [34]

Young people who come to Germany to study or do an apprenticeship form another category of immigrants. These educational migrants come from all over the world - and their destinations are mostly larger cities with coveted universities or technical colleges. Educational migrants are partly funded through scholarships or come to Germany through institutionalized university partnerships. Due to the EU free movement agreement, EU citizens can study in Germany without a visa and work after their studies. Since 2004, educational migrants from third countries [35] have been able to stay in Germany for a period of up to 18 months after successfully completing their studies in order to find a job appropriate to their degree (Section 16, Paragraph 4 of the Residence Act) [36].

Spouses and life partners of foreigners and Germans as well as children under the age of 18 can enter Germany on a family reunification visa. For family reunification with foreigners, proof of livelihood security must be provided (BMI / BAMF 2016, 141). Generally speaking, in most cases the migrant must complete a language test (BMI / BAMF 2016, 155). Recognized refugees are not required to provide proof of language skills or to secure their livelihood if the application for family reunification is submitted up to three months after recognition as a refugee (BMI / BAMF 2016, 141-142). A residence permit for family reunification entitles them to work. In the first three years after entering the country, the residence permit of spouses or partners who are joining them is generally dependent on the existence of the marriage or partnership. Only then can an independent right of residence be acquired. This situation creates a relationship of dependency and sometimes leads to challenging family dynamics [37].

Different migration-related diversity in German cities

(@ Meike Fischer)

Based on the distinction made above between different migration routes and the related living conditions, it has become clear: Although people come from the same country of origin, people in a city usually live in very different life situations. For example, the Youtubers Allaa Faham (Hamburg) and Abdoul Abbasi (Göttingen), who set up the “GermanLifeStyle GLS” channel [38], came to Germany as students. Nevertheless, they are often perceived as refugees because they come from Syria.

In Germany, for example, there are migrants from Turkey who moved to Germany as a result of the guest worker recruitment, people who come to Germany as married migrants or with family reunification, refugees and international students. An analysis of the living conditions of different groups of migrants based solely on their country of origin is therefore not expedient if it does not take a closer look at migration routes, legal and economic conditions. Nevertheless, in the following, differences between German cities with regard to their migration-related diversity are to be shown approximately and in an overview with the help of the data on the nationalities of the foreign population, since this data is collected reliably and regularly.

Depending on historical, geographical, economic, administrative and cultural factors, there are large differences in the population with foreign citizenship between different cities and regions. Some special features are illustrated here using the cities of Flensburg, Chemnitz, Wolfsburg and Düsseldorf as examples. The fact that Danish is the most common nationality of the foreign population in Flensburg can be explained with special historical conditions. In the early modern period (16th century), Flensburg was the largest trading city of the Danish crown and, during the time of nation-state formation, there were repeated battles between Denmark and Germany (or between Prussia and Austria). Only after a vote in 1920 did Flensburg become a German border town [39]. Therefore, Danish citizens in Flensburg are usually not migrants, but a long-term minority population. Nevertheless, due to their foreign nationality, they are considered people with a migration background in the current statistical categories. The foreign population in Flensburg makes up a total of 8.9 percent of the total population of approx. 86,000 inhabitants (Federal Statistical Office 2017b, 31) [40]. Large parts of the foreign population in Chemnitz have citizenship of the countries from which asylum seekers come to Germany (e.g. Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, see below). These persons are distributed to Chemnitz using an allocation key so that their asylum application can be processed in Saxony. The large proportion of Indians in Chemnitz can be traced back to educational migration to study at the Technical University [41]. Since otherwise only smaller groups of longer-resident migrants live in Chemnitz (Spätaussiedler and their family members, former Vietnamese contract workers), who are also often already naturalized, the asylum seekers and educational migrants with foreign citizenship make up a high percentage. Overall, the foreign population makes up 5.8 percent of the total population of approx. 249,000 people [42]. The large proportion of people with Italian citizenship is based on the recruitment of Italian guest workers who were employed by Volkswagen (von Oswald 1997). After the construction of the German-German wall in 1961, Volkswagen concentrated all its efforts on recruiting workers from Italy. Von Oswald (1997) cites both the history of Italian “foreign workers” during the Nazi era and the effectiveness of recruitment agencies in Italy and the relationship between the Catholic Director General Nordhoff and the Vatican in Rome as reasons. From 1970 to 1973, workers from Tunisia were also recruited - this is also still visible in today's figures. Overall, the foreign population makes up 12.4 percent of the total population of approx. 124,000 inhabitants [43]. In Dusseldorf, in comparison to all the cities mentioned above, it can be seen that among the five most common nationalities of the foreign population none of the countries from which most asylum seekers come to Germany are represented. This is due to the numerically larger, longer resident foreign population from the guest worker recruiting states as well as from the EU. In addition, Düsseldorf is the only German city where migrants from Japan join the group of the most common foreign citizenships. Japanese in Düsseldorf are mostly specialists and executives and their family members as well as students of the artistic or musical universities. There is a separate Japanese international school for the children of the Japanese specialists [44]. On the website of the Japanese Consulate General in Düsseldorf, the history of the Japanese in Düsseldorf is traced and reports that Düsseldorf is sometimes referred to as "Little Tokyo on the Rhine" [45]. Overall, the foreign population makes up 18.1 percent of the total population of approx. 612,000 inhabitants [46].

Different perspectives on the city and migration

The last two sections gave an overview of the diversity of the migrant population in German cities and the different migration-related diversity of German cities. To conclude, different scientific approaches and approaches to the subject of cities and migration will be presented from a systematic perspective. These approaches can each be combined with specific socio-political perspectives, goals and intentions.

In order to bring the activities and perspectives of media and politically marginalized people into focus, one focuses first group of approaches on the perspectives, political movements and struggles of migrants. In contrast to statistically oriented, categorizing and objectifying overall considerations of the urban migration society, such approaches sharpen the view for the different interests with regard to the topic of diversity and immigration. For this purpose, for example, the goals, possibilities and assessments of everyday urban life and urban development can be traced from the perspective of a specific group of migrants. In the back room of an Afro shop, for example, a lot can be learned about relevant aspects of assessing urban life through patient, long-term listening to discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of various European and American cities [47]. Furthermore, the political and cultural activities and interventions of different groups of migrants in the city can be brought to the fore - and thus also the struggles for rights and the efforts to participate in urban society.

Examples include the protest camps at Berlin's Oranienplatz, the activities of the group “Lampedusa in Hamburg” (Hess & Lebuhn 2014) or the activities of the association “Africa is also in Bremen” or the African Football Cup in Bremen [48] [49].

A second group of approaches focuses on the institutional and discursive mechanisms of the production of differences between (different groups of) migrants and natives in urban society. Such approaches aim to reflect on the differentiated inclusion and exclusion of different groups of migrants in urban society. Differentiations can be analyzed depending on the country of origin, residence status, professional status, migration route, gender or age, for example. Such approaches make complex, interwoven hierarchies visible. The focus is on the analysis of the different possibilities of migrants to participate in society. One consequence of this perspective is that it directs the analytical gaze from an individual focus on the so-called willingness to integrate of individual migrants towards structural possibilities and politically defined access barriers. At the level of specific local negotiations on migration, for example, the urban policy handling of migration and integration processes (e.g. on the basis of integration concepts, segregation processes or district politics) is analyzed. It also becomes clear how local policies are embedded in complex multi-level systems (for refugee policy, see for example Schammann & Kühn 2016) [50].

These approaches also include the consideration of stories about and representations of migrants in the urban public (e.g. in local daily newspapers): Do migrants appear as actors? Which roles are assigned to them, which functions are assigned? (Glick Schiller 2012, 896-897).Such analyzes make it clear which opportunities for action and participation are assigned to (different groups of) migrants by prevailing public assumptions of normality.

A third group of approaches focuses on the integration of cities in international economic interdependencies, which will be presented here in conclusion. Migration is seen as a fundamental part of urban (economic) development. Such approaches open the analytical view for connecting lines between the current migration situation in cities and global, colonial entanglements (Mains et al. 2013; Conrad & Randeria 2002). Initiatives such as “Hamburg postkolonial” [51] or “Berlin postkolonial” [52] address in their interventions on the politics of memory, among other things, that the current migration-related diversity in cities cannot be seen independently of (post) colonial power relations and connections [53].

For example, it is possible to analyze how urban identities and boundaries, institutions and economic structures are historically anchored and integrated into the globalized world in a specific way. Linked to this is the socio-political concern of opposing the assumption that cities, regions and nations develop independently of their embedding in supra-local interdependencies and on the basis of an independent, definable internal logic. As Glick Schiller & Çaglar (2011) emphasize, the specific possibilities of migrants within urban economies are also shaped by the position of the respective city in the field of international contacts, in competitive and trade structures. This also gives rise to different opportunities for migrants to get involved economically, politically and socially in specific cities and thus to shape the respective city for their part.