Germany

The German Link Between Strong Economics And A Soft Spot For Immigrants

Surveys show that Germans are much more welcoming toward refugees than they were 10 years ago or even last year. The robust state of the economy helps, and they want young, skilled labor to meet demand.

Learning German under a foreign worker program ad in Frankfurt
Learning German under a foreign worker program ad in Frankfurt
Renate Köcher

BERLIN — Contrary to popular opinion, which holds that Germans are growing increasingly negative about immigrants, surveys actually show that asylum seekers are welcomed much more warmly by the German population now than they were 10 years ago.

But there is some nuance to this. Specifically, Germans are overwhelmingly convinced that the country needs immigrants to help satisfy the demand for more skilled labor. The majority believe that young, highly qualified workers represent the "right," or most desirable, immigrants.

The reaction towards the increasing number of asylum seekers has changed dramatically since the 1990s, when many local authorities were completely overwhelmed. This new wave of refugees has nonetheless made it clear to Germans that this challenge is not one faced by individual EU countries, but by Europe collectively. For the first time, a majority of Germans support a broader approach to immigration and agree that national efforts alone will not be met with success.

The economy takes the edge off

The mood of Germany is divided at the moment between what's happening domestically and the challenges abroad. On the one hand, the robust state of the economy and the healthy job market are very reassuring. On the other hand, the multiple trouble spots around Europe and the world, in addition to growing threat of terror attacks, have alarmed citizens.

The percentage of employees who felt job insecurity has fallen from 32% to 15% in western Germany and from 45% to 19% in the east of the country. Wage agreements made over the last few years have also enhanced economic security nationwide, and more people are content with their financial situations.

In 2005, only 19% of the population believed they were better off than five years previously. Today that number is at 35%. In contrast, the percentage of people who felt that their financial situation had worsened in the same time frame was reduced from 37% to 18%.

And that brings us back to immigrants. The robust state of the economy results in less fear of immigrants.

Asylum seekers demonstrating in Berlin — Photo: Odeta Catana/ZUMA

The stream of refugees driven by international crises is never-ending and has dramatically increased asylum requests in Germany. This also coincides with a wave of immigration from other EU countries. Many Germans have only become aware of the significant increase in immigration within the last year.

In 2011, the net increase of immigrants was 280,000. It rose to 437,000 in 2013 and was higher again in 2014. At the beginning of 2014, only half of the German population realized that immigration to Germany had undergone such an evolution. By the end of last year, 72% were aware of the change. At this stage, two-thirds of the population are convinced that the rise in immigration will continue to grow.

Low unemployment mitigates fear

It seems reasonable to suppose that, with the increasing fear of international crises and the threat of radical organizations, citizens would view immigration with rising discomfort. But this can't be empirically proven.

It appears that the collective social attitude towards immigrants has changed for the better. This sentiment has continued over the last year in particular, especially because of the robust state of the German job market.

Ten years ago, when Germany recorded a high unemployment rate, 61% of Germans thought that the country didn't need immigrants when so many citizens couldn't find jobs. Last year, only 41% were of the same opinion. That number stood at 34% at the beginning of 2014, and stands at just 28% now.

In a parallel development, the mentality that "the boat is full, and no one else is needed aboard" is on the decline. In 2005, 42% of Germans believed that, but only 18% supported that view in 2014.

Obviously, the current, relatively relaxed view of immigration would not be possible without the stability of the German job market. And so, once again, it becomes clear how important a stable economy is when a country is faced with overcoming enormous challenges.

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