By Florence Schulz
(EurActiv) — A growing number of Germans believe migrants drive wages down and burden the welfare system, according to a study analysing the attitude of Germans towards foreigners before and after the 2015 refugee crisis.
“Germany is an immigration nation, right?”
Since the 2015 refugee crisis, this question has dominated German politics like few other issues.
The far-right party AfD (Alternative for Germany) continues to warn about foreigners, despite a sharp drop in asylum figures. The party, which is benefitting from this rhetoric, is gearing up for posting good election results in Saxony and Brandenburg this Sunday (1 September).
But what about the ‘welcome culture’ in Germany? And how has it changed in recent years?
A long-term study conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation, whose results were published on Thursday (29 August), attempts to answer these questions.
More than 2,000 people were interviewed and the results were compared with similar studies made in the past seven years. However, the picture is far from clear.
“The perception of migration is ambivalent because the topic is not black and white. People see both opportunities and risks,” Orkan Kösemen, one of the authors of the study, told EURACTIV.de.
According to the study, two-thirds of the population believe that migrants are welcome locally. 65% of the survey’s respondents see migration as an opportunity for the economy, which has been plagued for years by empty training places and a shortage of skilled workers.
Germany is already feeling the effects of demographic change, and companies are often desperately looking for young talents. A new law on the immigration of skilled workers, which will come into force at the start of 2020, has been designed to attract qualified foreigners to Germany.
According to Kösemen, Germans are aware of the economic opportunities offered by migration, but make a distinction between migrant workers and refugees.
At the same time, 64% of the participants welcome migrants as a way to prevent the ageing of society.
Diversity must be learned
However, there is also scepticism because many Germans are less willing to accept migration because of the 2015 “refugee crisis”.
At the peak of the crisis, between 2015 and 2016, the number of foreigners registered in Germany grew by almost 1.9 million.
According to Eurostat, the proportion of foreigners (citizens without a German passport) has increased by approximately 62% in the last ten years. Since then, openness to immigration has increased only slowly compared to pre-2015 values.
After all, one in two Germans currently finds that Germany cannot accept any more refugees because the country has reached its limit.
Before 2015, 40% of Germans were against increased migration.
The most widespread concern is that migrants are a burden on social security systems. Some 71% of respondents in the study agreed with this view and a good two-thirds also consider that there is a risk of conflicts between migrants and German nationals.
In some cases, the authors of the study found significant regional differences between East and West Germany.
“When dealing with migration, experience is necessary. This kind of experience partly lacks in East Germany. In the West, it took decades for the region to see itself as migration-friendly. The term ‘welcome culture’ has only been known to the public for a good decade,” Kösemen explained.
Besides, education also seems to play a role in attitudes towards migration.
“People with lower education levels often work in professions with lower incomes. This quickly gives rise to concerns that increased migration will bring the wages down,” said Kösemen.
Since 2015, Germany has welcomed more refugees than any other European country. However, Germany still does not have the highest percentage of foreigners in the EU.
At the end of 2018, approximately 10.92 million foreigners were living in Germany, the equivalent of 12.2% of the total population, according to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office.
For comparison, the percentage of foreigners in Austria is 15.7%. For Ireland, the figure is just below 12%, while it is at 7% for France.
“Germany is a country that has always experienced migration. It is only realistic to acknowledge this,” said Kösemen.