Harald Glöde

The continuation of a deceptive immigration policy: opening the debate.

At the opening of the CeBIT Computer Exhibition in Hamburg on 23 February 2000, Chancellor Schroeder proclaimed, with one eye on the media, the idea of a Green Card for immigrants highly qualified in IT. The lack of qualified employees in the IT sector had already been the subject of public debate. His suggestion received endorsement from, above all, business associations - an expression of support seldom previously heard. Their only criticism was that the idea didn't go far enough; they wanted it to be extended to other sectors.

It was as though everybody had been waiting for a signal. In a very short time, representatives of all parties, the economists, trade unions and other groups in society spoke up on the issue. This led to a public debate about immigration legislation in Germany.

We need to be aware of the symbolic nature of this debate. This Green Card legislation, which came into force on 1 August 2000, only allows for the immigration of 20,000 IT specialists on a fixed-term work permit (5 years) over the next three years. Immigrants must be on a certain pay-scale and their qualifications must be up to a certain standard. Also, in the first instance the number of immigrants is to be limited to 10,000, following which there will be a re-evaluation of employers' needs.

This limitation underlines the symbolic nature of this government initiative, especially considering that there is already legislation in place (the work-permit law, and exemptions from the ban on recruiting new foreign labour), which allows certain foreign experts to work in Germany. In the context of this legislation, 37,700 foreign workers arrived in Germany in 1999 alone. Simplifying existing regulations would have certainly led to faster recruitment of the required workforce. It is publicly recognised that there is an urgent need for 70-80,000 IT specialists; the chairman of IBM Germany even suggested that 200,000 may be needed. One suspects, therefore, that the regulation allowing the recruitment of 20,000 computer specialists, software experts, programmers and IT specialists over the next three years is following a different agenda from the one claimed for this 'Green Card policy'.

In my opinion the Green Card idea has been cunningly introduced by the government as a first step in provoking a long-term debate about how immigration in Germany should be regulated. The planned legislation, euphemistically called the 'Immigration Law' (Einwanderungsgesetz), has been moved by Chancellor Schroeder to the next governmental term.

Population and migration scientists have long stated the necessity of immigration. A population prognosis indicates that Germany's population will decrease drastically in the next decade.

At the beginning of this year the UNO published a study entitled: 'Migration as substitution: a solution for decreasing and ageing societies?' According to this study, Germany's population will decrease from its current 80 million to 60 million in the year 2050. This will have drastic implications for the competitiveness of the German economy, the employment market, and the financial security of the pension system. The prognosis forecasts similar developments in other Western European countries. To keep the workforce at 1995 levels, 500,000 immigrants are needed. German business organisations fear that a shortfall in the workforce will undermine their competitiveness in a restructured global economy. They therefore demand (regulated) immigration. These worries have forced the government in the end to change its position on immigration and to prepare the public for this change.

The Green Card debate: testing the water
Two factors make it difficult for the governing parties to control and steer this political U-turn. Firstly, over the years refugees and immigrants have been seen as a threat to interior security and as an impossible social burden on German society. Since the beginning of the '90s the purported threat of illegal and uncontrolled immigration has been used to tighten border controls, increase the police's power (e.g. to stop-and-search without suspicion, and conduct under-cover investigations), and to discriminate against immigrants (e.g. through repeated reforms of immigrant social legislation). Until only recently politicians were using slogans such as: 'we have reached the limit of our endurance' or 'the boat is full' to incite fears about increasing immigration. But these statements, which promote racism and discrimination, lack any material justification. Over the last few years the number of asylum-seekers has decreased markedly. Germany's migration balance is on the negative side: there are actually more people leaving than coming in.

Secondly, for years it has repeatedly and insistently been stated that Germany is not an 'immigration country'. The new debate has to be judged against this background. This attitude has contributed to a latent racism which by now reaches into the heart of society. Its usefulness in election campaigns and party-political strategies was impressively demonstrated in the Christian Democratic Union Party's petition in the state of Hessen against the change in citizenship laws. However, an attempt by the CDU candidate in North Rhine-Westphalia to pick up on this success with his slogan Kinder statt Inder (children instead of Indians) didn't find support with the leaders of German industry. It cannot, however, be assumed that such campaigns will not be repeated in the future.

This atmosphere of man-made prejudice is very probably the reason for the German government's careful approach to the issue and its unwillingness to pass any legislation in the current term of government. The Minister of the Interior plans to create an all-party working group chaired by the former leader of the House, Rita Suessmuth, to look at suggestions for a viable European immigration policy. This might also be seen as an attempt by the government to gain, in the long term, legitimisation of, consent to, and agreement with, their policies.

Worryingly, stances on immigration legislation indicate a lack of any fundamental debate about Germany's self-image as an 'immigration country', despite the broad consensus among parties that, in both the short and long term, Germany's economy (at least) needs qualified foreign employees. Even the CDU, in a revolutionary U-turn, has thrown its traditional ideological ballast - 'Germany is not an immigration country' - overboard. Instead of a fundamental debate, the protection of refugees and issues relating to asylum seekers are being addressed; also a demand to abolish the feeble remains of Article 16 of the German Basic Law. But the scare-mongering goes on, deflected onto so-called 'useless' immigrants. The industrial organisations highlight usefulness and efficiency. The trade unions warn of wage dumping and point out that the lack of specialists was created by reduced provision in training. Organisations such as Pro Asyl and Amnesty International are campaigning against any interconnection between refugee policy and the recruitment of a workforce, and want the ban on asylum-seekers finding jobs to be lifted.

No end to discrimination
Fundamental questions, such as the reasons behind the global phenomena of refugees and migration, are not being raised in the debate. Political theories of migration, which address the increasing wealth of the North and NATO's involvement in environmental and military destruction, don't receive a hearing. Any discussion of political interference and manipulation is systematically suppressed. Government becomes merely a bureaucratic activity responding to unstoppable economic forces. The power to decide who is allowed in and who not lies solely with the State and business associations. The interests of the countries from which the immigrants originate have no part in the debate. For example, the high cost of training IT specialists is being met by these poorer countries, which then lose the skills and knowledge of their workforce to wealthy countries.

Immigration is only considered in the context of its usefulness for, and effectiveness in, Germany's economy. As such, it seems that people are only valued according to their usefulness and function for the economy and its development. The lessons of the 'sixties and 'seventies, when workers, to this day called Gastarbeiter (guest workers), were recruited from southern Europe, seem to be totally forgotten. The sentence : 'we called for workers but human being arrived,' might never have been uttered. Similarly in recent debate, immigrants as people with different cultural and social needs do not feature. They are reduced to a variable for economic development, which can be taken and used, and then thrown out again on a regular basis. They are reduced to a useful but disposable mass for the use of German industry, or expressed in neo-liberal terms: for use in the interests of national welfare.

This single issue of the national economy dominates the legal conditions by which people are recruited and under which they have to work in Germany. The increasing differentiation of social and employment rights, depending on an employee's country of origin, increase the pressure both on employment rights fought for and gained by the trade unions, and also on culturally-determined, old-established work practices, which are then undermined. The legal insecurity in which the immigrants have to exist is a carry-over from the absence of rights of illegal immigrants who are kept down by feudalistic dependency and early-capitalist exploitation. This absence of rights and the blurring of legal standards promote institutional discrimination and daily racism, undermining both the conditions for people's long-term co-existence and, in the end, the rights of all citizens. Legal and social discrimination against certain social minorities (economic migrants, refugees and illegal immigrants) gives rise to an aggressive, hostile and suspicious attitude in the rest of society.

One can conclude that the intentions behind the Green Card debate do not contradict the old policy of discrimination against, and exclusion of, refugees and immigrants. Rather, they reinforce this policy. The closing of borders is aimed at keeping so-called 'unchecked poverty-and-hardship migration' out of Fortress Europe. Those who succeed in overcoming the deadly border defences are forced into the unofficial and illegal work market. They end up doing inferior work which nobody else wants to do, and land at the bottom of the national/European wage hierarchy. The rules and regulations under discussion, which are going to be put into practice with the Green Card, allow the German economy to select immigrants. As such, this newly-formulated legislation compensates for the drawbacks of the old 'closed-doors' policy and adds another instrument for the manipulation of the immigrant workforce. The supposedly 'generous' welcome of immigrants who are 'useful', paves the way for greater strictness in dealing with immigrants who aren't. And that is the context in which the highly-praised speech which opened this debate has to be placed.

Equality for all immigrants!
Whilst I welcome the abandonment of the stubborn and unrealistic view that Germany 'is not an immigration country', I would question whether this change in rhetoric signifies part of a slow move, in the industrial heartlands, away from narrow nationalism and towards internationalism. There has to be strong opposition to any attempt to interlink protection of asylum seekers, which is a humane duty and essential in the context of human rights, with the recruitment of a foreign workforce. International legislation on refugees guarantees all who feel persecuted the right to protection. This is laid down in international conventions which Germany, too, has ratified, for example by signing the Geneva Convention on Refugees. The protection of refugees is essential, in any event, purely on humane and human rights grounds. This has nothing to do with a debate about economic immigration.

It is not, however, enough to just oppose this polarisation between, at one end, the protection of refugees, and at the other, immigration. People should be scandalised by this discrimination, in its disguise as 'progress'. No-one should be content with an immigration law that sets quotas, as the 'lesser of two evils', for cases of human rights abuse. In the newly-inaugurated immigration debate, the underlying discrimination and racism of mechanisms designed to exclude should be made known and become the focus of a humanitarian critique.

All immigration legislation employs quotas and criteria that discriminate in favour of Germany's economy, but this also enables the authorities to discriminate on the grounds of race. When immigrants are subject to social and other legislation which differs from that of the native population, an inferior 'society within a society' is created. They will tend to become victims of an everyday racism that stems from its institutional form.

The demand for equal rights for immigrants not only serves to protect refugees but also serves the political aim of creating a society which is open to immigrants, having a democratic and human-rights-based constitution. The universal claiming of human rights should set out to combat the trend towards subordinating people and society to the rationalising criteria of exploitative, asocial capitalist production. Every human being has a 'birthright' to human rights. These are independent of any privileged 'citizenship' status. Social development should be shaped by such an understanding of human rights. This means migration and refugees can't be discussed purely in terms of stubborn national interest. At a time when the term globalisation has become common currency, the migration debate should not be conducted solely within the national context. Global inequality is one of the major causes of migration. The increasing gap between rich and poor, not least due to the capitalist expansion of Western European states, infringes the Declaration on Human Rights regarding the liberty and equality of the individual. This must be both fundamentally opposed, and placed at the heart of the debate. Only if such changes take place can we hope to combat the causes of economic migration and flight from oppression. The focus should be on campaigning to abolish global structural inequality and the international redistribution of wealth.

Without such changes, national immigration policy will increasingly harden into control and discrimination, having as yet unforeseeable consequences for democratic and civil rights.
A human-rights-based critique of the economy's primacy in the migration debate could succeed, if the deprivation of rights suffered by immigrants is successfully opposed, and minimum social standards enforced. 'Success', as such, would require: no further racial and social discrimination against immigrants, no further denial of illegal immigrants' rights, and the issuing of residence permits.

Two sides of the same coin
Unless the realities of the situation are brought centre-stage, this well-founded critique relating to the immigration debate is in danger of becoming subsumed within the government's discourse and used to support its own stance.

The Committee for Civil Rights and Democracy, Cologne, 2000, first published this article in its 1999/2000 yearbook. The essay printed here is copied from Analyse und Kritik (AK) No 466


Harald Glöde is a member of the Berlin research group 'Flucht und Migration' (Refuge and Migration). Since December 1999 he has been in custody accused of being a member of the terrorist group 'Revolutionäre Zellen' and held under Section 129a of the German Penal Code. The accusation is based solely on the testimony of state witness Tarek Mousli. For further information, see  Internet: www.freilassung. de
Publications: Helmut Dietrich, Harald Glöde: Kosovo. Der Krieg gegen die Flüchtlinge. Hamburg: Libertäre Assoziation, 2000, 144 S., ISBN 3922611796