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Immigration

Opinion: Foreigners welcome, sort of

Germany is now the most popular destination for immigrants after the United States. But Germans' reception of their foreign brethren could be less tepid, argues DW's Rolf Wenkel.

Immigration to Germany soars

It's a bit of an oddity - on the one hand, economists around the world bemoan Germany's export-oriented trade surplus. It cripples economic development in the rest of Europe, they say. Politicians complain that Germany is imposing a suffocating policy of austerity on the euro zone's weaker members, specifically those in the south, that precludes any hope of growth.

Foreign ministers, for their part, are irked that Germany is not taking on more responsibility in world politics. Politicians steering infrastructure policy warn that Germany is at risk of becoming a "pothole republic."

And what about the citizens of Germany? Their whining rises and falls according to their tax burden, the level of bureacracy, authorities' apparent obsession with traffic signs, and, if necessary, the weather.

Talent from abroad

Who would want to emigrate to such a country? Strangely enough, plenty of people. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just noted in its latest migration outlook that Germany has become the second most popular country in the world for immigrants after the United States.

On the outside Germany is apparently viewed as a country with, let's say, many possibilities. It placed right after the United States - the land of unlimited possibilities.

Make no mistake about it. People are not drawn to Germany as a permanent place of residence because we are sitting around all day drinking beer and sporting Lederhosen. Rather it is our economy, our wages, our purchasing power that is attracting them.

And we're not just a magnet for so-called "benefit tourists" either, as the populist politicians from the right would have us believe. We are attracting more and more well educated immigrants, particularly from southern and eastern Europe where prospects for the future are few and far between.

A third of these new arrivals are highly qualified and all of them pay more into the system in taxes than they take out in benefits.

This is nothing new, to be sure. Foreign residents were already contributing more to their communities than the average German citizen 20 years ago. But back then no one cared. It was a different climate altogether. Xenophobia was nurtured in German coffeeshops and pubs, and that social envy, the prejudices culminated in the racially motivated attacks in the eastern German town of Hoyerswerda, where the police did little to stop the violence.

If the tabloids are cheering, watch out

Meanwhile the climate has changed. Even the most simpleminded and populist politicians suspect that they can't win votes by merely stirring up xenophobia and social envy.

Even the most conservative politicians must know by now that without skilled immigrants neither our economy nor our pension system can maintain their previous levels.

Indeed the climate has changed. Even the yellow press is trumpeting, "Everyone wants to come here!"

By now anyone should pause for a minute and think. Are we cheering because of a newfound love for foreigners? Or are we cheering because German industry lobbyists have finally convinced us that without young, qualified workers to replace our ever-aging (yet still largely employed) population, Germany is veering toward a dangerous cliff?

It is not an entirely irrational fear that this new "welcome culture" is merely economic calculation, rather than genuine love for our fellow citizens from abroad.

Valuing foreigns according to their economic usefulness, neatly separating them into net contributors and social parasites, is not a viable foundation for a sustainable integration policy.

In the end, the Germans still reserve a bit of xenophobia, even if they don't express it as loudly as they once did. That's why it is so worrying that it could be another 20 years until we have welcomed all of the young Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Spaniards, and Portugese into our hearts.

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