The Impact of the Cold War on Germany's Immigration and Citizenship Policies from 1945 to 2000

Bachelor Thesis, 2002

36 Pages, Grade: 70 / 1- (A-)



List of abbreviations

1. Introduction

2. Is Germany a country of immigration?

3. Germany’s immigration and citizenship policies 1945-1989
3.1 Ethnic Germans
3.2 Labour migrants
3.3 Asylum seekers

4. 1989 – German reunification and the end of the Cold War
4.1 Restriction on ethnic German immigration
4.2 The asylum compromise in 1993
4.3 A new approach to German citizenship

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

7. Appendix 1

8. Appendix 2

9. Appendix 3

List of abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1 Introduction

After World War II, European countries experienced a significant influx of immigrants. The governments saw these immigrants increasingly a burden on labour markets, social welfare, national security and identity, but also as a threat to the ethnic composition of the people and political stability of the receiving countries. Consequently, immigration policies in western European countries have been heavily focused on control and Germany is without exception.

However, Germany’s immigration and citizenship policies were distinct from other Western European countries because they were heavily influenced by the Cold War. The Cold War separated the Soviet-occupied east of Germany from the western part, which ended in the establishment of two different German states: the communist GDR in the east and the capitalistic FRG in the west. The division of Germany demonstrated the Cold War’s bi-polar clash between Communism and Capitalism.

Germany’s position as a prosperous country in the center of Europe made it a magnet for immigration, but successive German governments kept denying the fact that it was a country of immigration. This paradox set the precondition for Germany’s approach to immigration and citizenship because it hindered the adoption of a common immigration policy and integration of immigrants.

It will therefore be explained first before this paper will try to examine the impact of the Cold War on the mix of immigration and citizenship policies Germany got accustomed to from 1945 onwards. These policies were largely shaped by the country’s division and the ideology of the Cold War and consequently had to react to the radical change in international politics in 1989. Secondly, this paper will highlight Germany’s policies in relation to its three main groups of immigrants in a chronological order. It will look at the influx of ethnic Germans in the aftermath of World War II and Germany’s exclusive notion of citizenship, which finds its expression in Article 116 of Germany’s constitution. This paper will show that this notion of citizenship not only has its roots not in German history but also in the politics of the Cold War.

The impact of Germany’s citizenship policy and the country’s general approach to immigration on other immigrants will then be outlined by looking at the recruitment of labour migrants and their integration in German society.

By looking at the final group, asylum seekers, the consequences of a worldwide exceptional element of Germany’s immigration policies will be analysed, namely Article 16 of the Basic Law which guaranteed the right to political asylum in Germany.

However, the collapse of Communism and Germany’s unification in 1989/90 forced the united Germany to adopt its immigration and citizenship policies to a changed international political environment. The second part of this paper will examine how open borders and an increased influx of ethnic Germans led to a restriction of ethnic German immigration. But also the number of asylum seekers rose drastically and the asylum compromise in 1993 undertook efforts to regain control on these inflows by amending Article 16. Finally, the collapse of Communism and Germany’s reunification forced the German government to finally to reappraise the notion of German citizenship in 2000.

The conclusion will then highlight the different policies adopted by Germany after World War II. Furthermore, it will stress the role Cold War politics played in Germany’s immigration and citizenship policies and how the end of the Cold War induced far-reaching reforms in a united Germany.

2 Is Germany a country of immigration?

The above question is a controversial focus point in the debate surrounding the issue of immigration in Germany. The term “country of immigration” could refer to the mere fact that many people from foreign countries entered Germany and stayed permanently. This would make Germany a country of immigration since the government under Konrad Adenauer started to invite foreign workers in the 1950s. It means that on the whole, more people would immigrate than emigrate.

Yet despite the fact that there was net immigration by foreigners in all except ten years between 1955 and 1999, successive governments before and after unification maintained that Germany is not a country of immigration. This “claim articulates not a social or demographic fact but a political-cultural norm, an element of self-understanding” (Brubaker 1992:174) and meant that immigration as a permanent settlement together with naturalisation was rejected because it would increase the number of German citizens (Hogwood, 2000:133). An immigration policy that actively seeks permanent new immigration, as it had been the case in classical immigration countries like the USA or Canada, was not desired. Therefore, the established tools of immigration policy (e.g. quotas and an inclusive citizenship law) were unnecessary. By claiming that Germany is not a country of immigration, no immigration law to regulate or restrict immigration would need to be established.

Consequently, there was no official position, set of official measures or office to accompany the fact that immigration has taken place (Sieveking & van Lindert 1994:9). It was this contradiction, which prompted the characterization of Germany as an “undeclared immigration country” (Green 2001:1). In the beginning, “foreigner policy was labour-market policy” (Joppke 1999:65) and a legal-political framework had to be invented step by step. There had been a consensus for a long time between the federal government and the Länder that the access to Germany by non-EU foreigners should be controlled by all possible means (Marshall 1992:250).

As this paper will show later, not only was the recruitment of foreign workers in the 1950s and 1960s politically desired but German governments also supported the immigration of ethnic Germans Cold War. The number of people immigrating to Germany has been, on average, between 400,000 and 600,000 persons per year. On the other hand, there has been a considerable number of persons who return to their home countries (between 300,000 and 400,000 persons per year). Altogether, since the 1960s there has been a surplus of immigrants with 200,000 people staying in the country (Schnoor 1998:51). In the late 1980s, Germany’s pattern of immigration experienced a significant change because of the political events at the time both within Germany and abroad. After 1989, immigration increased significantly as a cause of both the growing numbers of ethnic Germans leaving the former Soviet Union and of the large refugee flows from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia. In 1992, net inflows totaled the historic record of 788,000 persons and making Germany the world’s second largest immigration country behind the USA (Angenendt 1999:166).[1]

Institutions on the national level deal with asylum and migration policies, and the Ministry for the Interior is the most important of these. Germany’s federal structures leave major responsibilities to the states (Länder), such as the distribution of residence permits and deportations. For that reason, policies in the individual states sometimes differ substantially, leading to repeated conflicts regarding asylum and migration between the states and the central government. In practice, this often leads to conflicts between the municipalities and other political levels. Certain conflicts stem from the municipalities’ dissatisfaction with insufficient funding to fulfill their tasks of providing accommodation and integrating immigrants (Angenendt 1999:53). Local foreigner offices issue residence permits or order deportations but are at the same time liable to the Land and not the national government. However, the different Land governments have pursued different foreigner policies, depending on the party in power and the exposure to foreign migration. This paper will only attempt to outline major policy measures taken at the national level and will ignore the regional differences in the implementation of citizenship and immigration policies. It will consider the varying positions adopted by Germany’s political parties and some of their basic differences in opinions. In general, CDU/CSU-governed southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have pursued a restrictionist line and refused to call Germany an immigration country, while SPD-ruled Hesse and Bremen have followed a more liberal line (Joppke 1999:68).

In the following, the three different groups of immigration with their relevant policies are outlined, starting with the German expellees who constituted the first wave of immigrants.

3 Germany’s immigration and citizenship policies from 1945 to 1989

3.1 Ethnic Germans

It has to be noted that German literature and politicians generally avoided the expression “ethnic German”. In Germany, this term is strongly associated it with the vocabulary of its Nazi past that laid special emphasis on the “German race” and its alleged superiority. Instead, the use of the terms “outsettlers” (Aussiedler), “resettlers” (Umsiedler) or “expellees” (Vertriebene) is more common However, Anglo-Saxon literature frequently uses the term “ethnic German”. For simplification, this paper will use the term “expellees” for the time from 1945 to 1950, when these people were expelled from their land. For the time after, they will be referred to as “ethnic Germans”.


[1] See Appendix 1 for the development of immigration into Germany.

Excerpt out of 36 pages


The Impact of the Cold War on Germany's Immigration and Citizenship Policies from 1945 to 2000
South Bank University London  (Humanities and Social Science)
70 / 1- (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
447 KB
Impact, Cold, Germany, Immigration, Citizenship, Policies
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Kristina Beckmann (Author), 2002, The Impact of the Cold War on Germany's Immigration and Citizenship Policies from 1945 to 2000, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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