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Immigration to Germany: The “Sleeper” Issue

Will Germany have to contend with a bout of U.S.-style “affirmative action”?

November 14, 2015

Will Germany have to contend with a bout of U.S.-style “affirmative action”?

Examining the various schools of thought that allow one to make sense of the current immigration debate in Germany is a complex undertaking.

One “sleeper” issue may well emerge in this context. (“Sleeper” refers to an issue currently not central in a debate on social policy, but one that may become central in the future.)

In this context, the sleeper is what is called in the United States “Affirmative Action.”

For various reasons, the integration of immigrants and their offspring into the German school system, universities and labor force in both the public and private sectors of the economy has proven quite difficult in the past.

It is bound to be so in the future, too, and therefore, there undoubtedly will arise among the immigrants and their future offspring the sentiment that they are not being offered a fair share in German society – that they are victims of discrimination.

Possible solution

One direct way to counter the disadvantages immigrants and their offspring are likely to experience in the years ahead are “affirmative actions” programs of the sort long practiced in the U.S.

Under these programs, conscious efforts are made to attract members of groups thought to be disadvantaged into better positions in the economy, in cultural programs, at the work place and even on corporate boards of directors.

At the university level, for example, it may involve giving applicants deemed to come from disadvantaged backgrounds some preference in admissions.

This means giving weight not only to their formal academic performance on tests and examinations, but also to their socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

The argument is that these formal test scores may be lower precisely because of disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, which calls for compensation through other admissions criteria.

American universities and many corporations have practiced affirmative action of this sort for decades, with varying degrees of success.

By and large, the public has accepted these programs, although not without occasional opposition in political or judicial forums.

National Integration Plan

Germany also has had affirmative action programs, but so far mainly to help disabled persons and to foster equality among genders.

However, some passages in the “National Integration Plan” promulgated at the first “Integration Summit” held in Germany in the wake of passage of the Immigration Law of 2005 seems to hint at such affirmative policies also for immigrants and their offspring:

  • Supporting the “Diversity charter” business initiative, which intends to promote the recruitment and career development of employees with a migration background in a campaign entitled “Diversity means opportunities”
  • Increasing the number of trainees with a migration background and the share of employees with a migration background in the public service in line with their qualifications, performance and skills.

The question is how widely such programs would be extended to immigrants and their offspring in Germany and how peacefully would they be received by German voters who might feel disadvantaged by these affirmative action programs.

To illustrate, in the U.S., students of Asian origin often perform at a superior level in high schools in terms of grades and scores on tests and examinations.

However, Asian groups are currently suing Harvard University over what they perceive of as anti-Asian admissions policies, assumed to be practiced mainly to make room for Harvard’s affirmative action policies.

It is not the first time that groups who perceive themselves disadvantaged by affirmative action policies in the United States have sought relief in the judicial system or the political arena.


There is a sentiment among immigrants that they are not being offered a fair share in German society.

Germany has had affirmative action programs to help disabled persons and foster gender equality.

Will Germany have to contend with a bout of U.S.-style “affirmative action”?