- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 3, 2004

BERLIN — The German parliament passed a bill this past Thursday overhauling the country’s immigration policy to attract skilled foreigners and drive out extremists.

The legislation, approved by the Bundestag lower house, is the product of four years of bitter haggling between Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s center-left government and the conservative opposition.

It opens the door to more foreigners from outside the European Union with sought-after skills, promotes the integration of newcomers, reforms asylum policy and beefs up security checks for foreigners on German soil.

“This is a victory for our country,” Interior Minister Otto Schily told the chamber, calling the bill’s passage a “historic turning point” that would make Germany safer and more competitive internationally.

Germany, home to around 7.3 million foreigners, or about 9 percent of its population, has been facing a skills shortage and a demographic crunch that have undermined its already shaky economic prospects.

The draft law, which still requires the approval of the Bundesrat upper house, foresees a number of measures to cut red tape for highly qualified workers hoping to move to Germany.

Professionals, notably in industries such as information technology, science and research, will find it easier to apply for long-term residence permits, and foreign students will be able to seek work here after their studies.

For suspected foreign terrorists, deportation procedures will be expedited and the right of appeal limited. So-called “preachers of hate” who advocate crimes in Germany will also be easier to expel.

Those who cannot be sent home under German law because of the threat of torture in their own country will be required to report regularly to authorities.

In response to the frequent “ghettoization” of foreigners, the bill earmarks the equivalent of $243 million annually for German-language and integration courses.

About 20 percent of the funds will go to aliens already living in Germany. In some cases, those failing to take part in the courses can face cuts in their welfare benefits or refusal to have their residence permit extended.

The measures also strengthen the rights of refugees, including those facing persecution from forces other than their government. One example cited was that of an Algerian journalist threatened by Islamic radicals.

Volker Beck, legal affairs expert of the Greens, junior partner in the ruling coalition, said the law marked a historic change in Germany’s self-image.

“Germany is a land of immigration,” he said.

The Greens fought off proposals by conservatives to allow suspected extremists to be held for up to two years in German custody if they could not be deported.

“We do not want a ‘Guantanamo’ in our laws on foreigners,” Mr. Beck said, referring to the U.S. military-run prison in Cuba where hundreds of suspected extremists are being detained indefinitely without charges or trial.

The legislation will go to the Bundesrat, where it is expected to win a majority and be ratified into law effective Jan. 1.

Citizens in the original 15 EU member states are already permitted to work in Germany, but people from the 10 nations that joined the bloc May 1 still face some restrictions aimed at protecting local labor markets.

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