How the Federal Republic Became an Immigration Country: Norms, Politics and the Failure of West Germany's Guest Worker System

in Volume 24 (2006): Issue 3 (Sep 2006)
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With the passage of a new citizenship law in 1999 and the so-called

Zuwanderungsgesetz (Migration Law) of 2004, contemporary Germany

has gone a long way toward acknowledging its status as an immigration

country (Einwanderungsland). Yet, Germany is still regarded by

many as a “reluctant” land of immigration, different than traditional

immigration countries such as Canada, the United States, and Australia.

It owes this image to the fact that many of today’s “immigrants”

were in fact “guests,” invited to work in the Federal Republic

in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and expected to leave when they were

no longer needed. Migration was meant to be a temporary measure,

to stoke the engine of the Economic Miracle but not fundamentally

alter German society. The question, then, is how did these “guest

workers” become immigrants? Why did the Federal Republic

become an immigration country?