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Passing the Test

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From the Spring 2012 Speaking in Tongues issue 

By James Angelos

ISTANBUL—Hasibe Koyun has her first German class in Istanbul on a crisp January morning. She’s so nervous that her hand, where she wears her large diamond engagement ring, quivers. When she introduces herself to the class, she twirls the ring around her finger and glances at the whiteboard, where the teacher has written the German words for “I’m called,” Ich heiße. Koyun’s cheeks turn red. “Ich hei-zze Hasibe,” she stammers with a thick beginner’s accent. For 23-year-old Koyun, these first words of German, spoken at the Goethe Institute in Istanbul, mark the beginning of an odyssey that will, she hopes, take her from her hometown of Ören—a tranquil village of 1,500 in Turkey’s western Anatolia—to Germany, where she plans to join her new husband, Ilhan, in the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf.                  

Koyun has a lot to be nervous about. She has just moved from her village to Istanbul for the three-month language course. Moreover, people in the metropolis—like the two young women in class who sit near the windows with long, dyed hair, skintight jeans, and knee-high leather boots—often dress differently than people in Ören. Koyun is the only girl in class to wear a headscarf. It conceals her hair and matches the long gray skirt that stretches down to her shoes. But matters of wardrobe are not Koyun’s primary concern this morning. All she has in mind is doing well on the German test. The exam is still a few months away, but if she does not pass, she can’t get a German visa. If she does not get the visa, she can’t join her husband. A marriage celebration has already been planned. It’s to take place in the center of Ören that summer, with the villagers and her family dancing to the beat of the Davul, a deep-throated, goat-skin drum, and the nasal drone of the woodwind Zurna. If Koyun doesn’t pass, it would be a disaster.

The entire class of 12 students has the same worry this morning. Almost all are engaged or recently married to someone of Turkish origin living in Germany. They plan to join their spouses there, on the condition, of course, they pass the exam.

LANGUAGE LAW

In 2007, the Bundestag passed a law requiring foreign spouses from most nations outside the European Union to possess basic German-language skills before entering the country to join their husbands or wives. Spouses with university degrees or those deemed highly skilled workers are exempt from the requirement, as are those from several developed countries—including the United States, Japan, Australia, and Israel. The measure also requires immigrating spouses be at least 18. The German Interior Ministry says the rules are intended to prevent forced or fake marriages and promote integration, or to ensure that the spouses “will be able to communicate in everyday situations using basic German and thus be able to take part in the society from the time that they arrive.”           

Pre-entry language requirements for foreign spouses are increasingly common in an immigration-weary Europe. France, Holland, Austria, and Denmark have each enacted such rules, and near the end of 2010, shortly after David Cameron took office, so did the United Kingdom. While not all the language requirements are identical—France’s, for example, is generally more flexible and accommodating towards spouses than the others—in their current form, the efficacy of pre-entry language requirements in promoting language learning or the integration of immigrants is questionable. Their real purpose of the rules appears to be to reduce the number of uneducated or low-skilled immigrants coming to European countries. By pursuing more restrictive immigration policies in the name of integration, European political leaders are not only being disingenuous in their aims, but risk the opposite outcome—estranging the very immigrant communities they say they wish to see better integrated.

“The tests are less about promoting integration than restricting immigration,” says Thomas Huddleston, an analyst for the Migration Policy Group, a Brussels-based think tank that has studied the effectiveness of the language requirements. According to the group’s research, pre-entry tests may have resulted in a reduction of immigration but have not proven effective in promoting language learning. Those who pass the tests, says Huddleston, often forget what they’ve learned by the time they immigrate, and there is no evidence to suggest that passing a pre-entry test helps spouses learn the language once they arrive.

Like their European counterparts, British government officials have said the measure will encourage integration and “assist in removing cultural barriers.” But government officials have also said that the regulation is part of a larger effort to control immigration. “It is a privilege to come to the UK and that is why I am committed to raising the bar for migrants and ensuring that those who benefit from being in Britain contribute to our society,” British Home Secretary Theresa May said before the language requirement was implemented. “This is only the first step. We are currently reviewing English language requirements across the visa system with a view to tightening the rules further in the future.”

Though first conceived by the previous Labor government, the enactment of the language requirement, according to the Economist, is part of the Tories’ effort to fulfill an election promise to reduce net migration. Much of the foreign spouses in question come from poor, rural communities on the Indian subcontinent, and as the magazine points out, “That might not be the sort of immigrant that governments prefer to attract, but it is the kind that a number of British citizens want to marry.”

The pre-entry language requirements in Britain, as elsewhere, have proven controversial. Immigrant advocacy groups claim that requiring foreign spouses to learn basic English before they can immigrate violates a couple’s right to a family life, guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in Britain has said the pre-entry requirement “is not about integration, social cohesion or any other laudable claim of the Home Office,” but about “getting numbers of migrants down, pure and simple.”

A PUBLIC FACE

Recently, Rashida Chapti, a British citizen in her mid 50s, became the public face of the debate in Britain about whether the rule is justified. As one of a few spouses who recently challenged the rule in court, Chapti, pictured in British newspapers in a striped hijab, petitioned to have her husband of four decades, with whom she had several children, join her in Britain from India. He is too old to learn English, she contended, and finding a school for him to learn in rural Gujarat where he lives, would be difficult. In December, a British High Court judge upheld the language requirement, ruling that the government was acting within its right to promote integration and safeguard social services. Reacting to the ruling, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said in a statement, “No one in their right mind would pretend that learning English is not a good thing for immigrants in the UK to do.” But the ruling forcing them to learn English before they arrive, “will mean that many British citizens will continue to experience enforced and indefinite separation from loved ones, partners, and in some cases, their children,” the statement added. “In countries experiencing conflict, poverty, natural disasters, and political instability,” it can be “extremely difficult to acquire linguistic skills prior to arrival in the UK.”

Many others in Britain, however, see matters quite differently. “This case goes to the heart of the debate over what a nation is and what it is that holds us together,” reads one column in the Daily Mail. “And central to that debate is a shared language. It’s got nothing to do with human rights, or the subjugation of minority cultures.” The article continues: “The great multicultural experiment failed precisely because it encouraged incomers not to sign up to our common culture,” resulting in “ghettos and isolation.”

The notion that many immigrants have failed to become part of Britain’s “common culture” was proclaimed by David Cameron last February in a speech at the Munich Security Conference. The prime minister blamed the “doctrine of state multiculturalism,” which he described as a “hands off tolerance” for this state of affairs. One result, he said, was a growing security threat caused by the radicalization of Muslim youth in Britain. “Frankly,” he added, “we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism.” Presumably, the pre-entry language requirement is one aspect of the prime minister’s brawny liberalism.

The concern that subsequent immigration of families, so called “family reunification,” can exacerbate isolation of ethnic communities and hinder integration is widespread in Europe. As the Economist put it, “In countries founded through immigration, such as the United States, families have been seen as the key to integration; in Britain, like much of Europe, many fear that importing families reinforces inward-looking communities.”

In Holland, anti-immigration sentiment has led to the rise of Geert Wilders, a right-wing populist who controls the nation’s third largest parliamentary party and has called for a cessation of immigration from Muslim countries.

Since 2006, an overseas integration exam, testing basic knowledge of Dutch language and society, has been required of foreign spouses. As part of the preparation for the Dutch test, spouses abroad are compelled to watch a video on Dutch society, part of a “study pack” that can be ordered for €110, though an English language version can be seen on YouTube. “I got quite a shock, of course,” says one immigrant woman in the video. “I thought, my goodness, they really are white!” Though the video shows some contented immigrants, its goal appears, in large part, to shatter any illusions of Holland as an ideal place to live, focusing on problems related to immigration, poverty, and social housing. At times, it strikes an overtly discouraging tone. At one point in the video, the viewer visits the squalid flat where a Turkish family of six lives. The children, says the narrator, can’t play outside, though we are not told exactly why. Introducing the mustachioed man of the house, the narrator says, “Life is different from how Akin imagined it would be.” Then Akin, who is filmed pointing, apparently, at the leaky bathroom ceiling, says, “If someone from abroad was planning to come here, I would tell them, ‘Think hard about what you’re doing, what you’re letting yourself in for. If I were 30 or 25, I wouldn’t leave my country and come here. I’d stay in my own country, really.”

Human Rights Watch has criticized that Dutch overseas test—as well as the exam fee of €350 ($450) and other financial barriers related to family immigration—as discriminatory. It targets spouses from Morocco and Turkey, the group charges, traditionally large sources of immigration to the Netherlands. The Dutch test, says the rights group, has served as a model for other European nations and resulted in a 20 percent decline in the number of applications for family reunification and formation in Holland the year it was implemented. While the Dutch government has a legitimate interest in advancing the integration of its migrant population, according to a Human Rights Watch report, the overseas test does not advance this aim. The requirement risks “alienating migrant communities in the Netherlands because it creates an impression that their family members (and hence they) are not welcome in the country,” the report says. Such criticism has not dissuaded the Dutch government. In 2011, the level of Dutch required to pass the overseas exam was raised.

But the matter remains far from settled. Last Spring, Bibi Mohammad Imran, an Afghan woman who wished to join her husband and eight children in Holland, but who was refused entry because she had not passed the integration exam, brought her case to a court in the Netherlands. The Dutch court then requested a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice, the highest court concerning matters of EU law. At question was whether the EU’s Family Reunification Directive—which compels member states to “respect family life,” but also allows them to “require third country nationals to comply with integration measures”—permits a state to refuse a family member entry for not passing an exam abroad. At the time, the European Commission weighed in on the case, writing that EU states should not use these integration measures as a means of limiting family reunification. A member state, the European Commission said, cannot refuse entry to a family member solely on the grounds that this person has not passed an integration test abroad. Such integration measures, the observation said, should encourage successful integration and family life and must not be exclusionary. Before the Court of Justice could render an opinion that could have threatened the legality of the pre-entry requirement, the Dutch embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, gave Imran a provisional residence permit, mooting the legal proceedings.

A few months later, another Dutch court ruled that imposing the overseas test on Turkish citizens violates the EU Association Agreement with Turkey, forcing the Dutch government to stop requiring Turkish nationals to take the test. This April, a group calling itself The Foundation for Victims of Integration, representing a potential tens of thousands of Turks that were forced to take the exam, is planning to sue the Dutch government for damages and for the recovery of costs associated with taking the test.

DIE TÜRKEN

In Germany, the language requirement is deeply unpopular among Turks, who account for the nation’s largest ethnic minority. Indeed, many see the law as a spurious effort to hinder further Turkish immigration. Even in Turkey, when the rule was passed, then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül called it “against human rights.” And when Germany’s federal commissioner for integration, Maria Böhmer, visited Ankara, the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet dubbed her “the German minister who brings brides to tears.”

Around the time the measure was passed in Germany, four German-Turkish organizations boycotted an “integration summit” hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express their discontent with the rule. The head of one of those organizations, the Turkish Community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, claimed the law was discriminatory and said, “If Helga and Horst are allowed to get their partners here, why not Ahmed and Aische too?”

Many German newspapers have not responded with particular sympathy to the protests of their Turkish compatriots. “The Turkish officials defend the importation of juvenile and preferably voiceless brides from Turkey as if it were a question of the human rights of Turkish men,” reads one commentary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The Turkish boycott of a 2007 integration summit helped show that “some foreigners” come “to live with their own kind in ghettos and parallel societies,” reads another commentary in the same newspaper. The government must send a clear signal, it went on, “Germany is not a country of immigration, but a country of integration.”   

Despite a sense among many in Germany that their nation has been overrun by foreigners, Germany is arguably becoming less of an immigration destination. Since the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the numbers of migrants entering Germany has generally been in a steady decline, though last year the nation did experience a significant rise in immigration from crisis-ridden EU nations like Greece and Spain. Each year from 2006 to 2010, more people left Germany for Turkey than arrived, a reversal of the longtime trend and a tribute to the booming Turkish economy. Nevertheless, marriage migration remains a major source of lingering Turkish immigration to Germany. It also remains of great concern to those who believe that the tendency of Turkish Germans to import spouses perpetuates a perennial immigrant culture with Turkish, not German, language and traditions remaining paramount within families. The spouses coming from Turkey tend to be seen as undesirable immigrants—uneducated women (though many are men) who come from poor and backward regions, unwilling to adopt European mores. Since the tests began, Turkish immigration through family reunification has decreased significantly. In 2006, before the test was instituted, 10,208 Turkish spouses were granted residency visas that allowed them to join their partners in Germany. That number fell by about a third in the years following the rule’s enactment.     

At the Goethe Institute in Istanbul, although many of the newlyweds eventually speak positively of their classroom experience itself, nearly all say that the exam sends an off-putting, exclusionary message. Perhaps, as some students say, it’s because Germans fear the Islam that Turks bring, or because Germans simply believe that Germany is for ethnic Germans. But whatever the reason, as Hasibe Koyun puts it, “Everybody knows that the Germans don’t accept Turks.”

AFTER SCHOOL

After the class ends, Koyun makes her way downstairs to the school’s lounge to meet her father, a round, gray-haired man, who has come with his daughter from their small village to spend some days with her in Istanbul. He has waited for her the entire morning, sitting at a small table next to a snack machine. “It’s good that they learn German,” he says. “But I wonder what the real motives are.” Perhaps, he reflects, it has something to do with German opposition to Turkey joining the European Union. Or maybe there’s a financial incentive. After all, the course and exam fee cost the equivalent of €670 ($875).

Koyun sits next to him and looks upset. Her teacher has told her she’d be moving to another class. Koyun wonders if this was because she had never made it past the fifth grade in her Turkish school. She wonders if she’ll be able to pass the exam—still three months away—at all. “I’m very stressed,” she says. Like most of her classmates, Koyun never imagined she’d move to Germany. When a marriage offer from Germany had come a few years earlier, she refused because she wanted to stay near her family and help take care of her aging father. But this time is different.

“I love him,” she says, talking about her husband Ilhan one day after school while walking through Taksim Square on the way to catch her bus home. Koyun does not want to discuss intimate details of their courtship, other than to say, “It wasn’t flirty, the way we met.” Her father and his father are cousins, she says, and he has a big supportive family in Germany, which gives her comfort. “There is no secret to falling in love,” she says.

Many students tell similar love stories. No one describes theirs as an arranged marriage. Often, however, they seemed to know surprisingly little about the objects of their affection. One young woman says she met her fiancé at a friend’s “promise celebration,” something of an engagement party, when he was visiting Istanbul from Mannheim, Germany. Still, she’s not quite sure what he does for a living, nor does she know very much about Mannheim, but she is convinced she’d made the right decision. “I won’t ever meet anybody like him again,” she says firmly.

The question of what awaits such women in Germany and their impact on German society is open to considerable debate, but more rarely discussed is the fact that many of the would-be immigrant spouses are men. In 2010, 43 percent of the spouses coming from Turkey were men, about the same percentage as 2006, the year before the exam was implemented.

On his second day of class in Istanbul, Tufan Cetindas, a 26-year-old website designer with large brown eyes and a thin patch of hair under his lower lip, leaves class 45 minutes early, but with a good excuse. He is getting married in the afternoon to his fiancée Hatice, who has come from Berlin for the ceremony. The couple had met at a narghile café along an Istanbul shoreline while Hatice was on vacation in Istanbul. He never wanted to go to Germany, he says, but his mother-in-law had argued for the advantages—from kindergarten for his children to affordable health insurance. The marriage takes place in an Istanbul courthouse, where after a short ceremony, the couple poses for pictures near a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Then they go to the groom’s small apartment overlooking a traffic-choked highway on the outskirts of Istanbul. Amid a small gathering, an imam in a business suit sitting on the living room couch next to a small aquarium presides over a short religious ceremony. “Women are like roses,” the imam advises the groom. “Be gentle. You should look after her like a rose.”

CONFIDENCE BUILDING

During the first few weeks of class, Koyun’s confidence as a student begins to grow. She is diligent, poring over her notes during breaks while many of her classmates smoke in front of the building. She’s even starting to enjoy the lessons. “This course prepares me so I can go to Germany and be independent,” she says one day after class, adding, “I’m proud when I can answer the teacher’s questions.” Such favorable attitudes about the course itself—at least among those with the time and money to enroll in the three-month-long program at a Goethe Institute—are not uncommon. In the school’s lounge one day after class, a group of young women wearing headscarves and diamond rings sit doing their homework. In their workbooks, they write German sentences like, “Since when have you worked as a taxi driver?”

“The first time I heard I had to take this course, I wondered, ‘Why do I have to do this? What do the Germans expect from us?’” asks one student, Vesile Bayram. “Then I came here, and I realized that it’s for me to learn. The Germans want to make it easier for me.” Bayram plans to move to Munich to join her husband. The more she learns about Germany, she says, the more excited she is to go. Germans are more cultured, more interested in environmental protection and social justice, she observes, adding, “In Germany, every human being is equal, and the country exists for the people. In Turkey, the country comes first and then the people.” But still, she says, passing the exam is her greatest worry. “Sometimes I have nightmares.”

In 2010, 11,044 Turkish newlyweds and fiancés took the German language exam. Only 10 percent of those who took a preparatory “pre-integration” course at one of the three Goethe Institutes in Turkey—in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir—failed. But among the 88 percent of those who prepared for the test elsewhere, 37 percent failed. Advocates of the language exam emphasize that it tests only for basic proficiency, enough to greet someone, or fill out a form in a government office. But some of those taking the test have had such minimal schooling of any variety before they arrive in class that they would have difficulty filling out a form in Turkish. For them, such a feat in German can seem a Herculean task.

One class in Istanbul caters to such students with very limited schooling. Its teacher uses methods suitable for kindergarten. Students gather in a circle and clap in rhythm as they take turns pronouncing German phrases like “I come from Turkey.” Correct answers are awarded with a round of applause. This method usually pays off, says the teacher, but this particular group is especially challenging. One student is unable to read at all. Several do not know what a verb is. One man comes to class without his homework and tells the teacher, “It was raining, and my homework disappeared.”       

Predictably, those who have the most trouble passing the exam are the most opposed to it. One afternoon in the school’s lounge, a young woman pleads to a visitor, “Please help us.” She had taken the exam twice and failed. Her husband, she says, is growing impatient. “He always says, ‘Pass the exam or I will leave you,’” she explains. She will soon be taking the exam for the third time.

In the school’s lounge, a stout 56-year-old woman named Ayse discusses her daughter-in-law, Fatime. “Is there anything you can do to help us?” Ayse asks. Ayse has lived in a small city in Germany’s Ruhr district for 40 years, where she had worked in a pickle factory before retiring. She speaks some basic German, enough to say phrases like “small village” as she explains how she’d found a wife for her son during a visit to her birthplace, a small village in central Anatolia.

Ayse saw Fatime, a quiet 20-year-old, at a marriage celebration. “I liked her, so I bought her,” she says, letting out a high-pitched laugh. The expression in Turkish suggests an offer of marriage and not a literal purchase. Ayse’s son, a house painter, came to meet his prospective bride. “They met, they talked, they liked each other,” she explains. The couple agreed to marry in Turkey. The bride was decorated with henna for the wedding. Fatime, however, had already taken the exam once and failed. She had not made it beyond the eighth grade in Turkey, says Ayse, who claims she came to Istanbul to be with Fatime because the young woman had “angst” being alone. But the costs were becoming increasingly hard to bear. Ayse, a widow, left her 17-year-old daughter at home alone back in Germany, and the family has spent some $4,500 on courses, room and board, and private tutoring for Fatime.           

Despite these difficulties, Ayse professes her love for Germany. It’s the land where she had made a living and raised her five children, proudly adding that one daughter was nearly finished with medical school. Her German neighbors are nice, and she often cooks for the old German widow next door. But Ayse is not convinced Germany enacted the language requirement to promote integration. Though Ayse never learned much German herself, Fatime, she says, would be better off learning German in Germany, where the family could help her learn the basics and take her out shopping. “We are a big family,” she says. “We could help her.”

THE TEST

The busiest test-taking site in Turkey is on the eighth floor of a bland office building in downtown Ankara. One Friday morning, 31 test takers—18 men and 13 women, each having paid their exam fee of 140 Turkish lira ($93)—file into a florescent-lit room with rows of small desks and German tourism advertisements hanging on the walls. One reads,  “Germany. Simply Friendly.”     

One of the test-takers is a 33-year-old woman named Hanim. She arrived the night before from Gaziantep, a city 435 miles away in southeastern Anatolia near the Syrian border. The white Volkswagen van that brought her was filled with a dozen passengers, other test takers and accompanying family members. After reaching Ankara late at night, they slept in the van. During the exam that morning, the family members wait outside, including one older man wearing baggy, traditional pants, who for a short time, long ago, had lived in Germany. He still keeps a tattered German medical insurance card in his wallet “for the memories.”

The multiple-choice section lasts about an hour. Then the test takers break into small groups for oral exams. The students are asked to introduce themselves. Hanim answers mechanically, like a soldier trained how to respond to enemy interrogators: “I’m 33. I come from Turkey. I live in Gaziantep. I am a housewife. My hobby is shopping.” Then she is told to pose a series of questions on different topics. Hanim, however, repeatedly says nothing, as if she did not understand the task. Her chances of passing the test seem remote. She finally seems to catch on when the administrator asks her simply to make any kind of request. “Can you give me a rose?” Hanim replies in German.

After the exam, Hanim slips into a black hijab and ankle-length black garment so that only her face is exposed. Outside, she meets the crowd of family members, including her brother. Almost everyone begins complaining about the exam. “It is punishment. Maybe they don’t want us to come to Germany,” she says. “I am just a housewife. Why do I need to learn how to use the Internet or write a letter?” German words can get so terribly long, she explains, and of course the fact that she had not gone beyond elementary school did not make it any easier. “All you need to know is how to introduce yourself. You can learn the rest in Germany.”

Gulcan Bayazit, a broad 39-year-old, chimes in. “This is psychological pressure,” she says in perfect German, with a trembling voice. Raised in Germany, she lives in Mönchengladbach, as do her four children from a first marriage. She has come to Ankara to help her second husband study for the exam. He failed the first time he took it, even though he had attended university. “Once someone is over the age of 30, it is hard for them to learn a new language.” Another man wearing a pinstriped suit who is waiting for his daughter adds, “They might as well tell us not to come to Germany.

UP ON STAGE

One day after her class at Istanbul’s Goethe Institute, Koyun and a group of her classmates attend an optional theater workshop that allows them to practice their fledgling German. For some of the students, it would be their first time on a stage. In the theater, the instructor calls pairs of students to the stage to perform short skits. In one scenario, Barack Obama meets David Beckham on the street. The two young men playing the roles kiss each other on both cheeks. “What’s up?” David Beckham asks Barack Obama. The class erupts in giggles. “Stand straight,” shouts Koyun from the audience to the student playing Barack Obama. “You are a politician.”

Koyun and another woman, a friend of hers from class, then take the stage. They are playing Angela Merkel and Shakira, the Colombian pop star. The two are to meet in a bus station. Koyun plays Merkel. “Who is Angela Merkel?” Koyun asks the instructor. A few of the students from class shout, “The German President,” though actually, Merkel is the Chancellor. Koyun, also seemingly unaware of Shakira’s identity, then asks, “Which one holds the higher status?” as if this would influence the way she plays her role. “You are,” responds one student. “You are the President.” After class, Koyun walks toward the bus stop with a companion. “I did not know until today,” says the other woman, “that the leader of Germany is a woman.”

In the spring, Koyun takes the exam and passes. It is a huge relief. She has overcome the dreaded obstacle between her and her future. The wedding celebration will take place in her village that summer as planned. Koyun moves back to her village and awaits the changes to come, though, as the months drag by, much of the German she learns vanishes. While the life that lies ahead in Germany remains largely an unknown, during her time in Istanbul, the possibilities had seemed bright. “I’m 23 years old, but I have not done any great things,” she said one day after class. “Until now.”

What would become of Koyun and the others in her class in Germany? She had a sense, however vague, that she was hovering on the cusp of accomplishing great things. Still, her hopeful outlook  could clash with her future in a nation where Turkish immigration is often perceived as a problem.

Of course, there are real immigration-related social problems in Germany, so it’s no great stretch to imagine why Germans are so hesitant about more, new, unencumbered arrivals. Germany’s immigration history, stemming largely from the arrival of waves of guest workers in the 1960s and early 1970s, has been fraught, over time resulting in complex social problems. But erecting barriers to family unification does not address, in any meaningful sense, the real social problems in Germany that integration policy should seek to remedy—underemployment, lower than average educational achievement, and other ills that disproportionately beset some migrant groups. The pre-entry tests only intensify a sense of social inequity by seeming to target the family life of those groups.

As barriers have been erected to keep out uneducated migrants, German policy makers are increasingly realizing the importance of luring highly skilled migration for a needy German labor market, especially as the German population is shrinking. Germany can better lure such workers by providing greater incentives and creating a society more open to cultural differences. Placing barriers on family life in order to stem what is perceived as “the wrong kind” of immigration is not part of the answer.

Whereas Koyun’s experience at the Goethe Institute was very positive, she was among a fortunate minority in Turkey with the resources to take the course. German authorities should rather focus on making sure new immigrants have the opportunity for a similar experience once they arrive in Germany. The benefits of learning about German language and society should not be contingent on the threat of losing the possibility of being with one’s family.

Political leaders across Europe should beware of pursuing alienating and arguably discriminatory policies that masquerade as integration, lest they undermine the beneficial integration policies that might truly help alleviate long-simmering problems. The focus of wise integration policy should be to create conditions in Europe where migrants and their children have equal opportunities to participate in society—to receive a good education, to become school-teachers, police officers, politicians, and business leaders. Ultimately, a wise integration policy should improve life at home, not create barriers abroad.

*****

*****

James Angelos is a Berlin-based journalist who has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic. He writes often on migration issues and researched Turkish immigration to Germany under the sponsorship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

[Image: Digital Sextant]

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Anonymous's picture
European language tests


It seems to me that every European country has the right to decide what kind of people it wants to admit as immigrants, and eventually citizens. It also has the right to limit their number. There is no "human right" to go and live in any particular country of one's choice. The article fails to mention the obvious answer to the problem of couples upset by barriers such as language tests. If they are really so distraught at living apart, the Europe-based spouse should rejoin his or her partner in their country of origin, whether that be Turkey, India, or somewhere else. Finally, "Holland" does not pass immigration laws. The name of the country is The Netherlands.
FALL FUNDRAISER

 

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