German immigration restrictions open to change, official says

berlin | Germany is considering changing its controversial new immigration law for Jews from the former Soviet Union, but Jewish leaders will be consulted about any changes, the country’s interior minister said.

Otto Schily’s statement last week was designed to head off criticism of the new law from the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

The interior minister said talks with the Central Council will continue about the law, which is expected to restrict Jewish immigration to Germany from the former Soviet Union. The law took effect Jan. 1.

Schily also accused unnamed individuals of trying to sow ill will between the ministry and the Central Council, which has questioned aspects of the new law.

The Central Council said it first learned details of the law in mid-December. Presented as a response to Germany’s struggling economy, the law restricts immigration to economically secure people under age 45 with a basic knowledge of German. In addition, Jewish applicants from the former Soviet Union must obtain a certificate from a synagogue in Germany affirming that they would be accepted into the community.

The rules can be altered, Schily said. He promised that the Central Council, which represents some 105,000 Jews in Germany, would be included in talks on any changes.

The Conference of Interior Ministers of German states is continuing to discuss the matter. The German Parliament’s committee for internal affairs also will discuss the issue Jan. 19.

On Dec. 20, the council’s president, Paul Spiegel, called aspects of the law “completely unacceptable.” He expressed concern for 27,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union who have been waiting, some more than six years, for their applications to be processed.

The Interior Ministry enacted a temporary regulation Dec. 29 granting entry to those who had received official invitations by Jan. 1 under the former “contingency refugee” regulations for ex-Soviet Jews.

Last week, the interior minister announced that new regulations would be developed for applicants still waiting for an answer, or those who wish to apply.

The “goal is to strengthen and ease their integration” in Jewish communities and in Germany, Schily said.

Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, said he had no problem with an immigration law that discouraged Jews in the former Soviet Union from coming to Germany. He told the German newspaper Freies Wort that the new rules were in keeping with the Israeli position, that there are no Jewish refugees since all Jews have a homeland in Israel.

Israel has been embarrassed in recent years that more former Soviet Jews have moved to Germany than to Israel, which offers them less in welfare benefits. But Stein said he respected the decision of some Jews to move to Germany.

Toby Axelrod

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week and published books on Holocaust history for teenagers.