European Centre for Counterterrorism and Intelligence Studies, Germany & Netherlands – ECCI.
Immigrants in Germany: Who gets what kind of support?
Matthias von Hein
DW – Opposition leader Friedrich Merz has again ruffled feathers with a populist statement targeting refugees. It is not the first time he has misrepresented refugees’ entitlement to state benefits. DW has the facts.The chairman of Germany’s center-right opposition party Christian Democratic Union, Friedrich Merz, has often made controversial statements on migration and integration. Now, he implied that even rejected asylum seekers get generous health care free of charge, while other people lose out.
“People go crazy when they see that 300,000 asylum seekers have been rejected, but do not leave the country, and still receive full benefits, receive full medical care. They sit at the doctor’s and have their teeth redone, and German citizens next door don’t get any appointments,” Merz told private channel Welt TV.These remarks were debunked by doctors as well as refugee organizations and triggered outrage among politicians from the center-left.
The debate about migration policy in Germany now revolves around limiting the number of refugee arrivals. And around the question of whether the benefits for asylum seekers create false incentives. But who receives what benefits in Germany depends fundamentally on the status of the refugees.
Asylum seekers receive only acutely necessary medical and dental care.Acute medical emergencies, such as injuries, must be treated in hospitals. The social welfare office covers the costs.Health care is regulated differently in the 16 federal states. In many states, asylum seekers must apply for a treatment certificate from the relevant social welfare office before receiving treatment.
Once the asylum application has been approved, or after 18 months of residence, refugees have access to the regular health services provided by the statutory health insurance funds. Cosmetic surgery is not covered by health insurance.
Asylum seekers are usually first housed in a so-called initial reception facility. These are often large accommodations such as former barracks. People live in shared rooms without their own cooking facilities but are provided with full meals. The stay in an initial reception facility can last between a few weeks and several months with 18 months the maximum duration.
Eventually, asylum seekers are distributed to the municipalities, where they are entitled to accommodation which can be an emergency shelter, a hostel or collective housing for refugees.
Most of the shared housing units can accommodate a few dozen to several hundred people. These can be newly constructed buildings with several self-contained cooking facilities and bathrooms and shared areas with playground equipment for children. Sometimes refugee accommodation is in run-down houses in remote parts of town, where refugees have to share rooms with four or five other people.
During the asylum procedure, asylum seekers’ freedom of movement is restricted: For the duration of the procedure and sometimes beyond, they are obliged to live in the assigned place. They are not allowed to work. Initially, they can not attend German classes.
What asylum seekers are entitled to is regulated by the so-called Asylum Seekers’ Benefits Act.If asylum seekers live in an initial reception facility or shared accommodation, they are provided with items that count as “necessary needs.” This includes food, shelter, heating, clothing, health and personal care products, and household goods. The protection seekers are also entitled to pocket money. For single beneficiaries, this is currently about 150 euros ($158) per month.
If food, clothing and other daily necessities are not provided in kind, asylum seekers receive a cash benefit of €367 per month.If asylum seekers do voluntary work, they may receive up to €200 euros in compensation.
Rejected asylum seekers
Asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected must leave Germany. However, many cannot be forced to return to their country of origin, for example, if war is raging there or if they cannot receive vital health care there, or because their origin is unclear and they are without documents.
In such cases, they are allowed to remain in Germany temporarily and are granted a so-called Duldung (tolerated status). This currently affects 140,000 people.
They are entitled to full benefits under the Asylum Seekers Benefits Act, just like asylum seekers. If they stay for a longer period, they are allowed to take on a job or undergo training.
In addition, Germany accepts refugees under the Geneva Convention, who fear persecution for their ethnicity, religion, or membership of a particular social group. These do not go through an asylum or other recognition procedure but are immediately granted a residence permit upon arrival and are entitled to benefits as long as they can not finance themselves.
Special case: Ukrainian war refugees
The estimated 1.1 million war refugees from Ukraine are a special case in this category. They are granted a residence permit for temporary protection for a period of two years without an asylum procedure. This includes an immediate and unrestricted right to work.
Those who cannot work are entitled to the full range of benefits: This includes accommodation and the same benefits German citizens receive, known as “Bürgergeld” or citizen’s income. Currently (September 2023), the citizen’s income for single adults amounts to €502 per month for living expenses. They also have regular health insurance.