AICGS’ New Transatlantic Exchange Program for Young Minorities:

Giving Voice to Future Leaders

About the Program

AICGS is pleased to announce its inaugural German-American youth exchange program on the theme “Immigration, Integration, and a New Transatlantic Generation.” As part of this new initiative, twenty young leaders from academia, media, business, politics, and society will take part in seminars and site visits in Washington and Berlin.

This innovative program will establish new connections between communities growing principally from an immigration background and address common challenges of integration such as unemployment, political and societal leadership, and international engagement. Project participants will include a core group of young leaders for intensive discussions and also interaction with the broader community of experts and advocates focused on issues of immigration, integration, and cross-cultural understanding.

AICGS is pleased to announce that this program has been extended. Click here for more information on the 2017-2018 program and how to apply.

This program is generously funded by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi) (Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany with Funds through the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economics and Energy (BMWI)).

AICGS has two primary objectives for the program: (1) to deepen public understanding of the issues and concerns of the largest populations in Germany and the United States with an immigration background; (2) and to build and sustain a network of young leaders committed to transatlantic relations (Click here to see a member of the German Bundestag highlight the importance of the program in this context).

Activities comprise a conference and site visits in both cities. Participants at the conference will engage in small groups and interact with leading experts from minority umbrella organizations, government, research institutions, and political foundations. Participants will also have the opportunity to visit other institutions including cultural/historical sites, offices of elected representatives, and non-profit associations that focus on issues of the underrepresented.


AICGS stellt ein neues deutsch-amerikanisches Austauschprogramm zum Thema “Immigration, Integration und eine neue transatlantische Generation” vor. Das Programm bringt zwanzig junge Menschen, die sich in Deutschland und den USA in den Bereichen Gesellschaft, Politik, Wirtschaft, Wisschenschaft und den Medien in Führungsrollen engagieren und die wenig oder keine Erfahrung mit den transatlantischen Beziehungen haben, für zwei Tagungen nach Washington und Berlin.

Dieses innovative Projekt, welches durch das Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi) finanziert wird, soll neue Verbindungen zwischen wachsenden Bevölkerungsgruppen mit Migrationshintergrund herstellen und sich mit wichtigen Themen wie Erwerbslosigkeit, politische und soziale Führungsrollen und internationales Engagement auseinandersetzen. Projektteilnehmer sind eine Kerngruppe von jungen Menschen, die zu intensiven Diskussionen zusammenkommen und gleichzeitig die Gelegenheit haben, sich mit einer Gruppe von Experten zu den Themen Immigration, Integration und kulturübergreifende Verständigung auszutauschen.

AICGS verfolgt zwei Hauptziele mit dem Programm: (1) eine Vertiefung des allgemeinen Verständnisses bezüglich der Situation der größten Bevölkerungsgruppen mit Migrationshintergrund in Deutschland und den USA und der Herausforderungen, die sich ihnen stellen; (2) der Aufbau eines Netzwerkes von jungen Menschen mit Führungspotential, die sich für die transatlantischen Beziehungen einsetzen.

Programmaktivitäten bestehen aus jeweils einer Konferenz sowie Ortsbesichtigungen in Washington und Berlin. Konferenzteilnehmer werden sich in kleinen Gruppen engagieren und sich mit führenden Experten aus Regierungskreisen, Forschungsinstitutionen, politischen Stiftungen und Dachverbänden, die sich für die Belange von unterrepräsentierten Gruppen einsetzen, austauschen. Teilnehmer werden auch die Möglichkeit haben, zum Thema wichtige historische Stätte, Sitze von Regierungsvertretern und Nichtregierungsorganisationen zu besuchen.

Die ausgewählten Bewerber müssen an beiden Tagungen teilnehmen. Die Tagungen finden vom 11. bis 15. Oktober 2015 in Washington DC und vom 1. bis 4. Mai 2016 in Berlin statt. Reise- und Hotelkosten sowie verschiedene Mahlzeiten werden von AICGS übernommen.


The list of participants from Germany and the U.S. is available here. Read the bios of the participants here.

Washington, DC Events

The participants gathered in Washington, DC, from October 17-21. Participants at the seminar engaged in small groups and interacted with leading experts from umbrella organizations dealing with immigration and integration, government, research institutions, and political foundations. They also had the opportunity to visit other institutions, including cultural/historical sites, offices of elected representatives, and non-profit associations that focus on issues of the underrepresented. The Berlin portion of the program will take place in May 2017.

Panel 1: Integration and Immigration Issues

The panel gave an overview of immigration to the United States with a special focus on the Hispanic population in the United States. In the United States, the largest group of immigrants comes from Mexico. The panelist also gave an overview of the future demographic changes the country faces as well as the changing set-up of the immigration flow from Latin America. Today, one out of four children in the United States is Hispanic. At the current rate of demographic change, there will be no white majority in the population forty-five years from now. Unauthorized immigration from Mexico decreased and there has been an increase in apprehended immigrants from other Latin American countries. It was also stressed that American public opinion toward immigration differs depending on economic performance, country of origin, and political orientation.

In the ensuing discussion the participants were interested in the assimilation and integration of immigrants in the United States. There was a consensus that found language skills as the predominant factor for a successful integration, as well as that the value of multiculturalism has increased. The topic shifted to the aspects that burden integration, such as the high costs for the citizenship application or discrimination. Integration in the United States is taking place at the community level, and traditional receiving communities have built up a welcoming culture that helps to integrate newcomers. With a changing settling pattern of immigrants in the United States, other cities still have to adjust to a more diverse population. The panel’s participants saw a need to challenge the current existing structures of the public attitude toward newcomers in both Germany and the United States. Another focus was put on the reasons for the lack of policy changes regarding immigration in the United States and the structural barriers immigrants and Hispanics face in political participation and representation. The group emphasized media representation of immigrants and the lack of communication among different immigrant groups as further reasons for a lack in political representation.

Panel 2: Public Health and Law

The panel introduced the history of immigration in the political rhetoric. In the 1970s, immigration was framed as an economic concern, giving way to concerns about law and order and culture in the 1980s. After 9/11, the dialogue focused on terrorism and national security concerns. The recent reform debates often focus on the legal status of immigrants.

Immigration law holds a lot of complexity; after tax law, it is the most complicated law in the United States. Especially when an immigrant is involved in any criminal act, it has implications for status or for getting immigration benefits. However, unlike criminal law, violators of immigration law do not have right to legal representation. Advocates have been pushing for comprehensive immigration reforms for years. While some recent reforms have been positive (for example, recognizing the importance of low-skilled work visas), the United States still needs comprehensive reforms.

Achieving comprehensive reforms is problematic, and this has much to do with messaging. For example, despite research that shows that immigrants raise economic opportunity for natives and that crime rates among immigrants are lower than crime rates among natives, political rhetoric (especially in the current election cycle) often presents a different story. Among advocacy groups, there is the unanswered question of what story could be told, and how, to make people be in favor of migration.

There is the need for a new narrative, one reaching out to the different concerns, be they economic, security, or cultural. Only a convincing and at the same time non-biased narrative will be able to successfully address populist messages and win public support.

Panel 3: Teaching English and Bilingual Education

In the third panel, the two panelists gave insights into their work at schools in the Washington, DC, area that focus on teaching English language skills to immigrants. It was laid out how English skills lead to job opportunities and better paid jobs for immigrants. English skills are seen as the first step toward a successful integration and application for citizenship. The biggest challenge for adult immigrants is to manage two to three jobs at the same time and still attend and commit to language classes. While the improvement of language skills is a priority for immigrants, a broader range of legal services is also necessary for a successful integration.

It was pointed out that the mentality and structure to provide language classes for migrants differs in Germany and the United States. In the United States, the language schools are public schools financed through taxpayers. This is based on the idea that successful language learners pay taxes when they get access to higher paid jobs. The group from Germany reported challenges especially concerning the recent refugee crisis. In Germany, investment in language classes for refugees with an undetermined immigration status is seen as a risky investment. The participants pointed out that for refugees in Germany it is hard to use and pay for public transportation to get to their language class.

The language schools both reported diverse student bodies in DC whose students are mainly driven by the desire to learn English. Comparing the United States and Germany, the group shifted its focus toward the importance of reaching out to potential new students and to the accessibility of classes due to public transportation and gentrification in cities. The group also saw challenges in how the receiving country categorizes different groups of immigrants and is willing to expose language learners to native speakers.

Panel 4: Integration in Business: Corporate Responsibility

Demographics in the United States are shifting. In 2015, there were 57 million Hispanics in the United States, and it is projected that by 2030 Hispanics will make up one-third of the U.S. population. This means that Hispanics have big buying power within the American economy. In 2015, $1.3 trillion in buying power was controlled by Hispanics, and often it is women making the decisions about how household money is spent. The median age of the white population is 43, for Hispanics it is 28. This will have a big impact on the future workforce. The educational attainment of Hispanics has changed tremendously within the last twenty years. The dropout rate used to be at 33 percent in 1993, whereas it was at 12 percent in 2014. In addition to that, more and more Hispanics enroll in institutions after high school. These developments are building up a growing talent pool.

This data is important for companies in two senses. It has a broad and expanding base of diverse consumers to target. And that means more than translating an advertisement into Spanish. It means including a growing group of educated, talented, and diverse individuals in the company structure at all levels. Representation of Hispanics at the highest levels of companies is lacking, but with the buying power of this community and the talent they represent, it is in the private sector’s interest to hire diversity.

Regarding advice for young, diverse applicants, it was stressed to not only seek out mentors, but also sponsors. Mentors provide advice and insights into the industry. Sponsors actively promote hiring those they are sponsoring. Often, corporate culture hires types with whom they are comfortable and familiar, so it is important to have sponsors inside companies that advocate for diverse hires at all levels.

Panel 5: U.S. Elections and Immigrant Communities

The panelist introduced the need to bring more resources to the Latino community in the United States in order to enhance political participation and representation. In regard to the upcoming U.S. presidential election, the growing Latino community that is eligible to vote can evoke fear among certain electorates. With a pivotal demographic change in the United States, the discussion focused on the parties’ need to recognize the Latino population and to provide access to party engagement for Latinos. The group discussed how the outcome of the presidential election would affect the Hispanic community and concluded that the complicated system of checks and balances is most likely to prevent any immigration reform, regardless of the election outcome.

A major discussion point was the low engagement of the Hispanic community in elections. Participants noted that the narrative of “your vote does not matter” in a two party system has to change in order to get Latinos to the polls. This narrative was found to discourage a large and very particular demographic group of young first or second generation immigrants from participating. This discussion provided a crash course in U.S. politics to the German participants. The German and American participants in the group found similar challenges in their countries regarding how immigrant groups can make their voices heard in a political system that is dominated by the white population. The focus then shifted to how some universities in the United States fail to deal with increasingly multicultural student bodies. To end on a more positive note, the group refocused on the growing professional Latino community and the improvement in educational access for Latinos.

Site Visit: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service

There are currently 8 million people in the United States that are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. Even though the government embraces a positive view to see all immigrants as future citizens, the fear of the immigration test, the lack in English skills, and the fee for naturalization are considered as high obstacles for eligible immigrants. The federal government works to lessen these obstacles by providing better customer service and access to educational materials for potential citizens. Every year about 700,000 people become U.S. citizens and one million gain a permanent resident status. The numbers of applications for citizenship are increasing. Immigrants mainly originate from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

The integration of immigrants is mainly taking place on a community level in schools and at the workplace. With the changing pattern of immigrant settlement in the United States, some cities were taken by surprise by increasing immigrant populations and still need to develop welcoming communities. As an overall trend, however, cities rely on immigrants to impact the economy in a positive way. While the funding for immigration and integration is limited on the federal level, the states put more effort into immigrant integration as well as community and faith-based groups.

On the federal level, the economic, linguistic, and civic integration of immigrants is of high importance. Citizenship is promoted as the equalizer for all Americans. The work also includes a better outreach to immigrants in rural areas, the reduction of immigrant exploitation, and the development of immigrant integration plans in communities.

In the following discussion the participants were especially interested in the improvement of a better customer service of the federal government toward applicants. It was also clarified that while the fee for naturalization is a burden for many immigrants, it is a necessary service fee an applicant has to pay for his own application to be processed. The discussion also raised questions of the definition of homeland security and immigration. Participants learned that the federal approach sees a successful integration as a responsibility of the individual person’s effort.

Site Visit: Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany

Germany views itself as an immigration destination and sees migration as a positive development. It was acknowledged that the country is still learning to deal with more diversity in its demographic set-up. Regarding Germany’s handling of the current refugee crisis, the officials acknowledged security concerns but highlighted the international respect Germany has garnered for welcoming refugees.

The discussion focused on the different definitions of integration and diversity when it comes to the German and the American point of view. There were two main differences: first, the short versus long immigration experience of Germany and the United States and, second, the government-driven versus the community-driven processes of integration in both countries. For the German participants of Turkish descent, the question of the current Turkey crisis and the experience of being Turkish in Germany was an important issue. This question led to a debate over how segregation is handled in Germany and in the United States and how loyalty to the native and the host country does not have to be mutually exclusive.

The debate shifted to political representation of immigrant groups in Germany and the government’s approach to make minorities more visible in Germany. In Germany, the integration process takes time and people with a migratory background fill political ranks slowly. The approaches toward assimilation and multiculturalism in Germany were also challenged. While the German government favors multiculturalism, it sees a need that all groups execute the rule of the German laws regarding discrimination or the equality of men and women. The discussion was concluded in agreement that the long-term development for immigration and integration in Germany is a positive one.

Site Visit: Congress

If there is one thing that both political parties can agree on in the United States, it is that the U.S. immigration system is broken. In 2013, the Gang of Eight senators (four Democrats and four Republicans) worked together to propose a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. While the bill passed in the Senate, it was not introduced in the House of Representatives. It brought immigration reform back into the spotlight, and lawmakers are hopeful that after the election, the new administration will move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. Comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, legal reforms are vital to a sustainable and effective immigration policy. If only one group benefits, it is unlikely, due to the slow-moving nature of legislation, that other groups will ever see benefits of their own.

Priorities for the office in immigration reform were border patrol, enforcement, high skilled visas, and paths to documentation and citizenship for 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows. Legal rights for those apprehended by border patrol were especially emphasized. Many are fighting for the end of private prisons, which have bad records on human rights. The Department of Justice no longer uses private prisons; however, the Department of Homeland Security (the agency in charge of immigration) still employs private prisons. Currently, those arrested for violating U.S. immigration laws are not allowed lawyers. This is especially problematic for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors. Lawmakers are working to ensure that immigration reform includes access to counsel and ensures human rights and safety of those in custody of immigration officials.

Site Visit: Skype Call with City of Detroit Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-López

In this Skype call with the first Hispanic woman elected to Detroit’s city council, the participants got the chance to learn more about the city of Detroit, Michigan, and the work of minority representation in an elected office. The former social worker explained how she established an immigration task force with an accessible language program for the city. As a minority majority city, Detroit has a large welcoming community for newcomers.

Participants were interested in how to overcome the barriers that immigrants face when it comes to elected office. The wish to represent a community, compassion, and integrity due to immigration background were seen as the most important motivational factors to run for elected office. The panelist introduced the triangle concept for sufficient development of new policies which is a balanced approach of (1) policies, (2) grass root organizations, and (3) elected officials. In a city with a 30-40 percent poverty rate as well as unemployment, the focus shifted to Detroit’s water and housing issue as a class issue. Despite the fact that immigrants face higher obstacles, participants were motivated to engage themselves in politics and learned that adapting to the established system of policymaking and having the chance to influence policies are important skills in this field.

Site Visit: Migration Policy Institute

The final site visit focused on integration of migrant communities through education and the labor market. The American and German systems use different frameworks in both education and labor market integration. The United States education system uses a data-driven and linguistic framework when referring to immigrant students. The German system, on the other hand, has far less data on its immigrant populations, and identifies students based on the citizenship of their parents. In the German education system, a student’s “diverseness” does not go away once they learn the language, whereas in the United States a student is seen as integrated once he or she is no longer an “English language learner.” Both countries face the challenge of providing education to refugees and other marginalized groups with uninterrupted education.

The United States and Germany have different approaches to labor market integration. The United States follows the “work first” model, and Germany follows the “train first” model. The work first approach offers migrants employment, but does not offer training or allow migrants to develop skills that will allow for them to be upwardly mobile. The German train first method has a higher barrier to entry; migrants need money to support themselves and their families and often cannot afford to be involved in a training program that does not pay.

Aside from education and economic integration, migrants also need holistic support that accounts for mental health and other challenges that migrants face. This is where civil society comes into play. Civil society groups can provide support and community to newcomers and perhaps even build trust in integration and immigration systems. It is often difficult to lose sight of the full picture of the challenges that any migrant faces, and civil society is vital in welcoming migrants and providing services outside of traditional institutions.

Berlin Events

The German-American youth exchange program on the theme “Immigration, Integration, and a New Transatlantic Generation.” is an innovative program which establishes new connections between communities that have grown principally from an immigration background, and addresses common challenges of immigration and integration, such as discrimination, employment, political and societal leadership, education, and international engagement. Project participants include a core group of young leaders for engagement in intensive discussions, and a broader community of experts and advocates for interaction focused on issues of immigration, integration, and cross-cultural understanding.

Panel I: Political Institutions and Immigration

Speaker: Michael Knoll, Director Hertie Foundation

The Hertie Foundation supports projects in three areas: neuroscience, European integration, and democracy training. The discussion centered primarily on the Hertie Foundation’s work in social innovation and education to promote European integration and democracy training. Particularly, the Hertie School of Governance and Innovation Center for Advanced Practitioners.

The Hertie School of Governance was founded based on the need for a new concept of governance for Germany and a way to train the next generation of leaders in the context of the new European Union administration. The school is the first professional public policy school in Germany, but the idea of a private foundation funding a private school was not new to Germany – they had the example of Bucerius Law School in Hamburg.

The Hertie Foundation wanted to provide a space for young people to try projects and built them up. At the time of the Innovation Center for Advanced Practitioners’ founding, there was no place for academics to come together and discuss and try projects. The idea was to create a space for innovation and collaboration, with the Hertie name being a facilitator and way for their fellows to make the contacts they needed for their work to be successful. Two examples of innovation center projects:

  1. A kitchen “on the run,” where a contain kitchen traveled through Europe on the path of refugees, connecting people living in towns on the refugee pathways and the refugees themselves, creating first contact between populations and refugees.
  2. A project reconciling the needs of refugees and the logic of administrations, which led to a paper with proposals for modernization of administration which gave officials a clear view of needs of refugees.

The innovation center currently funds five new projects each year, with a six month project overlap period, in order to connect more people and projects.

Panel II: Immigration and Politics

Speakers: Mekonnen Mesghena, Department Head Migration and Diversity, Heinrich Böll Foundation; Christina Krause, Coordinator for Refugees and Migration, Konrad Adenauer Foundation; Dietmar Molthagen, Forum Berlin, Friedrich Ebert Foundation; Annette Siemes, Friedrich Naumann Foundation

The presentations and discussions during the third panel touched on the role of the political foundations regarding immigration and integration.  The foundations share many goals and their work includes several important elements:

  • To provide civic education to the citizens of Germany;
  • To inspire young people to engage in politics;
  • Activity within Germany as well as in foreign countries across the globe;
  • To advance the rights of minorities in Germany;
  • To focus on democratic and constitutional structures;

The foundations have different priorities and views regarding immigration in Germany. Controlled immigration, dual citizenship and naturalization as well as integration (not assimilation) are viewed differently in alignment with party politics. All foundations are actively conducting projects and publish papers on a variety of issues, including integration.  Discussions about the project of the European Union currently inform the work of the foundations and the goal is to inform the public on refugees, migration and integration, which remain important issue for the German public.

The discussion included the topic of social mobility as well as political representation of minorities in Germany. Studies suggest that minorities are underrepresented in government, media, and other institutions. Efforts are underway in Germany to overcome this discrepancy. The participants recognized the similarity of these issues in the United States. Underrepresentation is a dominant issue in the U.S. discourse.

The refugee situation is still very high on the agenda in Germany. In addition to receiving refugees from the Middle East and Africa, Germany is also a major receiving country of migrants from within the EU who are looking for work. Germany still struggles with what kind of politics is needed to accept and welcome newcomers who bring different skill sets and cultures.

An important aspect of the work of the political foundations is to provide scholarships to underrepresented groups, including gender and social class.  Efforts to encourage students who come from non-academic backgrounds are also underway. The alumni of these scholarships act as ambassadors for these programs. However, it is a challenge to promote these opportunities, many people are not aware that they exist. In addition, many high schools are not always open to allowing political foundations to present their work and programs. Many of the German participants commented on how scholarship opportunities helped and encouraged them to pursue a university degree and how important these types of programs are and continue to be for people with an immigration background.

The unique structure of the political foundations in Germany is unparalleled. They do not exist in other European countries or the United States. It is important to note that the foundations promote democracy, dialogue, and consensus within Germany and internationally without promoting their political parties. They constitute an important global quasi civil society actor for the promotion of diplomacy and for raising awareness of important issues.

First Site Visit: German Bundestag

Speakers: Andreas Nick, Member of Parliament (CDU); Teyfik Karakücükoglu, Research Assistant to Manuel Sarrazin (Greens)

The discussion focused on Germany’s history of immigration and integration, and how that differs from the public and political narrative. Germany should acknowledge its status as an immigration country. In the middle of Europe, the German territories were home to migrants for centuries, and today, Germany consistently ranks in the top five of the most popular countries for immigration. However, Germany did not offer institutional integration to guest workers coming to Germany in the 1950s and 60s. Germany did not even consider integration measures until much later, in most cases after “guest workers,” who turned out to not be “guests” at all, began to put down roots and have children.

From citizenship debates in the early 2000s, Leitkultur or “leading culture” debates, to laws regarding the current refugee situation, Germany has often dealt with its immigration policy from one crisis to another, rather than focusing on fundamental structural change. The speakers found the concept of Leitkultur to be ridiculous, especially if one single person or homogenous group is the one deciding what the “leading culture” is. Germany has learned from the failed immigration policies of the 1960s, however, is still struggling with the concept of integration. The discussion about “Leitkultur” that has been on the agenda in the wake of an influx of refugees into the country exemplifies this. Many argue that integration should be based on the constitution only. A debate about ethnic background is counterproductive. In addition to adhering to the German basic law, the creation of opportunities for everybody in Germany, regardless of background, is important.

Panel III: The Challenges and Opportunities in Immigration and Integration

Speakers: Ulrich Weinbrenner, Head of the Department for Integration, Federal Ministry of the Interior; Luisa Seiler, SINGA Deutschland

In light of the recent refugee crisis, the Department for Integration at the interior ministry has been adapted in order to streamline federal resources and funding. Regarding resources for integration, the federal government can provide funding and programs for language courses and labor market integration. State and local levels of government administration provide schooling, and the local level provides housing support. There is also a federal department for social cohesion and integration, which provides programs and courses for political education, seeks to build relationships between religious communities in Germany, and looks for solutions to Germany’s aging society. The department is trying to be forward-looking and anticipate future migration patterns to Germany, so they can be more prepared and provide better services.

SINGA is a Europe-based organization with programs in six countries. SINGA was founded to connect locals and newcomers on a personal level in communities. SINGA’s main activity is the “living room,” where volunteers host locals and newcomers in their home for an activity such as a meal, storytelling, or watching a movie. SINGA aims to connect people on a personal level with a low threshold for entry; a familiar activity that they can share with someone who they perceive as different. SINGA has also begun to develop professional programs, where locals and newcomers of the same occupation come together and provide information, networks, and expertise to how each system works. The low threshold, person-to-person model is replicable for other organizations trying to connect groups in society that would not normally interact, and other programs have already reached out to SINGA to replicate their methodologies.

Panel IV: Immigration and Society

Speakers: Jona Krieg, Arrivo Berlin and Astrid Ziebarth, German Marshall Fund

The focus of this civil society organization Arrivo is to provide access to the workforce for refugees. The slogan “Flüchtling ist kein Beruf” (refugee is not a profession) was promoted during public demonstrations in support of refugees and migrants to be able to work. The ability to work and contribute to society as well as provide for themselves and their families is a critical component of the integration process. Arrivo launched a campaign to encourage companies and craft associations to offer internships, training, and jobs. Arrivo acts as an interlocutor for both sides: the refugees and the companies that can potentially offer them work and training opportunities.

Providing a perspective to refugees is a crucial element in the efforts to support refugees. Ascertaining refugees’ abilities and knowledge and to teach the German language are two of the biggest challenges regarding workforce integration. In order to create a structure that can build on the existing knowledge of refugees and addresses the language challenges, Arrivo established three modules. These are carried out within a safe space for refugees and migrants to receive orientation and approach adjustment in their new surroundings:

  • Introduction to the labor market through in-house workshops
  • Language classes: professional language, interview skills, job-specific terminologies
  • Cooperation with job centers and introduction to the VET system

The programs stress individual support and provide legal counsel and an introduction to the local and often overwhelming bureaucracy. The model that Arrivo pursues is that everybody can succeed on their own terms. Individuals can spend as much or as little time as they need in the programs offered. Some participate for three weeks while others require six months. The individualization as well as the support from social workers or mentors is an important aspect for refugees to successfully integrate into society and the workforce.

Arrivo is one of many projects that exist in Germany and is considered a best practice model that has been copied a lot. Other initiatives include “Hospitality,” Social Jobs,” and “Dachmann.” Both the German and U.S. participants commented on the importance of these initiatives that support newcomers. Many felt that this type of support has helped them succeed in their lives so far.

The discussion of this panel focused also on how important messaging and communication are when it comes to trying to reach people who have different opinions. People usually preach to the choir and do not emphasize a coherent message that can reach beyond one’s own base. For any topic there are typically 55% of people who are in the middle and have not decided yet where they stand on an issue. To reach this middle group presents a challenge, which can be mastered with the right way of communicating. Storytelling is a powerful tool that can be employed, especially on an issue such as immigration. This was echoed by the participants, who all have compelling stories about their migration background. Being open-minded and taking other opinions under consideration instead of outright rejecting them will lead to a far more positive outcome. Such an approach promotes harmony and mutual understanding even when difficult topics like immigration are being discussed. Germany, which is considered by the OECD to be the most open society for immigrants, struggles with the narrative around its population with a migration background and the current refugee situation.

Panel V: Integration and Communities

Speakers: Cordula Simon, City Council of Neukölln, Berlin; Anna Hermanns, City Council of Neukölln, Berlin; Marc Altenburg, Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs

Neukölln, a neighborhood in Berlin, has 330,000 inhabitants representing 150 different nationalities, and 75 percent of residents live on social welfare. Even in Germany’s social welfare system, many residents of Neukölln have boundaries to climb up the social ladder, starting with the school system. Many families move out of Neukölln to give their children better opportunities. The struggle for Neukölln’s government officials is to invest in the community and break the cycle of bright young people moving away.

Neukölln’s government has taken steps to support those living in the community. One of Neukölln’s outreach program is called District Mothers. Neukölln had difficulty reaching newly arrived mothers in the district, often due to fear or mistrust in government officials, in order to educate them about resources available to them and their children. As a solution, Neukölln reached out to mothers in the district who had lived there for some time who would be more trustworthy to newcomers. This partnership is vital to getting children into the educational system and making sure residents have access to important city resources.

The Federal Ministry of Labor is currently working on ways to quickly and successfully integrate migrants and refugees into the workforce. The federal government has currently invested EUR 20 million in these efforts. Migrants face many high barriers to entry in the German labor market. The first is the German qualification system. Almost all jobs require some sort of German certification. Some migrants bring qualifications with them that might be easily transferred into the German system, but it is increasingly common, especially with refugees from areas where administration did not exist or has been destroyed by war, that workers are unable to prove their own qualifications. There is also the issue of where migrants tend to locate themselves. The places in Germany that need the most workers are not multicultural population centers like Berlin or Munich, they are in rural areas, where support systems for migrants are not as strong. Finally, there is the language and education barrier. Workers in Germany must speak German, and young people who are on the cusp of entering the labor market must learn the language and also integrate into the education system that trains workers. The ministry is looking at ways to lower these barriers through programs and partnerships with localities.

All panelists agreed that the surge of refugees entering Germany since 2015 awakened government ministries at all levels to the need for improvement, not necessarily in what services are provided, but at least in clearer communication to those in need of services. No one expects Germany’s immigration to slow down, and in light of the impending demographic crisis, Germany will rely on immigration over the next decade in order to maintain its workforce. Government should work now to make improvements, rather than wait on the needs of the next surge in immigration to step up integration efforts.

Second Site Visit:   Free Democratic Party of Germany

Speaker: Tim Stuchtey, Deputy Chairman, FDP Berlin Mitte

The visit focused on issues about immigration and integration, of newcomers and those that have lived in Germany for a long time.  Germany is an aging society and needs young people to buy into the intergenerational contract. There is a consensus that Germany needs to do more to integrate those who do not have a high school diploma. Engineers and IT experts are needed most in Germany. It is crucial that children are reached early in order to provide and educate parents about schooling opportunities. Whether children should be required to enroll in a pre-school is being debated within the political parties at the moment. There are similar discussions going on in the United States regarding providing equal opportunities for children of different races and social classes. Germany is also debating what type of immigration system the country needs. Should it be a point system and geared toward labor market needs in addition to humanitarian reasons? The participants questioned the missing humanitarian element of an integration system that focuses only on a country’s economic needs.

Fourth Site Visit: U.S. Embassy

Speaker: Chargé d’Affaires Kent Logsdon

Chargé d’Affaires Kent Logsdon at the U.S. Embassy discussed the role of the embassy and its five consulates in Germany and noted that there are forty-two other government agencies present in Germany. Chargé Logsdon emphasized how important the U.S.-German relationship is, especially during a time in flux. The United States and Germany engage closely with each other regarding a number of global crises. The U.S. embassy sees it as its goal to be a welcoming and open environment for German visitors. The discussion focused on the efforts of the U.S. foreign and diplomatic service to increase diversity among its corps as well as its efforts of talent retention.

Fifth Site Visit: JUMA Project

Speaker:              Kofi Ohene-Dokyi, RAA Berlin

The JUMA (jung, muslimisch, aktiv) project was started in 2010 and reaches over 700 young Muslims in Germany and provides a platform for Muslims of different backgrounds in Germany. Its goal is to empower young Muslims, support them to participate in society, change the biased image of young Muslims that prevails among the general public and train multipliers so they can communicate with the public and other young Muslims. JUMA promotes networking and empowerment among its members. It also tries to build bridges to other religions and communities, educates the public and promotes mutual understanding. It has many partners across Germany who support similar goals.  Before JUMA, there was no organized Muslim grassroots organization in Germany. The U.S. serves as a model for grassroots organizations in Germany. The participants and JUMA members discussed how frequent and coordinated exchanges between different grassroots and civil society groups in the U.S. and Germany is generally lacking. More work needs to be done in order to change this. An important element of JUMA’s work is to focus on similarities, not differences, between groups, which could serve as a starting point for international exchanges.


Immigration, Integration, and a New Transatlantic Generation

Giving Voice to Diversity

Giving Voice to Diversity

AICGS is pleased to present two essays from the second round of the AICGS New Transatlantic Exchange Program: Giving Voice to Diversity. This innovative program establishes new connections between communities in Germany and the United States that have grown principally from an immigration background, and addresses common challenges of immigration and integration, such as discrimination, employment, political and societal leadership, education, and international engagement. The purpose of the Program is two-fold: 1) to deepen public understanding of the issues and concerns of the largest populations in Germany and the United States that have an immigration background; and 2) to build and sustain a network of young leaders committed to transatlantic relations.

Project participants included a core group of young leaders (ten from Germany and ten from the United States) for engagement in intensive discussions during seminars and site visits in Washington, DC (October 2016) and Berlin (May 2017), and a broader community of experts and advocates focused on issues of immigration, integration, and cross-cultural understanding. The authors of the two essays, Maria Alejandra Moscoso Rivadeneira and Mehmet Doğan, were part of this year’s program. Their essays reflect the personal impact of the program, details of program activities, and the richness of the program’s networking experience.

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Immigration, Integration, and A New Transatlantic Generation

Sharing Experiences from Young Minorities in the U.S. and Germany

Giving Voice to Diversity

AICGS is pleased to present two essays from the inaugural round of the AICGS New Transatlantic Exchange Program: Giving Voice to Diversity. This innovative program establishes new connections between communities in Germany and the United States that have grown principally from an immigration background, and addresses common challenges of immigration and integration, such as discrimination, employment, political and societal leadership, education, and international engagement. The purpose of the Program is two-fold: 1) to deepen public understanding of the issues and concerns of the largest populations in Germany and the United States that have an immigration background; and (2) to build and sustain a network of young leaders committed to transatlantic relations.

Project participants included a core group of young leaders (ten from Germany and ten from the United States) for engagement in intensive discussions during seminars and site visits in Washington, DC (October 2015) and Berlin (May 2016), and a broader community of experts and advocates focused on issues of immigration, integration, and cross-cultural understanding. The authors of the two essays, Alex Alvarado and Canan-Cansu Selte, were part of the inaugural program. Their essays reflect the personal impact of the program, details of program activities, and the richness of the program’s networking experience.

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Project News

Call for Applications

Apply by April 1, 2017

on Oct 24, 2016

AICGS is pleased to announce the continuation of its German-American youth exchange program on the theme “Immigration, Integration, and a New Transatlantic Generation.” AICGS is recruiting twenty young leaders from academia, media, business, politics, and society with little or no experience with transatlantic relations for seminars and site visits in Washington and Berlin. The application deadline is April 1 2017.

2015-2016 Program

Please check out the 2015-2016 program details here.