Status: October 2021

This GLOSSARY contains some words and terms that you might not necessarily be familiar with. Some of them are in the online exhibition and will be explained here, and other entries clarify additional aspects of Germany’s asylum and residence law.


Airport procedure

If people seeking protection enter by air, their application for asylum follows a special procedure, the so-called airport procedure. This applies only for people who do not have a valid passport or who are entering from a “safe country of origin.” Although they are on German territory, they are regarded as not yet having entered, and a fast-track procedure is conducted in the transit area of the airport. If their chances of being granted asylum are rated as low, these people will not be allowed to enter and will be sent back, even if they have no valid travel documents, which generally represents an obstacle to deportation. Despite doubts as to the constitutionality of this fast-track procedure, it is treated in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum that was presented by the EU in 2020 as a model for future accelerated border procedures at the external borders of the EU. Critical voices point out that rather than relaxing the difficult situation in the camps there, as has been claimed, the situation will worsen.


The word “asylum” comes from the Ancient Greek “asylos” and means “that which is inviolable.” The term thus encompasses the person seeking protection as well as the inviolable place of protection, the refuge where someone is safe from persecution. In Germany, the right to asylum is anchored in the constitution (Basic Law). However, it can only be claimed by those politically persecuted. General emergency situations such as poverty, civil war, natural disasters, or unemployment are excluded as grounds for being granted asylum. In these cases, refugee protection according to the Geneva Refugee Convention applies.

“Asylum abuse”

“Asylum abuse” is a political catchword that was used particularly frequently in the asylum discourse in the 1980s and early 1990s. The phrase is used to devalue asylum seekers who are not recognized as politically persecuted in the sense of the Basic Law, implying they have fraudulent intentions. This also includes the sweeping suspicion that all asylum seekers want to receive social benefits under false pretences.

Asylum Act

The Asylum Act (until 2015: Asylum Procedure Act) regulates the course of asylum proceedings and determines the rights and obligations of those who apply. It also stipulates which authorities participate in the procedure and what their respective responsibilities are. In cases in which asylum is denied, the law also determines how the stay of the asylum seeker is ended and who is responsible for carrying it out.

“Asylum compromise”

The “asylum compromise” refers to the comprehensive revision of the asylum law in 1993. An amendment to the Basic Law greatly restricted the individual basic right to asylum, especially by defining “safe third countries” and “safe countries of origin.” Also, the Asylum Procedure Act (today: Asylum Act) was changed and the Asylum Seeker Benefits Act was created.

Asylum legislation

As a consequence of the human rights violations committed by the Nazis, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) established a basic right to asylum in their Basic Law in 1949: “Persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right of asylum.” (Article 16 Basic Law). Taking in asylum seekers, however, led from the very beginning to social and political debate. Changes to the asylum legislation were made as early as the late 1970s, restricting the rights of asylum seekers. After the number of asylum applications rose as of the late 1980s, further massive restrictions were made in 1993 through the “asylum compromise.” In 2015 as well, increasing numbers of asylum seekers served as justification in passing yet more substantial changes and restrictions in the asylum laws (asylum packages 1 and 2).

Asylum packages 1 and 2

Approved in October 2015, asylum package 1 served to amend the Asylum Procedure Act (today: Asylum Act), the Asylum Seeker Benefits Act, and the Residence Act. In addition to financial support for the federal states in taking in refugees, the mandatory in-kind benefits (instead of cash) were confirmed, the deportation practice became stricter, and the rights of the asylum seekers were restricted. Hardest hit by these changes were the asylum seekers from “safe countries of origin,” who were also prohibited from working.
Asylum package 2 of March 2016 was a supplementary reform in order to expedite the asylum procedure. Since then, asylum applications that have little chance of success are subjected to a fast-track process. The aim is to deport rejected asylum seekers back to their country of origin faster. The right to family reunification was also suspended for two years for all those entitled to subsidiary protection.

Asylum Seeker Benefits Act

The Asylum Seeker Benefits Act (AsylbLG), first enacted in 1993, regulates the amount and type of benefits for asylum seekers in need and those with a Duldung (temporary suspension of deportation) or those obligated to leave the country. The law stipulates that primarily in-kind benefits or coupons for food, clothing, and lodgings be distributed to the refugees, but not cash. This makes it virtually impossible for refugees to manage their own finances. The level of benefits set in 2015 is based on social welfare benefits, but there is no total agreement. In particular, the medical care offered in the first eighteen months in Germany is below the level of the statutory health insurance. The standard benefits were generally raised in 2019, although a change in the law laid down financial disadvantages for certain groups, especially single people living in the refugee facilities and people obligated to leave the country.



The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) is part of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and is responsible for conducting the asylum proceedings, refugee protection, promoting integration, and promoting “voluntary return.” In conducting the asylum proceedings, the BAMF works together with the registration offices for foreigners in the federal states, the Federal Administrative Office, the federal police force, the security authorities at federal and state levels, and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Ban on deportation

In addition to the principle of non-refoulement (no return), which is valid under international law (Geneva Refugee Convention), Germany also has a national ban on deportation under certain conditions (§60 V and VII AufenthG). A person may not be deported if that would result in considerable danger to life, limb, or liberty, or if the deportation represents a breach of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). In that case, the person involved is issued a residence permit.

Geneva Refugee Convention

Border-crossing certificate

People seeking protection who at the conclusion of the asylum proceedings are denied entry or the right to stay in Germany are required to leave the country within a month or sometimes less. After this period they risk being deported. A person obligated to leave Germany submits the border-crossing certificate (Grenzübertrittsbescheinigung) upon leaving the country. It serves as verification that they have left the country within the set time period. It is then transmitted to the appropriate registration office for foreigners.

Obligation to leave the country
Duldung, temporary suspension of deportation


Central Register of Foreigners (AZR)

The Central Register of Foreigners (Ausländerzentralregister, AZR) is a centrally organized, national database of personal data. It contains information on all foreign nationals who live or have lived in Germany for at least three months. Numerous government agencies have access to the AZR, including the immigration and asylum authorities, the Federal Employment Agency, social services, police, and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In addition to names, photographs, and identity card information, it also collects fingerprints, information on occupation and education, language competence, and state of health and immunization, as well as information in full text on asylum and court decisions, residence requirements (Wohnsitzauflage), and foreign passports. Much criticism has been voiced regarding the storage of data and the lack of transparency for those involved.



Deportation means that foreign nationals who are required to leave the country will be brought outside Germany through coercive police means and the deported person will carry the costs. The registration offices for foreigners in the federal states are responsible for the procedure. They are required to evaluate whether there are any obstacles to deportation. A foreigner registration office can take someone required to leave the country into custody under certain conditions: for example, during preparation for the deportation or if a risk of flight is suspected. Laws were greatly intensified in 2019. Since then there is a so-called “detention for non-participation.” If someone fails to appear for an appointment at an embassy of the (presumed) country of origin or for a medical examination to determine fitness for travel, they can be jailed for up to fourteen days. Also, the ban on separating criminal and deportation prisoners no longer applies.

Dublin procedure

The Dublin III regulation of 2013 stipulates the responsibilities of the EU member states in processing asylum applications. It makes up the foundation for the Dublin procedure. According to this regulation, the country in Europe that a person seeking protection first enters is responsible for processing an application for asylum. Countries in the interior of the European Union “profit” from the procedure, as refugees can hardly enter these countries without having previously passed through another EU country. Although the humanitarian disaster in the refugee camps at the EU external borders has meanwhile revealed the shortcoming of the Dublin system, the European Commission is fundamentally maintaining this procedure, even in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum (EU)

Duldung, temporary suspension of deportation

Duldung is the temporary suspension of deportation of non-German citizens who are obligated to leave the country (Sec. 60 V and VII AufenthG). It is issued if returning to the country of origin is impossible for legal or practical reasons. People with such a temporary suspension of deportation cannot freely choose their place of residence and must reckon with deportation at any time unless they are in a job or a training program. The necessary work permit must be issued by the registration office for foreigners, which often refuses or delays the authorization. Work bans and cuts in benefits are official means of “promoting willingness to leave the country.” There have been demands for many years to grant the right to stay in Germany to those who have had a Duldung for an extended period of time.

Duldung light“

As of 2020, there is a new form of Duldung (temporary suspension of deportation) for people whose identity is uncertain. This “Duldung light” is also to apply for people who allegedly prevented their deportation through false information or deficient cooperation in “the special obligation to assist in obtaining a passport.” It is not taken into account that obtaining a passport can in fact be a very complicated and protracted process. For the person involved, “Duldung light” means—in addition to the existing restrictions—additional obstacles such as cuts in social benefits or receiving a work ban.



The EASY System is an IT application of the BAMF for the initial distribution of asylum seekers among the federal states; up to 2016 this did not include the collection of personal data. When an application for asylum is submitted either at the border or inside the country, it is initially decided which federal state the asylum seeker needs to file the application in. This is intended to assure a balanced distribution among the federal states. After registering in the EASY System, asylum seekers must report to the arrival center that they are assigned through EASY. There they receive proof of arrival and can then submit their formal application for asylum at a branch office of BAMF. Since 2016, the personal data of the asylum seekers are gathered and stored in the Central Register of Foreigners (AZR) even before the asylum application is formally submitted.

Emigrants of German descent

An emigrant of German descent (Aussiedler/Aussiedlerin, after 1993: Spätaussiedler/Spätaussiedlerin) is a descendant of people who were part of the German minority living in Eastern and Southeastern Europe and the Soviet Union or the countries of the former Soviet Union. From the early 1950s until today, emigrants of German descent enter Germany by means of a special admission procedure in order to settle permanently in Germany. Once recognized, they automatically receive German citizenship. Upon request, family members can settle with them. They must verify basic competence in the German language.

Entitlement to asylum

People recognized by the BAMF, pursuant to Article 16a of Germany’s Basic Law, as politically persecuted are entitled to asylum (Asylberechtigung). They also enjoy refugee protection according to the Geneva Refugee Convention. They receive a residence permit valid for three years, which if they are gainfully employed can also entitle them to free choice of place of residence. After an evaluation (revocation review), the residence permit can be replaced by a settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis).

Eurodac database

Eurodac, the European migration database, is an EU-wide system to identify people seeking protection and compare data. The database will store fingerprints of everyone who submits an asylum application or who arrives at an EU external border. In doing this, in agreement with the Dublin agreement, the EU aims to prevent those seeking protection from applying for asylum in more than one European country. There are plans for the system to be increasingly networked with other databases, such as the Schengen Information System and the Visa Information System.


Family reunification

People who are granted an entitlement to asylum or refugee status have a right to privileged family reunification (Familiennachzug). “Privileged” means that it is not necessary for them to verify sufficient living space and independent means of securing a livelihood if the formal conditions and those based on residence law are satisfied. Generally, family reunification applies only for spouses and minor children or the parents of minors, and must be applied for within three months. Those entitled to subsidiary protection do not have any legal claim to family reunification, but the relevant authorities can approve the entrance of up to a maximum of 1000 family members per month.

Freedom of movement

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone the right to move within the territory of a state and to choose their place of residence; and the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return. People with an EU citizenship enjoy the right to freely move, work, and reside within the EU member states without needing a residence permit. For refugees engaged in asylum proceedings, people entitled to asylum, recognized refugees, and asylum seekers who have received a rejection, freedom of movement in Germany and Europe is severely limited through the initial residence requirement and the longer term residence requirement (Wohnsitzauflage).


Geneva Refugee Convention

The Geneva Refugee Convention (GRC) of 1951 – official name: “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees” – contains the definition of who is a “political refugee,” as well as precise provisions on the rights and support that refugees are entitled to in a host country. It also established the obligations of the refugees vis-à-vis the host country and excludes certain groups, such as people who have committed war crimes, from refugee status. The principle of non-refoulement is fundamental. It provides that no one can be extradited, expelled, or returned (French: “refouler”) to a country where they risk torture or other severe human rights violations. Up to now, 145 countries have signed the GRC and the 1967 protocol.


Immigration Act

The 2005 law (Immigration Act, Zuwanderungsgesetz) is officially called the Act to Control and Restrict Immigration and to Regulate the Residence and Integration of EU Citizens and Foreigners. It is an omnibus act combining several laws and regulations. It regulates residence, employment, and the integration of foreigners from third countries in Germany as well as the general freedom of movement for citizens of EU countries. It implements the EU guidelines for residence and asylum law and contains regulations with respect to residence rights, integration, naturalization, and family reunification. As of March 2020, new rules apply regarding access to work and residence during training through the so-called Skilled Workers Immigration Act. The existing scarcity of skilled workers is supposed to be effectively counteracted through immigration of qualified professionals from abroad. However, the hurdles and requirements are very strict.


New Pact on Migration and Asylum (EU)

In 2020 the EU Commission unveiled the draft for a new European migration and asylum system. According to the future law, an accelerated border procedure is to be conducted right at the external EU borders – during which it would be possible for those seeking protection to be held in closed camps. As in the “airport procedure,” they would not be regarded as having “entered” the European Union, so access to a regular asylum procedure would remain closed to them. Human rights organizations doubt that standards of the rule of law and human rights can be guaranteed in these border procedures. The draft also includes a “solidarity mechanism” within the EU. Instead of binding quotas, the member states would be able to decide: Either they take in refugees with prospects of receiving protection status (and they receive money for that), or they opt for “return sponsorships.” A “return sponsorship” means that a country assumes the responsibility to deport those seeking protection whose applications were rejected in another member state. With the goal of increased border defense and deportation, the EU aims to continue to expand its collaboration with non-European countries of origin and transit countries.


Obligation to leave the country

If a foreign national does not have (or no longer has) a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) and has no right to reside in Germany, then they are obligated to leave the country (Ausreisepflicht).

Obstacle to deportation

Under certain circumstances, people required to leave the country cannot be deported to their country of origin. An obstacle to deportation exists if a person is not fit for travel for medical reasons or suffers from a disease that cannot or cannot adequately be treated in the country of origin, or if a return poses special risks or the country of origin does not issue passport substitutes, or refuses to allow the person to entry. In this case, the person has a right to a Duldung (temporary suspension of deportation).


Permission to reside

Once asylum seekers submit an application, they receive permission to reside (Aufenthaltsgestattung). This authorizes them to legally stay in Germany for the duration of the asylum proceedings. Asylum seekers with permission to reside receive social benefits, under certain circumstances can work or receive training, and can generally take advantage of the education system. For the first three months, according to the initial residence requirement, those who submit an application can reside only in the region named in their permission to reside. If they wish to leave that area, they need official permission from the authorities.

Proof of arrival

In addition to the initial registration of all refugees in the EASY (Initial Distribution of Asylum Seekers) system and the nationwide exchange of data in the Central Register of Foreigners, proof of arrival (Ankunftsnachweis, AKN) is another key component of Integrated Identity Management (IDM). It is the first official document confirming the asylum seeker’s registration and thus the entitlement to stay in Germany. Registered asylum seekers have the right to receive state benefits such as lodgings, medical care, and food. As soon as the asylum seeker files an asylum application with a branch office of the BAMF, the proof of arrival is replaced by permission to reside (Aufenthaltsgestattung).


Refugee protection

Section 3 of the Asylum Act defines the granting of refugee status on the basis of the Geneva Refugee Convention. People are recognized as refugees if they are outside of their country of origin out of fear of state or non-state persecution on grounds of their race, nationality, political convictions, religion or affiliation with a particular social group and are unable to avail themselves of the protection of that country. Like those entitled to asylum, they receive a residence permit for three years, which if they are gainfully employed also entitles them to free choice of place of residence. After an evaluation (revocation review, Widerrufsprüfung), the residence permit can be extended or replaced by a settlement permit.


The BAMF reviews each application for asylum on the basis of the Asylum Act to determine if one of the forms of protection applies: entitlement to asylum, refugee protection, subsidiary protection, or a deportation ban. If that is not the case, the asylum application will be rejected. There are two types of rejection: “outright rejection” and rejection as “manifestly unfounded.” An application is considered “manifestly unfounded” if the BAMF suspects deception or forgery or assumes that economic reasons or evading a general emergency situation is the sole reason for asylum application. Rejected asylum seekers who receive an “outright rejection” have two weeks to appeal the decision. The deportation is stayed until the court reaches a decision. Regarding a rejection as “manifestly unfounded,” the appeal must be filed within one week and there is no staying effect. This means that unless emergency legal protection is requested, the person involved will be deported despite the ongoing appeal proceedings.

Residence Permit

In order to live in Germany, all non-Germans who are not citizens of an EU country always require a permit. The Residence Act of 2005 defines two forms of residence permission: a temporary residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) and a permanent settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis). The temporary residence permit is tied to a purpose. It is distinguished whether someone comes to Germany for education (e.g., students or trainees), for work (foreign employees), on humanitarian grounds (e.g., those entitled to asylum and recognized refugees), or for family reasons (family reunification). How long and to what extent the residence permit is valid depends on the purpose.

Residence requirement

After the end of the required period of residence in an arrival facility, asylum seekers are distributed within the federal state. For the duration of the asylum proceedings, they are required to live at their assigned location. As of August 2016, there is a residence requirement also for all people entitled to asylum and protection, as well as those with a Duldung (temporary suspension of deportation) who receive social benefits. They are not permitted to freely choose their place of residence, but instead must live for three years where their asylum proceedings are conducted. In contrast to the initial residence requirement, the longer term requirement allows the holder to temporarily leave the location named, even without permission from the authorities. This residence requirement (Wohnsitzauflage) can be lifted if the person starts a job or training program that is subject to social insurance contributions.

Revocation review

Recognition as being entitled to asylum or receiving refugee status is reviewed by the BAMF after three years. Refugee status can be revoked (revocation review, Widerrufsprüfung) if according to the BAMF the situation in the country of origin changed to such an extent—such as a change of government—that the conditions for the protection no longer exist, or if the person seeking protection allegedly falsified their individual situation in the asylum proceedings. If the status is revoked, the person involved risks being deported or obligated to leave the country. The relevant registration office for foreigners decides if the person can continue to stay in the country.


“Safe Countries of Origin”

The federal government defines countries as “safe countries of origin” if based on the general political conditions in the country it can be assumed that neither political persecution nor inhumane punishment or treatment takes place. The range of what is classified as “safe” is very wide. Applications of asylum seekers from these countries will generally be denied. Since accelerated proceedings apply for those involved, it is very difficult for them to credibly show that they are persecuted in their country of origin. Human rights organizations refer to the classification of “safe” countries of origin as a political instrument of deterrence and deportation. The intention is to make it clear to people from these countries who seek protection that they have no chance of being granted asylum.

“Safe Third Countries”

The third-country rules according to Article 16a section 2 of the German Basic Law excludes people seeking protection who enter Germany via a “safe third country” from receiving political asylum in Germany. All EU member states, Norway, and Switzerland are considered safe. If refugees already received international protection when traveling through one of these countries, their application for asylum can be rejected as inadmissible without any review of its contents. Pursuant to bilateral return agreements, such refugees are returned to the country in which they were recognized as entitled to protection. The fundamental right to asylum due to political persecution, therefore, can only be claimed in Germany by people who enter the country by air or by sea.

Schengen Area

The Schengen Area is defined in the Schengen Agreement that went into force in 1995. The participating countries agreed to eliminate border checks at the interior borders and to grant freedom of movement for the citizens of the respective countries. The external borders of the Schengen Area are secured with border checks and are continually being augmented. The Schengen Area has been expanded numerous times since 1995. Today it includes almost all countries in the European Union as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia are in the process of joining.

Schengen Information System

The Schengen Information System (SIS II) is a database used to automatically maintain and distribute information on individuals and property in the European Union. It serves networking and collaboration between national border-protection, customs, and police authorities in thirty European countries. The SIS II enables the responsible authorities in the participating countries to gain information on people or objects, for example to exchange data on stolen goods or to register people who have been denied entrance or who face expulsion.

Settlement permit

In contrast to the residence permit, the settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) is not tied to any specific purpose and it provides protection against expulsion. It entitles the holder to unlimited and unrestricted residence and employment in the country. After a number of years in Germany, it can lead to naturalization. The requirements for a settlement permit are strict: Among the conditions are a secured livelihood (independent of social benefits) and adequate living space for the entire family. Payments into a pension plan, a clean criminal record, and “sufficient” German-language skills must be verified. In addition, the person must have a work permit and a residence permit valid for at least five years.

Subsidiary protection

If no protection can be guaranteed either according to Art. 16a of the Basic Law or the Geneva Refugee Convention, but refugees face a great risk in their country of origin, they can be awarded subsidiary protection (Sec. 4 AsylG). Subsidiary protection will be granted if, for example, someone is threatened with torture, inhumane treatment, or a concrete danger for life, limb, and liberty, such as due to arbitrary violence in an armed conflict or a serious illness that cannot be treated in the country of origin. Recognized refugees with subsidiary protection receive a residence permit, initially for one year with an option of extension of two additional years, and unrestricted access to the labor market.


Visa Information System

The Visa Information System (VIS) is a database for the exchange of visa data between the member states of the European Union. The VIS aims to support implementation of the common European visa policy, to simplify application procedures for visas, and to facilitate checks at the EU external borders. The common visa policy in the European Union is a result of the open interior borders within the Schengen Area. A Schengen visa entitles holders to enter the Schengen Area from any Schengen member state, and to move about freely from country to country for up to ninety days. Anyone who is not a citizen of an EU country and wishes to study, work, or live in a Schengen country for longer than ninety days must apply for a national visa for the respective country.

Glossary entries are based on the following sources:

Bertelsmann Foundation

Federal Ministry for Education and Research

Federal Office for Migration and Refugees

Federal Ministry of the Interior

Federal government

Federal Administrative Office

Federal Agency for Civic Education

German Caritas Association

ECRE (European Council on Refugees and Exiles)

European Parliament

European Commission

Refugee Councils of the Federal States

Informationsverbund Asyl & Migration (Asylum and Migration Information Network)

Institute for Intercultural Competence and Didactics (IIKD)

Institute for Human Rights

Mediendienst-Integration (Migration Media Service)

Neue deutsche Medienmacher (New German Media Makers, glossary)


UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency)

Verbraucherzentrale (Consumer Advice Center)