PotsdamTransforming discriminatory practices at the immigration office
What is inspiring?
In the process of becoming a “Safe Harbour”, Potsdam also addressed the work of the city’s immigration office. Up until this point, this local authority had not been particularly supportive in actually meeting the needs of foreigners. A taskforce involving civil society and migrant representatives has since developed a new set of guidelines instructing caseworkers to grant a right of residence if it is somehow legally possible.
Who initiated the project? How?
The “Solidarity City” resolution of December 2018 explicitly addresses the immigration office. It calls on the mayor to instruct “the Potsdam immigration office to exhaust all possibilities for securing a permanent and legal right to reside and live in Potsdam for refugees”. This spurred Potsdam to initiate a reform of the authority, involving, among others, churches and civil society, church welfare organisations and the Migrants’ Advisory Council.
How does it operate?
With the help of external lawyers, Potsdam has developed a set of “discretionary directives”. These guidelines instruct official staff to grant a right of residence whenever legally possible. On the subject of family reunification, too, officials are to use their discretionary powers in favour of applicants. The office was also given a new “mission statement”. Since May of 2019, the taskforce, which includes the head of the immigration office, has met regularly.
What is the outcome?
The taskforce has developed a catalogue of recommendations for action. It introduced a new guiding principle which stipulated that the “creation of prospects for permanent legal residence and integration” was to become the “benchmark for success”. It also advised that the office offer a “proactive advice service” to help new arrivals secure residence prospects as well as to facilitate integration. A further recommendation suggests that staff should be trained to “recognise and prevent racist behaviour and socially discriminatory behaviour”. Further, applications for work permits should be “prioritised and decided on in a timely manner, so that employers can count on a fast decision and migrants can actually start work”. For this purpose, an appointment should be made within 2 to 3 weeks after the application is made, at which the work permit is either granted or a well-founded rejection is issued. The catalogue of recommendations is divided into 13 bundles of measures and these are still in their initial implementation phase. Some changes have already been introduced, such as the provision of interpreters during telephone or video calls. In December of 2020, the alliance “Potsdam! bekennt Farbe” staged a protest and called for a binding schedule for the internal implementation of the proposed changes at the immigration office.