Can illegal immigrants buy a home?

Undocumented Life: Irregular Migrants

People who are in Germany without legal residence status are referred to as "irregular migrants", "undocumented migrants" or "sans-papiers", sometimes also as "illegal migrants". Since they are not registered, there is relatively little reliable information about them. Studies show: In Germany, irregular migrants are often unable to assert the rights that actually everyone is entitled to regardless of their residence status.


What does "irregular" or "illegal migrants" or "sans-papiers" mean?

There are different names for people who live in Germany without legal residence status:

  • Usual is the designation "irregular migrants"because the people do not have a regular residence status in Germany.
  • The French term "Sans-Papiers"uses what means" without papers. "This designation can be misleading, as the people mostly have other papers - like a foreign passport - just not a residence permit that is valid in Germany.
  • The term "illegal migrants"is often used, but is criticized: it is stigmatizing and portrays irregular migrants as criminals. SourcePICUM (2017):" Why not illegal? ", Angenendt (2007):" Irregular migration as an international problem ", page 10.

In legal terms one speaks of "People who are illegally resident". These are all third-country nationals without a residence permit. In principle, every person in Germany without German citizenship must have a valid residence permit - for example a visa, an EU Blue Card, a permit for asylum seekers or a Duldung. Source Section 95 (1) Residence Act


How many irregular migrants live in Germany?

There is no reliable information about how many people in Germany are illegally resident.

In an estimate in 2014, the researcher Dita Vogel assumed a number between 180,000 and 520,000 people in Germany who lived illegally under the law of residence. This estimate was based on data from the Police Criminal Statistics (PKS). Source Vogel (2016): "Extent and development of the number of paperless in Germany"

A more recent estimate published by the Pew Research Center for Germany assumes that there are over one million irregular migrants. However, this estimate is based on an incorrect methodology, which is why it was expressly rejected and refuted by the German Center for Integration and Migration Research (DEZIM). For example, the Pew Research Center includes asylum seekers in the statistics of irregular migrants, although asylum seekers in Germany are granted a residence permit and are therefore not irregularly in the country. Source Hosner (2020): "One Million Irregular Migrants in Germany?" and PEW Research Center: "Europe's Unauthorized Immigrant Population", p.10.

The number of irregular migrants should not be confused with the number of "unauthorized persons". The BAMF counts 40,610 of these in its migration report for 2019. However, many of them only live temporarily without papers: As soon as they apply for asylum, these people are no longer irregular, but receive a permit for the duration of the asylum procedure. The migration report does not include immigrants who initially lived legally in Germany and who stayed beyond the duration of their permit (so-called overstayers). Source: Federal Office for Migration Refugees: "Migrationsbericht" 2019, p. 187

How do people become illegally resident?

There are several reasons why people become illegally resident:

  • People enter with a valid residence permit - for example a visa - but do not leave again after their residence permit has expired ("overstayer"). Source BAMF (2015): "Illegally residing third-country nationals in Germany", p. 28
  • Another route is "illegal entry": people who enter Germany without a residence permit - such as a tourist visa, an EU Blue Card or a protection status - and do not apply for asylum after entering the country are illegal under residence law. However, it should be noted: Almost all asylum seekers who come to Germany are initially considered to have "entered illegally". As soon as they apply for asylum, however, they receive a residence permit and are thus regularly resident.
  • If the asylum application is rejected by asylum seekers - i.e. neither refugee recognition, nor subsidiary protection or a ban on deportation - they are enforceably obliged to leave the country. If you let your departure date pass and evade deportation, you are illegal under residence law. Source Section 95 (1) No. 2 Residence Act
  • An exception to the last point is the Duldung: Although the Duldung is not a residence permit, it is a temporary legal option to stay. People who have a Duldung are thus Not in the illegality of residence. Only if people do not extend their Duldung and have no other residence permit will they become illegal under residence law. Source MEDIENDIENST INTEGRATION: "What does Duldung mean?"

Where and how do irregular migrants work?

People who are illegally resident are not officially registered. There are therefore no reliable, representative numbers and facts about where and how they work. Case studies show that irregular migrants often work in the fields of agriculture, construction, factory work, gastronomy, sex work, care and housework. Quelle Wilcke, Holger (2018): "Illegal und invichtbar?", P. 149.

Working without a valid residence permit is prohibited in Germany. Irregular migrants can therefore not work registered. However, in Germany everyone who works is also entitled to wages - regardless of their residence permit. The problem for irregular migrants, however, is that they can de facto find it difficult to assert this claim in court. Because if the court learns of the missing residence permit, it has to forward this information to the immigration authorities in accordance with §87 Residence Act. Source Norbert Cyrus, Markus Kip (2014): “Mobilize labor rights without residence status. From de facto lawlessness to change in law? ”, P. 39f .; §87 Residence Act.

Employees who are illegal under residence law can thus become dependent on their employers: They can, for example, threaten to inform the authorities about the illegality under residence law. This can prevent employees from asserting claims for wages, vacation time or occupational safety standards, for example. Therefore self-organizations like PICUM demand a "firewall": If courts no longer have to transmit the data to the immigration authorities, irregulars could assert their wage claims risk-free. SourcePICUM (2020): "Data Protection and the Firewall: Advancing Safe Reporting for People in an Irregular Situation ", p.2.

In many cities trade union contact points have been set up under the title "Fair Integration", which also advise people without a secure residence. In Berlin, the Undocumented Work Working Group also offers advice.

How do irregular migrants live?

Little research has been done on the housing situation of irregular migrants. A qualitative study from 2017 shows that irregular people are excluded from the German housing market: Due to the general reporting obligation and frequently requested proof of income, they cannot rent an apartment independently. Instead, they often stay with friends or relatives or they take over the main rent. Source Hollstein (2017): "Illegal Migration and Transnational Coping with Life", pp.47 and 244.

The study also shows that the help of friends or relatives is often only a temporary solution. Irregulars often end up in apartments, which owners deliberately rent out to irregulars in order to be able to charge high rents. Some of these accommodations are rented out on a daily, weekly or monthly basis and offer little privacy. There is usually no rental agreement. The tenants therefore have no security and cannot defend themselves if, for example, the rents are increased or the conditions in the apartments are bad. Source Hollstein (2017): "Illegal Migration und transnationale Lebensbewältigung" p

How do children live when they are illegally resident?

There are no comprehensive studies on how many children are illegally resident. Case studies and advice centers indicate that there are two main problems: Children who are illegally resident often do not have a birth certificate and they cannot attend a daycare center or school.

Birth certificate

When irregular migrants have a child, the child is initially undocumented. It is true that every child - regardless of their residence status - has the right to be registered and receive a birth certificate. In practice, however, there is a major hurdle for the parents: If they apply for a birth certificate at the registry office, there is a risk that the registry office will report the parents' illegality under residence law to the immigration authorities. This can lead to a deportation. Therefore, parents often do not apply for a birth certificate. If the parents are deported at a later point in time, this can, in the worst case, lead to the fact that they cannot prove the relationship and thus be separated from their child. In addition, the missing birth certificate can lead to problems when applying for documents or when registering, e.g. for daycare or school. Source Caritas (2017): "Illegality under the law of residence", p. 56

Access to daycare and school

Every child has the right to school, regardless of their legal residence status. De facto, however, there are still hurdles: daycare centers and schools do not have to report to the immigration authorities if a child who is illegally resident is registered with them. In practice, however, it can happen that teachers or directors in day care centers and schools inquire about the parents' data on residence permits and transmit them to the authorities. Source Art. 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art. 17 of the European Social Charter, Art. 2 of the 1st Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights; Funck / Karakaşoğlu / Vogel (2015): "It mustn't fail because of papers"

News On the subject: Irregular

Presentation European network for knowledge sharing on migration

Media coverage and public debate often tend to set migration in a negative context. Throughout Europe, several organizations promote more nuanced perspectives on migration by evidence-based reporting or advocacy. They share ideas in the network #MediaMigrationEurope.

Identity of refugees Hardly any false information in the asylum procedure

Around half of the refugees seeking protection in Germany have no documents. The authorities check your information in other ways. The information rarely turns out to be incorrect.

New study "Young refugees need more time"

Young refugees with insecure residence status often fall through the social network. What does it take to achieve it? A guest contribution by the sociologist Albert Scherr and the educationalist Helen Breit.

about us

MEDIA SERVICE INTEGRATION is a service platform for journalists.

On our website we offer facts, figures and background reports on migration, integration and asylum in Germany. We work closely with scientists and provide experts for reporting. Subscribe to our newsletter and receive the latest dates on our topics.

MEDIENDIENST INTEGRATION is a project of the "Rat für Migration e.V.", a nationwide association of migration researchers. He works independently and wants to intensify the exchange between science and the media.