Berlin to revolutionize immigration office 'experience'

Berlin has announced plans to change its foreigners authority to an independent state office for immigration. The state senate has promised that the move - which includes investing more money and hiring new staff in order to make the office more “welcoming” - will be more than just a name change.
Anyone who has walked under the concrete rail bridge and to the imposing metal gates of Berlin’s Ausländerbehörde (foreigner's office) - probably at around 5am in the morning to join a queue which began forming much earlier - will understand that the experience lacks more than a tad of Germany’s famous Willkommenskultur
Once the surrounds of Friedrich-Krause-Ufer have been successfully navigated, the doors slide open as immigrants and their friends and families jostle hurriedly to snare a number from the machine before the day’s allocation is exhausted. 
The scene may sound unusual and even a little bleak for the capital city of Europe’s largest nation and wealthiest economy, but for years it has been the norm in the Hauptstadt.
Waiting times and exhausted capacity
The Berlin Ausländerbehörde is the busiest in the country, seeing 400,000 people per year. In total, 12 percent of all resident permits issued in the country come from the Berlin office.
Berlin will continue to welcome greater numbers of immigrants in the coming years. The Berlin office is expected to grow by ten percent per annum for the foreseeable future. 
To cope with the demand, the city opened up another location - on Keplerstrasse in the western neighbourhood of Charlottenburg in 2016 - although waiting times continue to remain long. 
Those who wish to avoid an early morning mad-dash can try and book an elusive appointment, although these are sometimes not available for months. Once paperwork has been lodged, the wait can be even longer. 
An improved experience
Berlin Interior Senator Andreas Geisel (SPD) has announced a significant change. He has said the Berlin senate wants improvements not only in the capacity of the office to deal with new arrivals, but in the experience for those attending it. 
He told the Berliner Morgenpost “By creating an independent state office for immigration, the immigration office is to be developed into a real welcome authority”. 
The Senator has promised that such moves are not just political rhetoric, but will represent new federal and state policy with regards to immigration. While the proposal would include increased funding and more staff, the move is also focused on changing the attitude towards immigration in the office - and more broadly throughout the government in Berlin.

A man walks under the sign at Berlin's Ausländerbehörde Image: DPA
Immigration as a city-wide priority 
The change has not come about purely as a result of the Senate’s altruistic motives. Berlin, like much of Germany, has an ageing population and will not be able to sustain itself into the future without encouraging further immigration. 
“Ensuring the enormously growing needs for aged care and other workers is no longer feasible without immigration into the labour market,” Geisel said. 
Therefore, the authorities have sought to pursue “a key position for the control and design of immigration and integration” in the city. 
Although much of the public discussion in recent years has been about the influx of refugees to the country and its major cities, the vast majority of those coming to Berlin are not asylum seekers. 
While the city itself added 37,000 new people without a German passport in 2018, this number was primarily made up of students or migrants with a job or a family connection to the city. 
A commission with a ‘humanitarian’ focus
The process is to be overseen by a commission made up of peak representative bodies in the area. Specifically, the commission is composed of representatives from the Refugee Council, League of Welfare Associations, Trade Unions, the Hardship Commission, lawyers associations and the judiciary. 
The goal is to provide for a service with a ‘humanitarian’ focus as much as possible within the confines of the existing legal requirements. 
Whether or not the Senate's best intentions will be felt at ground level remains to be seen, but there would be few on the Friedrich-Krause-Ufer who would object to an injection of funds and an increase in staff numbers.