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German Language Laws Divide Spouses

According to the Goethe Institute, six percent of all couples living in Germany are bi-national; that is, one partner is from another country.

However, strict German language laws create obstacles for these couples, often making it impossible for them to live together in Germany even after they’ve been legally married.

The laws require foreign spouses to pass a German language test to join their partners in Germany. No test, no visa. Recently, one couple kept apart by the law spoke to the Associated Press about their situation.

Michael Guhle and Thi An Nguyen had a fairy tale romance. They met in her small Vietnamese fishing village when Guhle was on vacation. They married in Vietnam in 2007. Their plans to live together in Germany were on hold for years while the new Mrs. Guhle tried to pass the German competency test.

Michael Guhle explained to the AP:

 “I thought marrying the person you love and living together was a human right. Apparently this is not the case in Germany.”

The German government claims the laws are there to protect potentially vulnerable immigrants. A spokesman from Germany’s Interior Ministry told the AP that the laws help prevent forced marriages. He also claimed they help new immigrant spouses to integrate into German society.

 “If an immigrant doesn’t have to start from scratch but already knows how to communicate, he will be more motivated to successfully work on his integration after he has received his visa.”

On the other hand, opponents claim the laws effectively discriminate based on social class. According to Hiltrud Stoecker-Zafari, the head of the national Association of Binational Couples and Partners:

“Well-educated people who can afford the language classes won’t have any problems meeting the language requirements quickly — but not the others. Therefore we think: This country obviously wants to send out the message that financially weak and not well-qualified spouses should not even come here.”

The law is set to be challenged in the European Court of Justice this month. Meanwhile, six years later, Mr. and Mrs. Guhle finally got their fairy-tale ending, when a German court agreed to allow her to immigrate. How stringent do you think language requirements should be for foreign spouses?

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