BERLIN, March 29 (UPI) -- The German Cabinet has adopted a controversial 400-page reform program for the country's immigration laws.
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who spearheads the reform plans, said the Cabinet had agreed to a "common line" in the reform and predicted the new law would improve integration of the country's immigrant population.
The reform plan includes measures that demand more integration efforts from immigrants, such as mandatory language and culture courses and accompanying tests; fines if those tests are skipped; tougher security checks; and the need for husbands and wives who join their spouses in Germany to have basic German language skills. The minimum age for these husbands and wives has been raised to 18, in a bid to minimize arranged and forced marriages, practices that "discourage integration," Schäuble said.
Visa applicants, the reform stipulates, will have their picture and fingerprints taken, a bid to tighten security controls in connection with visitors from foreign countries.
The reform also plans to grant some 100,000 "tolerated" illegal immigrants a legal status if they have lived in Germany for more than six years and are able to find a job until 2009.
The reform has sparked criticism from the country's migrant groups, churches and the political opposition. The far-left Left Party said the reform package was "hurting integration" instead of helping it, and added that Germany was closing its borders to immigrants.
Before becoming law, the reform package will be debated and decided upon by the German Parliament.