Not welcome? Simran Sodhi is threatened with deportation

Article published on May 14, 2014
Article published on May 14, 2014

Sim­ran Sodhi speaks Ger­man flu­ently, she helps mi­grants through­out their daily lives and feels at home in Berlin. But de­spite this, she is to be ex­pelled. But there aren't any clear rea­sons for why - aside from a few ob­scure reg­u­la­tions in the Ger­man Res­i­dence Act. Are only for­eign­ers who earn above-av­er­age wages wel­come in Ger­many?

The last let­ter came from the For­eign­ers' Reg­is­tra­tion Of­fice on May 5th. Sim­ran Sodhi is re­quired to leave Ger­many by May 31st. They're rea­son­ing? Her job doesn't en­tail a pub­lic in­ter­est, she earns too lit­tle and is ap­par­ently overqual­i­fied. "When I read the let­ter, I went into a total panic. I didn't know what I should do next. Im­me­di­ately pack my things?" Until now, she hasn't packed her things.

Sodhi came to Berlin in 2009 to do her Mas­ters in Eu­ro­pean eth­nol­ogy at the Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­sität. She made friends and re­ally likes it a lot here. The 27-year-old has been work­ing as an in­te­gra­tion guide for the as­so­ci­a­tion of­fen­siv'91 e.V. in the Trep­tow-Köpenik dis­trict since Jan­u­ary. There, she as­sists mir­gants in their daily lives; she helps them find apart­ments or jobs, ac­com­pa­nies them when vis­it­ing of­fi­cials, and coun­sels, as well as trans­lates, is­sues of dis­crim­i­na­tion, among oth­ers. Sodhi is a case of luck. Sen­a­tor Dilek Kolat (SPD) brought the so­cial pro­gram for in­ten­gra­tion guides into being last year, which now fi­nances 60 po­si­tions in Berlin. 

Ac­cord­ing to the Ger­man Res­i­dence Act, res­i­dency sta­tus ex­pires 18 months after ob­tain­ing a uni­ver­sity de­gree. Un­less of course one's salary is one of an aca­d­e­mi­cian. That's roughly 3000 Euros a month. Sim­ran Sodhi doesn't earn that much. Yet de­spite this, she can still sup­port her­self with what she earns. Nev­er­the­less, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials, the In­dian-born woman is overqual­i­fied for her job. In an open let­ter, nu­mer­ous sci­en­tists and schol­ars from the fields of Eu­ro­pean eth­nol­ogy, so­ci­ol­ogy and mi­gra­tion, among oth­ers, raise dis­sent against the mea­sure; in­te­gra­tion pol­i­tics are one of the core chal­lenges. At in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion, stu­dents are trained to be ready for jobs. And for schol­ars, in­te­gra­tion guides are con­sid­ered to be one of these jobs. 

Sim­ran Sodhi def­i­nitely be­longs to the ed­u­cated elite, with her out­stand­ing de­gree, and her flu­ent lin­guis­tic pro­fi­cien­cies in Ger­man, Eng­lish, Hindu and Urdu. Nev­er­the­less, of­fi­cials want to de­port her. And this, de­spite the fact that the Res­i­dency Act al­lows for some lee­way when "the ser­vice of­fers a pub­lic good, par­tic­u­larly when it re­lates to re­gional, eco­nomic or labor mar­ket po­lit­i­cal areas." But these in­ter­ests don't seem to be ev­i­dent in the view of the For­eign­ers' Reg­is­tra­tion Of­fice.

 In­te­gra­tion pol­i­tics in con­tra­dic­tion with re­al­ity. 

"This is an ab­surd sit­u­a­tion: Sim­ran works for a pub­licly fi­nanced pro­ject and cam­paigns for the pub­lic good. And that doesn't fall in line with pub­lic in­ter­ests?" asks Christina An­ton­akos-Wal­lace from with WINGS and ROOTS. The ini­tia­tive, which cam­paigns for a new mi­gra­tion dis­course in Ger­many and the United States, started an on­line pe­ti­tion on Sat­ur­day. "Sure, we were sur­prised that of all peo­ple Sim­ran should be de­ported, but in gen­eral this isn't any­thing new. This is sim­ply a struc­tural prob­lem," adds An­ton­akos-Wal­lace. The planned de­por­ta­tion of the 27-year-old re­sulted in wide­spread dis­gust. After all, schol­ars, politi­cians and cit­i­zens are all in agree­ment that a pub­lic in­ter­est ex­ists in Sim­ran Sodhi's ac­tiv­i­ties. 

Aside from schol­ars, politi­cians like Gre­gor Gysi (Die Linke), Oliver Igel (Dis­trict Mayor of Trep­tow-Köpenick), Ska Keller (Eu­ro­pean Green Party, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and Gabriele Gün Tank (In­te­gra­tion Com­mis­sary of Berlin, Tem­pel­hof-Schöneberg) also crit­i­cized the de­por­ta­tion in an open let­ter. Fur­ther­more, up until Tues­day evening, around 31,000 peo­ple signed a pe­ti­tion on change.​org that calls Sodhi's stay in Berlin. Even Berlin's sen­a­tor for the in­te­rior Frank Henkel (CDU) has got­ten in­volved and has called on the For­eign­ers' Reg­is­tra­tion Of­fice to re­view Sim­ran Sodhi's case. In his view, there is a large in­ter­est in­volved in find­ing a so­lu­tion for the young woman. Even the city Berlin has to re­view, whether in­te­gra­tion guides shouldn't re­ceive a salary in the near fu­ture.

If you also con­sider the de­por­ta­tion of Sim­ran to be out­ra­geous and an in­jus­tice, then you can sign the pe­ti­tion from "with WINGS and ROOTS" here