The law states that asylum seekers shall apply for asylum at the border. However, entry to the territory has to be refused if a migrant reports at the border without the necessary documents for legal entry and if an immediate removal to the neighbouring country (as Safe Third Country) is possible.1
Since 2013, asylum seekers should not be sent back to neighbouring countries without their applications having been registered. It is not clear, though, whether this practice is actually applied in all cases: even if migrants have crossed the border, on the basis of a legal fiction laid down in the Residence Act, they have not necessarily entered the territory,2 and it is possible that a removal to the neighbouring state (Zurückweisung) is still carried out at this point. The border police (Federal Police) claims that no returns of people who make it clear that they intend to apply for asylum take place at the borders, but there might have been cases in 2016 in which asylum seekers were returned, supposedly on the basis of the Dublin Regulation (see section on Access to the Territory).
Irrespective of special regulations which apply in the border region only, which is defined as a 30 km strip, most applications are lodged by asylum seekers who have already entered the territory. Under these circumstances the law obliges asylum seekers to “immediately” report to a branch office of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). Alternatively, they can report to a police station or to an office of the foreigner's authorities. There is no strict definition of an “immediate” application and there are no exclusion rules for applications which are filed at a later date. However, a delay in filing the application may be held against the asylum seeker in the course of the asylum procedure, unless reasonable justification for the delay is brought forward.
Only the BAMF is entitled to register an asylum application. Hence an asylum seeker reporting to the police or to another authority will be referred to the BAMF. Persons who intend to apply for asylum do not have the legal status of asylum seekers as long as they have not arrived at the responsible branch of the BAMF and until their applications have been registered. Asylum seekers are obliged to appear in person without delay or on the date determined by the authorities at the responsible branch office of the BAMF. In March 2016 a new sanction was introduced for asylum seekers who fail to comply with this obligation: This is now regarded as “failure to pursue” the asylum procedure. The asylum procedure thus can be abandoned before it has begun.3
The reception centre and branch of the BAMF responsible for accommodation and for the initial stage of the asylum procedure is determined by a distribution system (known as “Königsteiner Schlüssel”). This distribution system allocates places according to a quota system based on the capacities of the centres, which are in turn dependent on the size and the economic strength of the Federal States in which the centres are located. Furthermore, the system takes into account which branch office of the Federal Office deals with the asylum seeker's country of origin (see section on Freedom of Movement).4
Due to the massive increase in numbers of newly arriving asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015, the BAMF did not manage to keep up with the registration of applications. Asylum seekers were therefore frequently registered on a preliminary basis and only received a document entitled “confirmation of having reported as an asylum seeker” (Bescheinigung über die Meldung als Asylsuchender – BÜMA). With this document they were sent to accommodation centres or emergency shelters throughout Germany, although their application has not been formally registered. According to the government, it took several weeks or sometimes several months for the asylum application to be registered in these cases.5
Due to a rapid decrease in the numbers of newly arriving asylum seekers in 2016, with 280,000 newly arriving applicants in comparison to an estimated 890,000 in 2015, and by opening new offices and “arrival centres”, authorities have managed to handle the backlog of unregistered asylum applications which had built up in 2015. 745,545 asylum applications were registered in 2016 which means that about 465,000 applications were filed by applicants who had arrived in 2015.
The “BÜMA” was replaced by another document called “Ankunftsnachweis” (“arrival certificate”) in March 2016, only five months after it had been formally introduced in legislation. The Ankunftsnachweis is to be issued after the asylum seeker reports at an initial reception centre, so it is not clear which document (and which legal status) asylum seekers have before they arrive at these centres. In practice, this uncertainty does not seem to lead to serious problems any longer, since reception and registration in the initial reception centres are usually taking place within a few days, in contrast to the situation in 2014 and 2015.