Politics and Contemporary History in Germany – Panorama

“You can’t wall people in” – An interview with Dr. Holger Kolb

Dr. Holger Kolb (Photo: Dr. Holger Kolb) The trend to emigration from Germany of the past decade continues. About its motives we can only speculate. It is probably strongly related to economic factors, thinks Dr. Holger Kolb of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration.

Dr. Kolb, according to the Federal Statistical Office, in 2011 about 678,000 people emigrated from Germany. Do these figures mean that Germany is losing its appeal?

In 2008 and 2009 Germany even had two years with a negative migration balance: people said this was quite dreadful, that half of Germany was emigrating. But these figures arose in part from the introduction of the tax identification number. Through this people were registered who had emigrated long ago but had never taken themselves off the residence registration. The migration balance is thus to some extent a statistical artefact. Germany at present is an attracting rather than a repelling magnet. In spite of this, in the past decade emigration has continued to rise.

Why do people migrate from Germany?

About motives we can say little, partly because migration statistics don’t include information on them. There is a major problem with studies of emigration: they poll people that live in Germany. Between the stated intention to emigrate and its actual realisation there’s a huge gap. So we get only approximate values. We should really survey emigrants, but this is methodologically difficult.

Switzerland as country number one for German Emigration

Do we know then who emigrates?

You can look at which occupational groups immigrate to which countries. Country number one for German emigration, especially for German doctors, is Switzerland. We know from individual interviews that there’s great dissatisfaction among doctors in Germany – rigid hierarchies, little prospect of advancement, and the pay in Switzerland is very much better. So for certain professions we can certainly make statements. There is also a pensioner’s emigration – for example, to Spain. But the average emigrant is generally young and better qualified.

Besides Switzerland, Turkey is enjoying increasing popularity as a place to which to immigrate. People of Turkish origin in Germany, who live on the average about 24 years in the country, have one of the longest periods of residence. Why do so many emigrate today?

This is being much discussed. Given the high, sometimes double-digit growth rates in Turkey, we may assume that it is becoming attractive as place to which to immigrate for more and more people. Because of the close trade ties between Germany and Turkey, people who can speak both Turkish and German are in demand in Turkey.

Xenophobia has repeatedly been an issue in Germany. What role does it play in this context?

Those who immigrate to Turkey don’t do so because they find it bad here or are angered by the likes of Sarrazin. They are often well-qualified people who were born here, have a German passport and a Turkish immigrant background. It would really be interesting to see what role this constellation of motives – economic opportunities in Turkey and exclusionary discourse in Germany – actually plays in overall migration. At present, we can only guess.

The EU is the most important area of migration

In recent years most emigrants of non-German origin have come from EU countries such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Does their return migration to these countries also have to do with the economic situation?

We can assume this as to Poland: it was the only EU country that didn’t suffer from negative growth during the economic crisis. But this phenomenon is also a consequence of the rights of free movement that have applied to Polish and Bulgarian citizens since 2011. If I can move about as much as I like within the EU, I have a stronger incentive to return to my place of origin for a few years and keep the option for Germany open. The EU has in general become the most important area of migration. Within Europe we are seeing strong growth in intra-European mobility numbers and an ever better functioning EU labour market.

Highly skilled people tend to emigrate rather than less qualified people. By what political means could they be kept in the country?

We can regulate only immigration – for example, with the Blue Card, which came into force in August 2012 and enables highly qualified people to immigrate to Germany without an employment contract and to seek work here. When I see the massive flight of hospital doctors to Switzerland, I can only wonder about the working conditions in German hospitals. But emigration can’t be controlled by political means. The attempt to do so was once tried in German history and it failed. You can’t wall people in: emigration, in contrast to immigration, is an internationally recognised basic right.

The number of departures from Germany has steadily risen in the last ten years: in 2011 it was about 40,000 people more than in 2006. Of these, most are foreigners, that is, people without a German passport (for example, they make up 578,800 of 678,900 outward migrations). The largest group was between 25 and 40 years of age. The most popular destinations for German emigrants in 2010 were Switzerland (22,034), the United States (12,986) and Austria (10,831), followed by Poland (9,434 Germans) and Turkey (4,735). Non-Germans, on the other hand, moved to Germany from Poland (93,803), Romania (48,231) and Turkey (31,298). On the whole, migration in EU countries was higher than in countries outside Europe.
Jennifer Eschweiler
took her PhD on the subject of the political participation of Muslim organisations in Berlin.

Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
December 2012

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