22.3.2013 | Von:
Marcus Engler
Vera Hanewinkel

The Current Development of Immigration to Germany

After more people emigrated from Germany in both years 2008 and 2009 than immigrated during the same time period into the country, the emigration of professionals and specialists and Germany’s lack of attractiveness for highly skilled migration was discussed. In the course of the financial and economic crisis, however, this picture has been transformed.

Richard Cieplinski aus dem polnischen Konin sticht Spargel auf einem Feld bei Beelitz suedlich von Berlin am Donnerstag, 22. April 2004. Polnische Erntehelfer sind auf den Feldern auch schon in den Jahren vor der EU-Erweiterung eingesetzt worden.Polish labourer at work on asparagus fields in Brandenburg, Germany. (© picture-alliance/AP)


In international comparison, Germany has come through the economic crisis so far quite well. Employment is growing and unemployment is at a low level in European comparison. Yet there are specialists missing in a few regions and branches.

In contrast, the countries of Southern and Eastern Europe suffer more severely from the recession and the effects will be more sustained. Mainly new entrants to the job market, many of whom are migrants and young people, are affected by high unemployment and drastic austerity programs. Youth unemployment accounts for over 30% in several of these countries, and even over 50% in Spain and Greece. By contrast it is only around 8% in Germany.

The Development of Immigration

Fig. 1: Net migration since 1991Fig. 1: Net migration since 1991 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
Since the low point in 2008, when a net 66,000 people emigrated, there has been a steady trend toward more immigration. In 2010 the migration balance, that is, the difference between immigration and emigration, was in the positive range with around +128,000. In 2011 a balance of 279,000 people was attained – the highest value since 1996 (cf. Figure 1). Final data for 2012 is not yet available. According to estimations the migration balance could have risen to 400,000. This development is most notably to be ascribed to climbing immigration numbers. On the other hand emigration numbers have remained relatively constant in recent years, between 600,000 and 700,000 each year. The elevated emigration numbers of 2008 (738,000) and 2009 (734,000) can be contributed for a large part to the correction of the municipal residency register.

Fig. 2: Development of immigration flows since 1991Fig. 2: Development of immigration flows since 1991 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
Immigration numbers have risen considerably since 2006 (see Figure 2). At that time around 662,000 people came to Germany. This number was almost 50% higher (960,000) in 2011 and could have incurred well over a million people in 2012.

Although these numbers initially appear high, in long term comparison it appears that immigration has not reached any completely new dimensions. In the beginning of the 1990s both immigration and the migration balance were considerably higher. More than 1.5 million immigrated in 1992, and also between the years 1969 and 1971 around one million people came into the country each year.

No assertions can be made about whether the new immigrants will merely stay temporarily in Germany or permanently. The migration numbers that can be determined by the municipal registration office are comprised of both short and long term immigration. As freedom of movement exists in the EU, short term immigration could often remain unnoticed at the moment because registration with government agencies is not always taking place. It can be assumed, however, that immigrants from EU-states that stay longer than a couple of months in Germany end up registering sooner or later and then are recorded as immigrants.[1]

Countries of Origin

Fig. 3: Immigration from the four most important countries of origin in Central and Eastern EuropeFig. 3: Immigration from the four most important countries of origin in Central and Eastern Europe Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)

While immigration out of Southern Europe is especially discussed in the mass media, a look at the migration statistics shows a different picture. The most important countries of origin numerically in recent years have been in Central and Eastern Europe.

Immigration from the four most important countries of origin in Central and Eastern Europe
2010 2011 2012 (1. Half-Year)
Poland 125,861 172,674 92,400
Romania 74,585 95,479 59,877
Bulgaria 39,387 51,612 28,969
Hungary 30,015 41,980 25,415
Source: Federal Statistical Office (Germany)
Fig. 4: Monthly inflows of immigrants from EU-2 and EU-8 countries, 2011 and 2012Fig. 4: Monthly inflows of immigrants from EU-2 and EU-8 countries, 2011 and 2012 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)

A strong increase in immigration from countries that entered the EU in 2004 (EU-8) and 2007 (EU-2) has been recorded in recent years. Full freedom of movement has been in force since 2011, with the exception of Bulgaria and Romania [2], and is being put to use by many (cf. Figure 4).

There were also distinct increases in past years in immigration from Southern European countries which were particularly affected by the financial and debt crisis (cf. Figure 5).

But here there must be a difference made between the extremely proportionally high increases discussed in the media and the absolute immigration numbers. Immigration from Southern Europe had majorly scaled itself back in years prior to the economic and financial crisis. With a surge of 78%, as in the case of Greece (in the first half of 2012 compared to the first half of 2011), the absolute immigration numbers themselves turn out moderate [3] – especially in comparison to immigration from Central and Eastern Europe. Also in long term comparison it becomes clear that immigration from Southern European countries has not reached any new dimensions as of yet (cf. Figure 6).

Fig. 5: Immigration from Southern Europe by countries of origin, 1st quarter of 2008 - 2nd quarter of 2012Fig. 5: Immigration from Southern Europe by countries of origin, 1st quarter of 2008 - 2nd quarter of 2012 Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)
Fig. 6: Immigration from Southern Europe (PIGS states)Fig. 6: Immigration from Southern Europe (PIGS states) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)

German Learners as an Indicator for Immigration

The number of participants in German courses at Goethe Institutes in countries of origin is an indicator of the increased intentions to migrate to Germany. In 2011 the institute reported record numbers of participants in German courses and tests. The number of German learners was at 235,000 people in 2011, which is around 8% higher than in the year before. Participant numbers increased particularly in Southern Europe, with a rise of 10% in Greece, 14% in Italy, 20% in Portugal and 35% in Spain. “This development is ascribed to an increased interest in inclusion in gainful employment in Germany. Whoever learns German has better chances in the local job market” (Vogel 2012).

The Goethe Institutes are reacting to the growing demand by expanding their capacity and with the initiative “Mit Deutsch in den Beruf” (lit.“With German in the Profession”), sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In technical language courses and projects young people in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece looking to migrate are prepared for everyday working life in Germany. These technical language courses are offered for doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers and for the tourist branch, among others. With additional job application training the program participants are prepared practically for a career start (Goethe-Institut 2012b).

Reactions in Germany

Reactions to the climb in immigration numbers appear differently according to immigrant group. There are strong defensive reactions regarding the immigration of less qualified people groups, for example the Roma from Central Eastern Europe who often come as asylum seekers. [4]

In contrast, immigration from Southern European states in crisis has been considered thus far mainly positively due to the profile of the immigrants from these countries. First reports on these migration movements show that these are young, well-trained and highly motivated people that integrate themselves into the German labor market, for which they are ready and willing to learn the local language (Trabant 2012). These people are counted among the immigrants that Germany internationally recruits.

Economy: Active Recruitment of Immigrants

The economy recognizes the immigration from Southern Europe as a chance in the global competition for the brightest minds. The highly qualified immigrants facilitate economic growth and counteract the decline of labor force potential, which takes place because of demographic change (cf. in addition Parusel/Schneider 2010). Headhunters abroad recruit targeted personnel in bottleneck areas, like for example doctors for hospitals in rural areas that have problems to fill their positions (Student 2012).

Several chambers of commerce offer international events for businesses on the topic of “professional recruiting in the EU internal market”. The chamber of foreign trade supports companies with the recruitment of specialists abroad (Financial Times Deutschland 2012, Preuss 2012).

In July 2012 a German-Spanish training conference took place in Stuttgart in the presence of the minister of education at the time, Annette Schavan (CDU), and her Spanish counterpart, José Ignacio Wert Ortega (Partido Popular, conservative). At that conference the possibilities of introducing a dual training system in Spain were discussed. The German apprenticeship model, which combines a classroom education with practical experience, should contribute to the reduction in youth unemployment on the Iberian Peninsula. So far the training in Spain has taken place exclusively in schools. A large part of a year’s graduates studies in Spain, and many subsequently work beneath their qualification level (Financial Times Deutschland 2012). A cooperation treaty for the implementation of a dual system was signed in September 2012 by the Spanish Chambers of Commerce and the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce.

Assistance in the Job Search

Immigrants from the EU can take advantage of the assistance from the European Union labor administration (EURES) in their job search. There are 850 EURES consultants Europe-wide that help them in the search for job vacancies. In addition the International Placement Services (ZAV) under the German Federal Employment Agency, represented in the EURES network, organizes events by invitation of other EU-states, which inform about job offers and working conditions in Germany. Present in these events are also employers who conduct job interviews on-site for definite positions. According to the ZAV there has recently been a “significant increase” in such events in Southern Europe (Vogel 2012).

Future Prospects

How long these immigrants from Southern Europe will stay in Germany is unclear. Those immigrants that bring qualifications with them that are needed in the German labor market, or work in bottleneck sectors or where there is a lack of workers could stay longer, for example doctors and nurses or trained workers in the so-called MINT-occupations [5]. In many other branches in which the labor force demand can be met through people who have been educated in Germany, it could be much more difficult to find a job which allows for a long-term stay in Germany. Already before the economic crisis in some branches there were more job seekers than open positions – a situation that has among others led to the casualization of employment conditions.

There are indicators that the trend of a high immigration will continue. According to a prognosis by the economic research institute, Kiel Economics, in the years 2013 to 2017 a net 2.2 million people could immigrate. The migration numbers in that case strongly depend on whether the asymmetric economical development in the EU will continue or whether it will even become accentuated.

The development of the German labor market is also relevant. According to economy experts the yearly migration balance should be calculated nearer to 200,000 in the long term (Müller 2012). Moreover it must be noted that migration does not take place based only on economic considerations. If that were the case, then, in light of the disparate economic development worldwide, the migratory pressure on wealthy states would have to be higher than is currently the case. Therefore, personal factors would also always have to be taken into account on the examination of migratory movements, as, for example migrants’ networks. These networks make information and support available at the place of destination which can dramatically reduce the “migration costs”. The building of such networks can also contribute to the development of permanent and relatively stable migration relationships between two (or more) countries.

Also, if it is the case that the immigrants currently arriving in Germany are highly qualified, that alone does not guarantee smooth integration in Germany. Integration involves effort on both the side of the immigrant as well as the receiving society. What is important is that the immigrant is seen not only as labor, but as a person, whose social participation through a corresponding welcoming culture should be made possible.

Translation into English: Jocelyn Storm


Immigrant numbers also include asylum seekers that are still in the asylum process. Thus they include people who ultimately might not receive the right to remain in Germany.
For both countries is this allowed only as of 2014.
In the first half of 2012, according to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, 16,577 people emigrated from Greece to Germany and 6,297 people to Greece. The migration balance was respectively 10,280.
Cf. contributions by Alscher 2012 and Wöhrle 2012 in the newsletter “Migration und Bevölkerung“ [Migration and Population].
MINT stands for Mathematics, Computer Science, Science, and Engineering.
Creative Commons License

Dieser Text ist unter der Creative Commons Lizenz veröffentlicht. by-nc-nd/3.0/ Der Name des Autors/Rechteinhabers soll wie folgt genannt werden: by-nc-nd/3.0/
Autoren: Marcus Engler, Vera Hanewinkel für bpb.de
Urheberrechtliche Angaben zu Bildern / Grafiken / Videos finden sich direkt bei den Abbildungen.



Länderprofile Migration: Daten - Geschichte - Politik

Ein Länderprofil enthält Informationen über Zuwanderung, Flucht und Asyl sowie Integration in einem bestimmten Land. Diese Informationen bestehen aus: Daten und Statistiken, Geschichtlichen Entwicklungen, Rechtlichen und politischen Maßnahmen, Aktuellen Debatten in den Ländern.

Mehr lesen


Zahlen zu Asyl in Deutschland

Wie viele Menschen suchen in Deutschland Asyl? Woher kommen sie? Wie viele Asylanträge sind erfolgreich? Und wie viele Menschen werden abgeschoben? Wir stellen die wichtigsten Zahlen zum Thema Asyl und Flucht monatlich aktualisiert in einfachen Infografiken dar.

Mehr lesen