20.4.2012 | Von:
Vera Hanewinkel


The issue of highly qualified people of Turkish descent emigrating from Germany has until now mainly been the subject of media discussions, and especially the negative repercussions of this emigration on the German economy under the heading brain drain – against the backdrop of demographic transformation and the imminent or already existing lack of skilled workers in some employment sectors – have been at issue.

Straßenszene in IzmirStreet in Izmir (© istock.com/airportrait)

The use of the phrase “exodus of model migrants” [1] is a reflection of the fundamental issue that seems to be at stake in the emigration of highly qualified people of Turkish origin: Why are precisely those people leaving Germany whose integration into German (majority) society has succeeded? At the same time, the concept “exodus” suggests that this current mobility is in fact a mass phenomenon. [2] The scale of the emigration of highly qualified people of Turkish origin from Germany has, however, up to now not been clearly captured. In the first place, there is a lack of clarity as to how many university graduates of Turkish descent there are in Germany. [3] In the second place, emigration from the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany is recorded by a cancelation of a person’s registration with the local residents’ registration office, without note being taken of that person’s level of qualifications. In addition, the move abroad is often not properly reported, which means that it does not even turn up in the migration statistics.

Thus, while the actual number of highly qualified emigrants of Turkish descent remains unclear, there are indications of a high general level of willingness to emigrate among academics of Turkish descent. The study on Turkish Academics and University Students in Germany (abbreviated as: TASD study), published by the Krefeld “Futureorg” Institute in 2008–2009 under the direction of Sezer/Dağlar, has concluded that among 36 percent of the approximately 250 academics and students of Turkish origin surveyed in a quantitative online study there exists a willingness on a short, medium or long-term basis to emigrate to Turkey – which in this case is usually the home country of their parents, since they themselves were born and raised in Germany. It was the publication of this finding which gave decisive impetus to the discussion concerning the migration of highly qualified people of Turkish descent. [4]

Recently, the Liljeberg Institute and the Independent Opinion Research Institute INFO Co. came to similar conclusions concerning the willingness to emigrate in a “Representative Study of the Integration Behavior of Turks in Germany.” In a telephone survey conducted in early 2011, a total of 1,003 people (674 of whom were not German citizens and 329 of whom were German citizens) were interviewed. In response to the question “Are you planning or intending to return to Turkey?,” 4 percent answered “yes, in the next two years,” 12 percent answered “yes, in the next ten years,” and 30 percent answered “yes, but only later.” Altogether the willingness to emigrate of the surveyed group stands at 46 percent. At the same time, however, there is a clear difference between those interviewees who are not German nationals and those who are. Thus, 48 percent of the study’s participants who are not of German citizenship reported planning to emigrate or “return” – to use the vocabulary used in the question – to Turkey. In the group consisting of people of German citizenship, the figure was, by contrast, only 39 percent. [5]

Nonetheless, the findings of the study provide no information as to the specific willingness to emigrate within the group of academics of Turkish origin. It should also be noted that a basic willingness to emigrate in no way inevitably results in the individual in question actually emigrating from Germany. Survey studies of this type have in the past repeatedly ascertained a high level of willingness to emigrate. By contrast, the scale of actual migration lagged very clearly behind. A good example of the fact that plans to return are often not translated into action or are postponed to older ages is provided by the first generation of Turkish immigrants. Many “guest workers” intended to stay only temporarily in Germany and to return to their home country a few years later. The temporary stay, however, ended up becoming a permanent relocation of the center of their life to Germany.

This text is part of the policy brief on "The Emigration of Highly Qualified German Citizens of Turkish Descent to Turkey".


Jacobsen (2009).
“Exodus” in the Old Testament refers to the departure of the Israelites from Egypt (Second Book of Moses) and hence to the emigration of an entire people who suffered under ill treatment by the Pharaoh. If Germany is identified figuratively with Old Testament Egypt, the question then arises concerning the experiences of discrimination undergone by people of Turkish origin in Germany and the question of how things stand with the “welcoming culture” in Germany.
The TASD study by the Futureorg Institute estimates the number of academics of Turkish origin living in Germany to be 45,000–70,000 (Aydın 2010b, p. 7).
Cf. for example Dernbach/Schlicht (2009), Jacobsen (2009), Wierth (2009), Geiges (2011).
Liljeberg/INFO (2011, p. 26). In comparison with the two studies, a look at the willingness to emigrate of Germany’s population as a whole is important. The findings of a study by the Institute for Demoscopy Allensbach from 2007 thus show that 20 percent of Germans over the age of 16 toy with the idea of emigrating from Germany. Among those under the age of 30, the figure is even 33 percent. Another survey by the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) shows that indeed roughly one-quarter of those over the age of 16 entertain thoughts of emigrating but that concrete plans are only rarely made (Diehl et al. 2008, p. 51). The desire to emigrate, in other words, does not necessarily translate into actual emigration.
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