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1.2.2007 | Von:
Jessica Guth

How is the mobility of early career scientists affected by national legislation and EU enlargement?

Legal provisions affecting access to labour markets and social security provisions as well as administrative procedures for taking up employment seem to play a relatively significant role in scientists' choice of destination.
Mit dem diesjährigen internationalen Forschungspreis der italienischen Nunzio Pascale-Stiftung ist Dr. Carlo Pergola vom Institut für Pharmazie der Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena ausgezeichnet worden (Foto vom 07.07.2011). Gemeinsam mit Kollegen aus Jena, Tübingen und Neapel (Italien) ist es dem Nachwuchswissenschaftler gelungen, einen neuen Wirkstoff-Kandidaten zur Behandlung von Allergien und Entzündungen ausfindig zu machen.Young Italian scientist at the University of Jena, Germany. (© picture alliance / ZB )

Legislation in Germany

This is not due to their effect on the scientists themselves, but rather due to their impact upon partners and family members. For example, Alicja [1] was a doctoral candidate in Germany and was looking for a post-doctoral position in the UK. She explained why: "This is the advantage: that we are in the new European Union and [my partner] can work [in the UK]. [...]We decided that for me moving here [to Germany] it would be very difficult for him to find work because he's not very highly-educated, so it wouldn't be like he would apply to some company to work and, of course, you have to know the language [...]I know some Polish people who are here, mostly girls, and their husbands or boyfriends, they [tried] to find a job here but they didn't find one."

The German government has recognised the importance of spousal rights in attracting highly-skilled personnel to the country. In the Residence Act, the spouse of a highly-skilled worker being granted a settlement permit is also allowed to work in Germany without having to apply for a work permit. However, this only applies to the highly-skilled under Section 19 of the Act and, as was argued earlier, seems to have been of little benefit to early career scientists.

Social security and benefits can also be deciding factors, as Alexander's [2] case highlights. Alexander was a post-doctoral researcher in Germany who then secured a position at a prestigious institution in the UK. His wife was expecting their first child. He returned to Germany after only one week in his new job. He explained why: "Although we pay as much national insurance and tax as any British person of similar income (in fact more tax, because we are not entitled to any tax credits, such as working tax credit or council tax benefit), we do not have the right to any social benefits, including any form of child support, such as child benefit or child tax credit [...]. At the same time living in Germany on my salary alone we will be, if not too comfortable, than at least decent. Also, in Germany we do get the social benefits related to child support, even though we could have managed without them."

The two examples highlight that the attractiveness of a destination country can vary according to the scientists' personal context: The legal provisions in place will affect not only the scientist but accompanying family members as well, and this may have a significant impact on the decision to move.

EU enlargement

It is difficult to accurately define the way in which EU enlargement and the subsequent opening of borders has affected scientific migration. Data suggest that the impact of EU enlargement on scientific migration is complex. The international scientific community exists independent of national borders, and international mobility has long been a feature of this community, although the most popular destinations have been subject to change in line with historical and political developments. EU enlargement would appear to strengthen the relations between the new and old member states. However, data [3] show that scientific mobility between Eastern and Western Europe predates EU enlargement and has not increased dramatically since then, suggesting that the opening of borders and easier access to science labour markets have not had a marked effect.

One clear effect of the EU enlargement has been the advent of cheap travel, which seems to encourage mobility in all areas and also affects scientists [4]. One researcher described the phenomenon thus: "Head-spinning fares are uniting East and West as the founding fathers of the European Union would never have imagined [...] Once a largely theoretical possibility, that sort of labor mobility becomes a practical option when flights cost less than a day's wages and no more than a bus ride." [5] Being able to get home quickly and cheaply is likely to make becoming mobile a viable option for some scientists who previously would not have considered going abroad. For others, it makes mobility easier in terms of both personal ties and professional networks and collaborations.

It has been argued that the effect of EU enlargement is related less to specific rights and more to the symbolic meaning of EU membership and open borders [6]. Membership has given new member states a certain amount of status in the eyes of Western countries. Without pointing to a specific right or entitlement, movement towards Western Europe becomes something normal and encouraged rather than something which has to be justified or explained. In addition, both home and host countries have a greater awareness of the other region and the challenges and advantages associated with them. Nonetheless, the transitional arrangements in particular prevent Eastern European scientists from seeing themselves as equal in status to nationals of the EU15; rather, they see themselves as having moved from third to second class citizens. As one interviewee put it: "You're still a Polish person in England and there are all these limitations on labour movement and whatever benefits, so there's a lot of limitations. You know you're a second class citizen. It's not exactly like being first class like everybody else."[7]


Polish doctoral candidate in Germany. All names have been changed in order to protect the respondents' anonymity.
Bulgarian post-doctoral researcher in Germany.
See Van de Sande et al (2005).
EU-level deregulation of the aviation business and the Open Skies Agreement make cheap travel possible.
See Underhill (2006).
See Guth (2006) and Stalford (2003).
Polish mid-career professional in the UK.



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