As Germany is a declared immigration country, most research on migration addresses the aspect of immigration. In 2010, 789,000 immigrants entered the country. Immigrants mainly came from Poland (126,000), Romania (75,000), Bulgaria (39,000), Hungary, Turkey and the U.S. (each 30,000) (data, Statistisches Bundesamt Wiesbaden). But Germany is not only an immigration country; a considerable number of German citizens also leave the country. In 2010, 141,000 nationals left Germany. The most popular destination countries for German citizens were Switzerland (22,000), the U.S. (13,000) and Austria (11,000).

Statistical analysis by Übelmesser (2006) and Erlinghagen (2009) point out that German emigrants are a positively selected group with respect to age and education compared to non-mobile Germans. More than half of German emigrants, aged 25-64, have a tertiary degree – but only one quarter of the German non-mobile population has obtained academic credentials (Ette/Sauer 2010). In addition, Sauer/Ette (2007: 73) found that German emigrants are not only ‘male, single and young’ but also ‘older, married and wealthy’, as there exists a fairly large retirement emigration from Germany. In general, international migration of German nationals occurs mainly in Western Germany, regardless of which type of migration.

Liebau/Schupp (2010) show in their research based on data of the Socio-Economic Panel 2009, that every eighth German national thinks about going abroad and every eleventh German national thinks about leaving Germany within the next twelve months (Liebau/Schupp 2010: 2).

Heimer/Pfeiffer (2007) conducted a quantitative on-line survey of German emigrants, who are between 20 and 65 years of age. Based on the results of cluster analysis, the researchers could identify the following five main motives for emigration.

  1. The biggest cluster contained skilled Germans who emigrated because they wanted to increase their life quality. Intentions to return are rather low in this group. 61% of the interviewees could not think of returning to Germany within the next years (Heimer/Pfeiffer 2007: 31).
  2. The second cluster is made up of German academics whose main motives for emigration were unsatisfactory income and employment perspectives in Germany. Return motivation is very high within this group; more than half of those interviewees state that they will return in the upcoming years (Heimer/Pfeiffer 2007: 32).
  3. The third largest cluster contained young academics who emigrated because they were looking for new experiences and challenges. A return to Germany is very likely within the next years (Heimer/Pfeiffer 2007: 32).
  4. Cluster four is made up of highly-skilled, established professionals, who emigrated because they were looking for new perspectives. Two-thirds state they intend to return to Germany in the upcoming years. (Heimer/Pfeiffer 2007: 32).
  5. The last cluster contained family-oriented skilled workers. Their main motive for emigration was the improvement of family- and friendship relations abroad. Occupational reasons have taken a back seat. In this group, the motivation to return to Germany is very low. (Heimer/Pfeiffer 2007: 33).

Liebau/Schupp (2010) also studied main motives for emigration and found that already collected experiences from a stay abroad, social ties abroad and unsatisfactory financial conditions (Liebau/Schupp 2010: 2,5) in the home country caused Germans to move away.

According to Ette/Sauer (2010) the share of highly-skilled Germans emigrating has strongly increased in the last two decades. This fact has raised the question among scholars of whether Germany is experiencing brain drain. For example Holzner et al. (2009) and Brückner (2010) state that the rather low- and medium skilled immigrant flows to Germany cannot compensate for the high outflows of highly-skilled nationals. At the moment, current research shows, that this fear proves to be unfounded.

  • First, attitude and actual behavior do not go hand in hand to a strong degree. Only 4% of Germans, who stated that they want to go abroad in 1998, actually went abroad until 2009 (Liebau/Schupp 2010: 7).
  • Second, the emigration of Germans is in the majority of cases not permanent. About 68% of German emigrants return after their stay abroad (Liebau/Schupp 2010: 3, estimation for the year 2008).

According to official data, 115,000 Germans (including 3,360 ethnic Germans – Spätaussiedler) returned in 2009 (data, Statistisches Bundesamt Wiesbaden).

Findings by Heimer/Pfeiffer (2007) also support the high return potential among Germans living abroad. Results from an online-survey of high-skilled German emigrants shows, that more than two-thirds of the academic respondents working in science and research state that they have already organized their return home. According to Enders/Bornmann (2002), German emigrants spend around 3 to 5 years abroad until they decide to return. Interestingly, people in dependent employment are more prone to return than self-employed respondents.

With respect to main motives for a return migration, the authors highlight private reasons (social ties to family and friends), occupational- and income specific aspects (unfulfilled occupational expectations), personal well-being and homesickness. Only a very small number of interviewees stated that they could not afford a living in the destination country. (Heimer/Pfeiffer 2007: 41, 44).

According to research by Ette/Sauer (2010) and Liebau/Schupp (2010) based on representative SOEP data, German returnees are a highly-selected population. Liebau/Schupp (2010) show for example, that the higher the educational credentials a German emigrant possesses, the more this person opts for a temporary rather than permanent migration. This finding is validated by research of Ette/Sauer (2010) who found that the share of highly-educated people is even higher among German returnees than among German emigrants. This means that the most skilled people return to Germany. Interestingly, in term of high-skilled occupations, true differences exist: the share of scientists among German returnees equals that of German emigrants, but the share of executives and senior management is significantly lower among German returnees than among German emigrants.

Nevertheless, to conclude, findings point on average more into the direction of brain circulation than brain drain. Although many highly-skilled Germans decide to emigrate, most of them return after several years. On the long run, Germany might even benefit from this brain circulation taking place.

Brücker, H. (2010): Deutschland leidet unter einem Brain Drain. In: Wirtschaftsdienst, 3:138-139.
Enders, J.; Bornmann, L. (2002): Internationale Mobilität bundesdeutscher Promovierter – Eine Sekundäranalyse der Kasseler Promoviertenstudie. In: Mitteilungen aus der Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung 35, 1: 60-73.
Erlinghagen, M. ( 2009): Deutschland ein Auswanderungsland? In: DIW Wochenbericht 39/2009: 663-669.
Ette, A.; Sauer, L. (2010): Auswanderung aus Deutschland. Daten und Analysen zur internationalen Migration deutscher Staatsbürger. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Heimer, A.; Pfeiffer, I. (2007): Gründe für die Auswanderung von Fach- und Führungskräften aus Wirtschaft und Wissenschaft I A 2 – 020815 –12.
Holzner, C. et al. (2009): Fiskalische Wirkungen der Auswanderung ausgewählter Berufsgruppen. In: Ifo-Schnelldienst 17/2009: 28-33.
Liebau, E.; Schupp, J. (2010): Auswanderungsabsichten: Deutsche Akademiker zieht es ins Ausland - jedoch nur auf Zeit. In: DIW Wochenbericht 37/2010: 2-9.
Sauer, L.; Ette, A. (2007): Auswanderung aus Deutschland: Stand der Forschung und erste Ergebnisse zur internationalen Migration deutscher Staatsbürger, Materialien zur Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Heft 123. Wiesbaden: Bundesinstitut für Bevölkerungsforschung.
Übelmesser, S. (2006): To Go or Not to Go: Emigration from Germany. In: German Economic Review 7, 2: 211-231.

Basic data
Population in the case study region 281076
Total Area ( 2 106,19
GDP per capita in the region 19 336 € (2009)
Net Migration Rate -8,2

The case study report focuses partly on the County Görlitz, and partly on the wider area Upper-Lusatia, including also the county Bautzen. Bautzen is the county in between Görlitz and Saxon’s capital Dresden and has thus a much better geographical situation.

Bordering the Czech Republic and Poland, Görlitz is a small region with some 281.000 inhabitants (population of Upper Lusatia: 606.000). Regional wealth as shown by the GDP is € 19.336 (2009) 13% lower than the Saxon’ average and 30% lower than in the cities of Saxony. There is a very strong aging trend in society, with sharply decreasing shares of the 18-25 (8.8 to 6.8) and also 25-50 age groups (32.4 to 30.7) over the last 6 years. The average age has risen to 45.6 years for men and close to 50 (!) for women. Population trends indicate a dramatic reduction of the population by -18.5% for the next 15 years (2025). There is high regional and inner-German migration with a negative net migration rate of -8.2, but practically no international migration. Educational attainment, with only 5% of the population with less than upper secondary education and 31% with tertiary education, is considerably better than the German average (data for Saxony).

Industrial sectors show an interesting mix of both a strong primary sector (39.7%) and a very high share of the quaternary sector (43.8%). The report focuses then on the strengths of the manufacturing industry, tourism and energy, but for the whole Upper-Lusatia region. The entrepreneur rate is very low in the area, and R&D capacities of companies are less developed than in other regions.

The image of the region is defined by its historical heritage of brown coal mining and correspondent power plants, new infrastructure and investment in clean technologies; culture and education possibilities are less known. To counter this negative image, various co-operations were started within the region and across the borders with Czech Republic and Poland. The geographic location between Dresden, Wroclaw, Berlin and Prague, the availability of housing and economic spaces, collaboration with the university and a strong enforcement of the natural and cultural heritage shall help to attract business as well as people. For skilled jobs, the labour market already positively changed.

Basic data
Population in the case study region 232.343 (2010)
Total Area ( 2.104 km²
GDP per capita in the region 48.686 € (2009)
Net Migration Rate - 5,8 (2009)

The case study region which belongs to Saxony-Anhalt is situated almost in the middle of Germany. It has a population of 232 000, and GDP per capita was € 19.000 in 2009 (10% below Saxony-Anhalt average). There is a strong aging trend, with the age groups 15-24 and 25-44 decreasing from 12.1 to 9.1 and 25.4 to 23.2, respectively. Consequently, the median age is currently at 48.8 years. Educational attainment is very much concentrated on middle levels, only 8.5% of the population has obtained lower educational credentials and 7.1% higher educational degrees. Net migration decreased over the last 4 years, and was at -5.8% in 2009.

In contrast to the example of the other German case study region of Görlitz (see above), the Harz Landkreis is a dynamic economic region, dominated by small and medium sized enterprises and generally good employment opportunities. A proportion of almost one third of the workforce is engaged in (31.9%) in production, 22.4 in tertiary and 43.6 in quaternary sectors. Besides automotive supply, engineering, plastics and craft tourism is a strong factor for the region based on the well known landscape. The University of Applied Science Harz is another important feature.

On the one hand, a lack of apprenticeships, a small labour market for academic positions and comparatively low wages (compared to the Western parts of Germany) are reasons for young people to leave the region. On the other hand, the region is also attractive as residential area for people, given landscape, culture and leisure offers as well as lower housing prices.

On state level the recognition of foreign qualifications attained is considered an important factor (The "Law to improve the assessment and recognition of foreign professional qualifications," or so-called "Recognition Act," comes into effect on 1 April 2012), as are start ups and other entrepreneurial and labour market support programmes.

The Land Saxony-Anhalt is contributing infrastructural investments, including internet, schools etc.An important factor to stimulate employment is the collaboration of the regional network of decision makers to improve information on job vacancies, and education, training and apprenticeship possibilities. As a further crucial regional policy, contact to former inhabitants is mentioned. Two examples: PFIFF, an information portal for companies and skilled workers, intended to support recruitment; and a skilled workers agreement. The latter, a collaboration agreement between the Land government and other stakeholders aims at strengthening the business location and covers education, labour market and consequences of demographic change. The integration of unemployed skilled workers is part of this collaboration.

Share of nationals and non-nationals among immigrants, 2009, data source: EUROSTAT, own calculations

  nationals non-nationals
0.23 0.77

Immigration by nationals includes both returning migrants and citizens born abroad who are immigrating for the first time.

Age structure of recent returnees (1 year upon their arrival) and stayers in LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
14 and younger 13.02 12.89
15-29 years 41.42 17.94
30-39 years 21.30 13.57
40-49 years 13.02 16.52
50-64 years 10.65 18.91
65 and older 0.59 20.18

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

Generally, recent returnees are younger than stayers.

Recent returnees (1 year upon their arrival) according to gender, in %, LFS 2008-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
male 52.66 48.94
female 47.34 51.06

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

In Germany, about 47% of the recent returnees are female and about 53% are male.

Educational attainment of recent returnees (1 year upon their arrival), aged 17-62, compared to that of stayers, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
low 8.90 23.20
medium 56.85 56.14
high 34.25 20.66

low=up until lower secondary level, middle=upper secondary level, high=tertiary level

In Germany 34% of recent returnees and highly-skilled, 57% are medium-skilled and 9% are low-skilled. Among the stayers 21% are highly-skilled, 56% are medium-skilled and 23% are low-skilled.

Labour market status of recent returnees (1 year upon arrival), aged 17-62, compared that of stayers, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
employed 59.59 68.50
unemployed 9.59 6.98
inactive 30.82 24.52

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

In Germany, 60% of recent returnees are employed, 10% are unemployed and 31% are inactive. 66% of the stayers are employed, 10% are unemployed and about 25% are inactive on the labour market.

Occupations of recent returnees (1 years upon arrival), aged 17-62, compared to those of stayers, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
managers and professionals 48.19 20.38
technicans and associate professions 15.66 22.22
intermediate occupations 36.14 49.32
elemantary occupations 0.00 8.07

"managers and professionals"=ISCO100-ISCO200; "technicans"=300; "intermediate occupations"=ISCO400-ISCO800; "elementary occupations"=ISCO900

In Germany, the share of managers and professionals is higher among recent returnees than stayers

Recent returnees (1 year upon arrival), aged 17-62, and stayers according to sectors of employment, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
Agriculture 0.00 2.19
Industry 16.09 29.76
Services 83.91 68.05

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

In Germany, the majority of recent returnees are employed in the service-sector.

Recent returnees (1 year upon arrival), aged 17-62, and stayers according to the area of residence, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
densely populated area 74.83 49.52
intermediate area 16.33 34.64
thinly populated area 8.84 15.83

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

In Germany, 74% of the recent returnees (1 year upon arrival) live in densely populated areas.

Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography
Schongauerstraße 9
D-04328 Leipzig

Robert Nadler
Phone: +49 341 600 55-140

The results and conclusions are those of the authors and not those of Eurostat or the European Commission

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