How can I migrate from Turkey


Dr. Yaşar Aydın

has been a Mercator IPC Fellow at the Science and Research Foundation and member of the EU External Relations research group since April 2013. Research areas: Migration research and immigration policy; Turkey Research; Research on nationalism (nationalism, ethnic conflicts, problems of foreignness, collective identity); Social Philosophy and Political Theory (Theories of Modernity / Modernization)

German-Turkish migration

In 1961, the Turkish government and the federal government signed a recruitment agreement that set in motion a migration process between Turkey and Germany. This continues to this day in a differentiated form.

People of Turkish origin have shaped Germany in many ways since the 1960s. As a "German-Turkish product", the "kebab" has even developed into a joint export hit. Customers at the counter of the New York snack bar "Kotti Berliner Döner Kebap". (& copy picture-alliance)

Almost four million people came to Germany under the 1961 recruitment agreement, and around half of them later returned to Turkey. In 1973, the federal government decreed a ban on recruiting workers from abroad, which reduced labor migration to Germany overall, but the number of immigrants continued to rise: the "guest workers" brought their partners and children who had stayed at home to catch up.

Family migration in the 1970s was followed by a politically motivated migration movement from Turkey after the military coup in 1980, and numerous politically persecuted people sought protection in Germany. What gave impetus to political transnationalism - i.e. political and social interactions across national borders - migrant organizations and transnational political solidarity emerged, which made it easier for those politically persecuted from Turkey to immigrate to Germany and to integrate into society.

In the first half of the 1980s there was a return migration of people of Turkish origin to Turkey, the number of which is estimated at around 400,000. [1] It was initiated by the Return Promotion Act, which was passed by the conservative-liberal government under Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1983 [2], and which created financial incentives for the return of "guest workers" and their families. Decisive for this law were not only economic considerations, but also the assumption that most people of Turkish origin in Germany could not be integrated into a Christian western European country due to their religious affiliation. [3]

In the 1990s, the armed struggle between the Turkish armed forces and the Kurdish terrorist militia PKK came to a head, triggering a wave of emigration from the southeast to western Turkey and from there to Germany. Many Kurds came to Germany and applied for asylum, which resulted in a transnational Kurdish diaspora in Germany.

Migration turnaround

In the 2000s, there was a turning point in the history of Turkish-German migration: in 2006, for the first time, more people emigrated from Germany to Turkey than, conversely, emigrated from Turkey to Germany. Immigration from Turkey to Germany has slowed significantly since 2005, while, conversely, emigration from Germany to Turkey has remained relatively constant. In 1991 the German-Turkish migration balance showed an increase of around 46,000 people in favor of Germany. In 2000 there were just under 10,000, in 2006 there was finally a negative migration balance for Germany, which continued until 2014.

Table: Emigration and immigration from and to Turkey1991 to 2015
in the
in the
Presentation table: Yaşar Aydın. Source: BAMF, 2018.

It should be noted that the "immigration" from Turkey to Germany is "over-recorded", the negative migration balance was actually even greater: For example, the annual entries from Turkey to Germany were about three times higher in the last three to four years than the entry visas issued to Turkish citizens. From this it can be concluded that around two thirds of the immigrants have already lived in Germany and should therefore be in possession of a valid residence permit or German citizenship. In this respect, the majority of those who immigrated to Germany from Turkey are not "newcomers", as is assumed, but rather "returnees" (circular migration).

In 2015, German-Turkish migration showed a positive balance for the first time since 2005. The immigration from Turkey to Germany rose from 21,508 in 2015 to 24,337, the migration balance from 6,649 to 9,488 in 2016. This trend is likely to have continued due to political events in Turkey (attempted coup on July 15, 2016, since then a state of emergency) - official data on this do not yet exist. [4]

The profile of mobility between Germany and Turkey has also changed. The current German-Turkish migration consists not only of family migration, which has lost importance in recent years, and the commuting migration of both German and Turkish retirees. There are also business and leisure trips and temporary stays by students, scientists and other highly qualified people in both directions.

This immense intensification and diversification of social, cultural and political exchange is both the result and consequence of the transnationalization that the relations between Germany and Turkey have experienced in the past. The transnationality is expressed in the bicultural orientations, the double identities and double loyalties of people of Turkish origin, but also in their socio-political activities, which relate to both countries.

Transnational Turkish Diaspora in Germany

In Germany, immigration from Turkey has created a transnational diaspora in which social, cultural and political elements from Turkey continue to have an effect, mix with local elements and influence both societies and political systems. The Turkish media operated in Germany as well as those published in Turkey, which are also consumed in Germany, play an important mediating role: They form an "intermediate world" of German-Turkish relations. A not to be neglected mediator function between politics and people of Turkish origin is also taken over by the transnationally oriented migrant self-organizations, which offer various events to people of Turkish origin and represent their interests. With their economic, socio-political and cultural activities, people of Turkish origin not only have a lasting influence on society and politics in Germany, but also part of German-Turkish and EU-Turkey relations.

Of the nearly three million people with roots in Turkey living in Germany, around 1.6 million are German and 1.4 million Turkish citizens. [5] According to the 2011 census, the number of people of Turkish origin with one-two passports is 530,596. The number of Turkish citizens is declining, which can be explained primarily by naturalizations, the granting of citizenship by birth [6], the non-admission of dual citizenship and the restrictive entry conditions, including when families are reunited.

Distribution of Turkish citizens in Germany by federal state 2016 ( Graphic for download) (& copy bpb)
The majority of Turkish citizens live in the four large territorial states: 33.57 percent of the Turkish population live in North Rhine-Westphalia, 17.38 percent in Baden-Württemberg, 13.3 percent in Bavaria and 10.48 percent in Hesse. In the three city-states together, 11.94 percent of Turkish citizens live in Germany; in Berlin 7.23 percent, in Hamburg 3.09 percent and in Bremen 1.62 percent. The bottom of the list are Saxony (0.3), Saxony-Anhalt (0.18), Brandenburg (0.17), Thuringia (0.14) and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (0.09). [7]

19 percent of the German women who had a binational marriage had a Turkish husband, 14 percent of the German men with binational marriages were married to a Turkish woman (Destatis, February 18, 2015). Around 96,000 Turkish entrepreneurs in Germany currently employ around 500,000 people and generate annual sales of around 50 billion euros. [8]

Religion and people of Turkish origin

In the course of the debates about political Islam, triggered by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the rise of IS and jihadist groups in the Middle East and their attacks in Europe, Germans became more skeptical about people of Turkish origin because of their religious affiliation.

A representative survey by Kantar EMNID from 2016 showed that 82 percent of Germans associate Islam with discrimination against women, 72 percent with fundamentalism and 64 percent with a willingness to use violence. Meanwhile, only 7 percent of those of Turkish origin surveyed consider it justified to use violence when it comes to spreading and enforcing Islam. 36 percent, on the other hand, believe that only Islam is able to solve the problems of our time. The survey comes to the result that 13 percent of the respondents can be classified as religious fundamentalists, while 67 percent consider themselves religious. Nevertheless, only 28 percent of people of Turkish origin regularly visit a mosque and only 45 percent pray regularly. [9]

Self-assessment of people of Turkish origin

90 percent of the interviewed people of Turkish origin feel at home in Germany, 87 percent express their solidarity with Germany and 70 percent have a strong will to integrate: They agree with the statement "I definitely want to integrate myself into German society without making any compromises" . [10]

Nonetheless, 51 percent of people of Turkish origin in Germany feel they are "second class citizens" and 54 percent are of the opinion that they are not recognized by the majority society, regardless of how much they integrate into society.

Political preferences of people of Turkish origin

Politically, the transnational diaspora of Turkish origin in Germany is extremely heterogeneous. At first glance, a distinction can be made between mainly traditional conservative and religious people, but also Turkish nationalists who support the current domestic political course of the Turkish government. On the other side there are leftists and liberals of various stripes as well as parts of the Kurds and Alevis. However, none of the groups can be described as homogeneous, especially among those of Turkish origin in Germany who are critical of the Turkish government, for example in the assessment of the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Election result of Turkish citizens in Germany in the Turkish parliamentary elections, November 2015 ( Graphic for download) (& copy bpb)
In the Turkish parliamentary elections in November 2015, people of Turkish origin in Germany with Turkish citizenship voted for the AKP with 59.2 percent, the pro-Kurdish left HDP with 15.9 percent, the secular left CHP with 14.8 percent and the secular left CHP with 7.5 percent the nationalist MHP. [11] Around 70 percent of the vote went to parties to the right of center and around 30 percent to parties to the left of center.

Behavior at the polls of Turkish citizens on the constitutional referendum, April 2017 ( Graphic for download) (& copy bpb)
At the constitutional referendum in April 2017, 69.1 percent of Turkish voters in Germany voted for the constitutional amendment, 30.9 percent voted against. In Turkey, 51.4 percent voted in favor, 48.6 percent against. It should be noted, however, that of the 1.4 million Turkish citizens eligible to vote in Germany, only 46.2 percent took part in the constitutional referendum (the turnout for the parliamentary election was 40.8 percent). [12] It can therefore not be said that a majority of Turkish citizens living in Germany supported the constitutional reform.

Party preferences of people of Turkish origin living in Germany ( Graphic for download) (& copy bpb)
The party preferences of people of Turkish origin with a German passport with regard to the German parties, on the other hand, are as follows: In a survey from 2016, the SPD was well ahead of the Greens with 13.4 percent and the left with 9 6 percent. The CDU comes in last with 6.1 percent approval. With regard to the relationship between party preference and level of education, the following tendency emerges: the higher the level of education, the lower the approval for the SPD. The higher the level of education, the higher the approval for the Greens and the left. In the case of the CDU, the difference is almost insignificant at + 2.6 percent. [13]

German-Turkish Migration: A "Win-Win Story"

The German-Turkish migration is a good example that migration movements are open processes, the outcome of which is incalculable. Migration has had a major impact on both societies by bringing people of different origins, cultures, religions and lifestyles together. The integration process did not always go smoothly and was often accompanied by intercultural misunderstandings and sometimes tensions. However, the social coexistence between people of Turkish origin and locals works much better today than it is portrayed in the media and in politics. Migrants of Turkish origin are part of this society, participate in social life, have founded families here, are gainfully employed and even have a say in politics.

Turkey has also benefited, for example from money transfers, which up until the 1980s made up a considerable proportion of total foreign exchange income: money spent by migrant workers on vacation for consumer and investment purposes (property purchases) as well as various aid.

Some of the people of Turkish origin have successfully integrated into the central areas of society (integration). A small part has even given up their identity of origin and absorbed into the dominant culture and majority society (assimilation). Another part has failed to find their way in society, and so they live more or less separately from the majority society (segregation). At the same time, the well-integrated are at times confronted with exclusion, discrimination and non-recognition. They are still perceived and treated by part of the majority society as aliens who do not belong to them.

With their transnational orientations and relationships, people of Turkish origin also shape Germany's relations with Turkey. Domestic political debates that particularly affect people of Turkish origin living in Germany - including how to deal with the NSU series of murders or the discussion about dual citizenship - have already advanced to foreign policy issues in this context. Conversely, tensions in bilateral relations between Germany and Turkey are also causing displeasure between - at least a part - of the population of Turkish origin in Germany and the majority society, politics and the media.