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Sonja Haug (2001)

To Stay or to Return? On the Measurement of, Explanations for and Prognosis of the Return of Immigrants in Germany*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 26, 2/2001, p. 231-270, Opladen: Verlag Leske + Budrich, ISSN: 0340-2398

This article deals with the return of Italian guest workers from Germany to Italy. Using official data from Germany and Italy, an attempt is made to measure the extent of remigration with the aid of various indicators. This poses some difficulties regarding the data, and these are explained in detail. It can be stated overall that 88% of people who emigrated from Italy to Germany since 1955 have now returned to Italy. 615,900 Italian nationals currently live in Germany. The question is discussed as to whether these immigrants, most of whom have been in Germany longer than average, but a large proportion of whom (53%) nevertheless express an intention to return, will indeed return at some point in the future.

On the basis of the theory of rational choice, reasons are sought that could lead to a decision to return. Structural developments, such as the legal framework, as well as the economic situation, could be named as reasons to return. These are however not sufficient to explain differences between the decisions of individual immigrants. It is presumed that the individual decisions are based on individual access to capital, both in the economic and family/social or cultural sense. In line with the determinants of immigration, the determinants of remigration could vary, depending on stages of life, and remigration decisions are taken together with those who are closest. It is postulated that the main determinants for return can be found in economic and family-related factors. This thesis is being examined in the socio-economic panel using the random sample of Italian immigrants.

The previous return of members of the household to Italy proved to be the most important determinant for decisions to remigrate in this analysis. This means that remigration can be regarded as a sequential household decision. The results of the logistical regression model point to the significance of three groups of variables: Decisive for remigration is, firstly, the characteristics of the household family, and to a limited degree also of the social network. It was possible both to confirm that the number of family members at the place of residence acts as an obstacle to migration, and that the prior or simultaneous return of members of the household has an encouraging impact on migration. In addition to the decision of the family members, a second important determinant of remigration consists of the existence of an intention to return. Characteristics of the migration biography, as well as age on immigration and length of stay, are not of decisive significance for remigration. A third factor depends indirectly and directly on employment: Reaching pensionable age is a considerable biographical caesura, since the probability of a return increases considerably at this age. The economic indicator of exercising full employment additionally exercises a relatively stable preventive effect on remigration. The prognosis of a future return is discussed on the basis of this analysis.

* Original title: Bleiben oder Zurückkehren? Zur Messung, Erklärung und Prognose der Rückkehr von Immigranten in Deutschland (full text in German only)

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