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International Migration of Germans

Contact Person:

Dr. Lenore Sauer

Phone: +49 611 75 4516
Fax: +49 611 75 3960

Content and Objective

An intensive debate has come about in the past few years on the increasing emigration from Germany. The obvious tendency of the international migration of employees who have the highest qualification levels is particularly worrying. However, the controversial public and academic discussion suffers from a shortage of differentiated scientific analyses. Against this background, this project aims to process the current state of research on the international migration of German nationals and – by means of surveys of its own – to obtain more precise information, both on the development and structure and on the explanation of this migration. The results so far have been summarised in a monograph, and were published in June 2010. Future analyses will particularly focus on the emigration of highly-qualified people in the European and international contexts.

Selected Results

  • It is shown from the example of emigration to the EU-14 States that the international mobility of Germans depends heavily on their training and qualification level. Roughly half the 25- to 64-year-old Germans leaving the country are graduates. This only applies to slightly more than one-quarter of the comparison group of the non-mobile German residential population. The vocational qualifications of German emigrants are also far above the level of the German population: One emigrant in two is employed as a ‘manager’ or ‘researcher’. For comparison: The share in the total German population here is only roughly one-fifth. These results can also be transferred to the USA and Switzerland, German emigrants’ two most important destination countries.
  • Permanent emigration is a somewhat rare phenomenon. The extent of re-immigration indicates that roughly three-quarters of all internationally-mobile Germans are only temporarily abroad within a kind of ‘brain circulation’, and that they then come back. Measured against the proportion of those who are graduates, the average level of training among German re-immigrants is in fact slightly higher than that of emigrants. A markedly different pattern is revealed by a comparative analysis of the vocational qualification of emigrants and reimmigrants: Whilst the share of ‘researchers’ among re-immigrants corresponds to that of emigrants, the proportion of ‘managers’ among re-immigrants is much smaller. The consequence of this is that, in their migration conduct, researchers tend more to follow a ‘brain circulation’, whereas among ‘managers’ by contrast, one can speak more of a tendency to emigrate permanently, which should be interpreted as a permanent loss of this group of migrants in the sense of a ‘brain drain’.
  • A balanced migration balance of highly-qualified persons is shown for Germany for the past few years. Roughly the same number of highly-qualified Germans emigrate to one of the EU-14 Member States as, conversely, highly-qualified nationals of the same EU States immigrate to Germany. If the vocational qualifications are taken into account, by contrast, one sees a slightly negative migration balance.

There are plans to work at the BiB on the topic of international migration between industrialised states in the longer term, and in particular within the European Union. Preparations are underway to implement a separate survey on the international migration of Germans, which is planned for 2013/14.


Ette, Andreas; Sauer, Lenore (2010): Abschied vom Einwanderungsland Deutschland? Die Migration Hochqualifizierter im europäischen und internationalen Vergleich. Policy Paper im Auftrag der Bertelsmann-Stiftung. Gütersloh

Ette, Andreas; Sauer, Lenore (2010): Auswanderung aus Deutschland. Daten und Analysen zur internationalen Migration deutscher Staatsbürger. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag

Ette, Andreas; Unger, Rainer; Graze, Philip; Sauer, Lenore (2008): Measuring Spatial Mobility with the German Microcensus: The Case of German Return Migrants. In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft 33,3-4: 409-432

Sauer, Lenore (2008): Zur Diskussion gestellt: „Brain Drain“: Gibt es in Deutschland zu wenig Möglichkeiten für Spitzenforscher? In: Ifo Schnelldienst 4: 12-14

Sauer, Lenore; Ette, Andreas (2007): Auswanderung aus Deutschland. Stand der Forschung und erste Ergebnisse zur internatonalen Migration deutscher Staatsbürger. Materialien zur Bevölkerungswissenschaft 123. Wiesbaden: Bundesinstitut für Bevölkerungsforschung

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© Federal Institute for Population Research - 2018