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Changing Patterns of Immigration to Germany, 1945-1997 -- Rainer Münz and Ralf E. Ulrich

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Philosophische Fakultät III
Chair of Demography

Changing Patterns of Immigration to Germany, 1945-1997

Rainer Münz and Ralf E. Ulrich


Germany is today, along with the US and Russia, one of the three most important immigration countries worldwide. The authors examine how the immigrant population of Germany has risen despite the fact that the German government has sought to restrict it. They analyze six major streams of migration: refugees and expellees who came immediately after World War II, German resettlers from Eastern Europe ("Aussiedler"), emigration of (West-)Germans, migration between East- and West Germany, foreign labor migrants and asylum seekers. The dynamics of immigration for each of these channels was remarkably different. As far as absorption and integration are concerned the authors argue that different groups of immigrants should be treated more equally.

"Germany is not a country of immigration." For decades this has been the official view of the German government in defining its position on international migration and the integration of foreigners.1 This official stand also reflects the view of many Germans. In line with the German Constitution and the law on citizenship, a majority of them see their country as an ethnically defined nation-state. Germany's self-definition as a nonimmigrant society is thus to be understood as a normative statement: "Germany should not be a country of immigration today and must not become one in the future."

In the past fifty years, however, West Germany has been one of the countries receiving the highest number of immigrants in the world. In 1950 some 8 million of the 50 million inhabitants of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) were postwar refugees and expellees (Vertriebene).2 Since then, West Germany's population has increased by 16 million (to 66 million in 1994). Some 80 percent of this increase can be explained by net migration gains (12.9 million between 1950 and 1994).

In the German Democratic Republic in 1950 3.6 out of 18.4 million GDR citizens were postwar refugees and expellees. In the ensuing years, East Germany was confronted with periods of extremely high emigration, and its regime finally collapsed as a result of mass emigration in 1989-90. During this period (1950-94), despite an excess of births over deaths, East Germany's population declined by 2.9 million, numbering 15.5 million in 1994. This was the result of the substantial losses stemming from migration. Between 1950 and 1994 East Germany lost 4.9 million people to West Germany alone.

Since the end of World War II, more than 20 million people have immigrated to the western part of Germany: expellees, ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe (Aussiedler), Germans from the GDR (Übersiedler), labor migrants (so-called guest workers), asylum seekers, and refugees. This figure only includes people who have stayed in the Federal Republic of Germany for extended periods of time. Since 1950 the population of Germany as a whole (East and West) has increased by 13.1 million, bringing its total population to 82 million in 1996. Two-thirds of this increase is due to the positive net migration balance of more than 8.6 million between 1950 and 1996, not including migration between East and West Germany (see table 1).

Table 1: Population of Germany, 1950-1996 (in millions)

Year1 West Germany East Germany Germany
1950 50.0 18.4 68.4
1960 55.4 17.2 72.6
1970 60.6 17.1 77.7
1980 61.5 16.7 78.2
1990 63.7 16.1 79.4
1994 66.0 15.5 81.5
1995 67.6 14.2 81.8
1996 67.9 14.1 82.0
total change +17,9 -4.3 13.6
net migration balance
1950-1996 +13.6 -5.12 +8.6

1. As of 31 December.

2. Net migration balance between East and West Germany only.

Source: Data from the Statistisches Bundesamt; Dorbritz and Gärtner 1995; Schulz 1994; Wendt 1994; the authors' calculations.

One of the peculiarities of immigration to Germany is the large number of immigrants with German citizenship or at least a legal claim to it. Since 1945 more than 50 percent of the immigrants to West Germany have been either ethnic Germans or Germans by law. Half of them came to Germany (within its present borders) at the end of World War II or shortly thereafter, part of the wave of refugees and expellees from eastern parts of the former Reich, as well as from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia.

Six phases of postwar immigration to Germany can be distinguished (see table 2; see also Martin 1991; Münz and Ulrich 1993; Rudolph 1994; Seifert 1995). The first phase was dominated by the immigration of Germans: expellees, citizens of the GDR, other ethnic Germans. Recruitment of foreign labor began in the mid-1950s, initiating the second phase. But foreign labor was of no major importance until 1960-61, when the migration from the GDR to the FRG came to a sudden halt after the construction of the Berlin Wall. At this point, the third phase, the German authorities began to organize labor recruitment on a large scale; it was later stopped in order to reduce the number of foreigners in the FRG. This goal was not achieved, but the attempt led to a consolidation of the guest-worker population and later to a new moderate growth in West Germany's foreign population by way of family reunion and a rapidly increasing number of children born to foreigners in Germany (fourth phase). But only in the late 1980s and early 1990s (fifth phase) did the immigration of ethnic Germans and foreigners reach new peak levels. This was due not only to a change in the push and pull factors but also to the dismantling of the Iron Curtain and administrative barriers that, before 1989-90, had rendered regular travel and emigration almost impossible for citizens of Central and East European countries and the USSR. With the introduction of new restrictive measures aiming to limit the immigration of both ethnic Germans and asylum seekers, Germany has now entered the sixth phase of its postwar migration history.

Table 2: Phases in the History of German Migration, 1945-1997

1945 to 1949 Mainly immigration of ethnic German refugees and expellees (Vertriebene) and remigration of non-German forced labor, prisoners of war, and survivors of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
1949 to 1961 First peak of migration between East and West Germany (Übersiedler).
1961 to 1973 Active recruitment of foreign labor by the FRG (guest workers); rapid growth of foreign population.
1973 to 1988-89 Recruitment stop; failed attempts to reduce the number of foreigners living in the FRG; consolidation and further growth of the foreign population in West Germany by way of family reunion; recruitment of foreign labor by the GDR.
1988 to 1991 Immigration of ethnic Germans (Aussiedler), asylum seekers, refugees, new labor migrants; second peak of migration between East and West Germany.
Since 1992 Introduction of new restrictions against the immigration of Aussiedler and asylum seekers

In the past, some push and pull factors existed for GDR citizens, ethnic Germans, and foreigners alike. However, the dynamics of immigration and emigration have to be explained separately for each of the different groups. Legal conditions and individual perspectives were not the same. GDR citizens and ethnic Germans coming to West Germany from Eastern Europe and Central Asia hardly ever thought of returning some day to their countries of origin, whereas some of the foreign laborers and asylum seekers did. The chances of being successfully integrated into Germany's economic and social life also differed among these groups.

2.1 Expellees and Other Ethnic German Immigrants
The first phase of immigration at the end of World War II and immediately thereafter consisted mainly of refugees and expellees from the Eastern parts of the German Reich as well as from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. The census of 10 October 1946, registered 5.9 million refugees and expellees in the British and U.S. zones and 3.6 million in the Soviet zone (the French military government in Germany did not allow the resettlement of expellees in the French zone). The census of 13 March 1950, counted 7.9 million refugees and expellees living in West Germany (FRG). By the beginning of the 1950s approximately 12 million ethnic Germans from the former eastern parts of the Reich and from East Central Europe had emigrated to the FRG, the GDR, and Austria (Benz 1985; Stanek 1985). When comparing the number and share of these immigrants in the GDR (3.6 million, i.e., 20 percent of total population) and the FRG (7.9 million, or 16 percent of the total population), we see that the demographic impact was somewhat larger in the east. To a certain extent, the fact that this migration was a result of expulsion, forced resettlement, and ethnic cleansing might explain the greater degree to which these migrants were accepted within East and West German society at that time (Frantzioch 1987).

From 1950 to 1987 immigration of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe continued on a lesser scale (see figure 1). During this period, 1.4 million newly arriving Aussiedler were registered in the FRG. The immigration of ethnic Germans, based on bilateral agreements between the West German and the Polish, Romanian, and Soviet governments, stemmed from individual decisions and no longer from ethnic cleansing. This is the main reason for an analytical distinction between Vertriebene of the period from 1945 to 1949 and other Aussiedler who have come since the 1950s. It is true that ethnic Germans were discriminated against in Poland, Romania, and the former Soviet Union even after 1950; however, individuals requesting emigration to West Germany (and, in rarer cases, to the GDR) calculated the costs and benefits of such a move. Over the last decades, however, German public and political circles have often tended to interpret the decisions of ethnic Germans to emigrate as a response to political and social discrimination and an adherence to the concept of Germanhood and to the political system of (West) Germany (Bethlehem 1982; Delfs 1993; Ronge 1993). The migration of ethnic Germans was and is hardly ever seen as a purely economic decision.

From the beginning of the 1950s the socialist countries restricted the mobility of ethnic Germans as much as that of members of other ethnic groups. After organized expulsion and forced resettlement came to an end, the legal emigration of ethnic Germans was limited to only a few cases of family reunion: 47,000 in 1950 and a mere 5,000 in 1952. During the following thirty-five years (1953-87), an average number of 37,000 Aussiedler a year arrived in Germany. Annual fluctuations in the numbers of Aussiedler mostly can be related to periods of internal political liberalization (Poland in the second half of the 1950s, Czechoslovakia in 1967-68, the USSR after 1986), but Poland and Romania in particular used concessions concerning the emigration of ethnic Germans in order to negotiate economic and financial aid with the FRG. With Romania, the West German government even agreed to pay a certain amount of compensation per ethnic German allowed to emigrate. Similar negotiations took place between the East and West German governments.

Figure 1: Immigration of Ethnic Germans to the FRG by Country of Origin, 1950-1997
(in thousands)

Source: Information from Bundesverwaltungsamt, Bundesministerium des Inneren.

Between 1950 and 1987 62 percent of all ethnic German immigrants came from Poland (848,000), and 15 percent came from Romania (206,000). In spite of the fact that the Soviet Union also had a large German minority living within its borders, only 110,000 of them (8 percent of all Aussiedler) were able to emigrate during this period (see figure 1). Even though some internal migration took place, the larger share of German minorities remained within their traditional areas of settlement (Upper Silesia, Transylvania, Banat) or in the regions to which they had been forcefully relocated during or shortly after World War II (e.g., Siberia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan).

With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the lifting of administrative restrictions on travel in the late 1980s, the migration barriers for ethnic Germans vanished, and the number of ethnic German immigrants rose sharply. In 1988 203,000 ethnic Germans came to the FRG, almost three times the number in the previous year. In 1990 the immigration of ethnic Germans reached its peak: 397,000 Aussiedler came to Germany that year. From 1988 to 1994 a total of 1.9 million ethnic Germans immigrated. And the hierarchy of countries of origin had changed: in recent years the Soviet Union and its successor states (CIS) are the main source of ethnic German immigrants (1,057,000, or 57 percent), followed by Poland (590,000, or 32 percent), and Romania (208,000, or 11 percent; see figure 1).

For decades, members of German minorities living in socialist countries were not able to emigrate freely, but their immigration was not restricted by Germany. They had the possibility of asking for naturalization while temporarily staying in Germany, for example, while visiting relatives or even after entering illegally. As a rule, they were able to stay on in Germany and given immediate access to German citizenship. In the late 1980s, however, the German government reacted to the liberalization of migration barriers in the countries of origin and the subsequent rise in the number of ethnic German immigrants, and in 1990 German parliament passed a law regulating (and in fact restricting) the immigration of ethnic Germans (Aussiedleraufnahmegesetz). Thus since July 1990 potential immigrants as a rule must apply for admission to Germany in the countries they live in. Applicants must complete a questionnaire of over fifty pages in order to prove their ethnic origins. And the decision is no longer made unbureaucratically and quickly, which has led to a backlog of undecided cases (520,000 in 1995). By 1991 the new regulations had already had the intended effect: the number of ethnic German immigrants accepted in Germany had fallen to 221,000.

In 1992 a special law defining this immigration as a late consequence of World War II (Kriegsfolgenbereinigungsgesetz) fixed a yearly quota of ethnic Germans allowed to enter the country. This quota was set along the lines of the average number of these immigrants in 1991-92: 220,000. In 1994 222,000 ethnic Germans came to Germany. The new law also restricted the right to immigrate to ethnic Germans living on the territory of the former Soviet Union. Other ethnic Germans living in Central and Eastern Europe can only apply after proving that they suffer personally from ethnic discrimination or pressure to emigrate. Finally the law sets an end to future ethnic German immigration: After the year 2010 ethnic Germans born after December 1992 will no longer be entitled to ask independently for admission to Germany. The door, however, will still be left open to immigration on the grounds of family reunion.

Between 1950 and 1994 a total of about 3.2 million ethnic Germans immigrated to Germany. Most of them came from Poland (1.4 million) and the Soviet Union and its successor states (1.4 million). The potential for further immigration by members of this group is difficult to define. The successor states of former Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have very few ethnic Germans left. In Romania the large wave of emigration from 1989 to 1992, encouraged by Germany itself, reduced the ethnic German minority to a group of probably not more than 90,000 individuals in 1995, most of them being too old or unwilling to leave their area of settlement. In Poland the number of people considering themselves to be ethnic Germans is estimated at 500,000 to 800,000. Many of them have successfully applied for German citizenship but not yet left the country. An estimated 200,000 to 250,000 people are now holding both German and Polish citizenship, representing a considerable migration potential beyond the new restrictions set up by the law dealing with late consequences of World War II (Kriegsfolgenbereinigungsgesetz).3

For a number of reasons, population censuses in Central and Eastern Europe and the successor states of the Soviet Union (CIS and the Baltics) do not give a clear picture of the size of their remaining German minorities. In the early 1990s the Red Cross estimated that they number roughly 3.2 million, 1.9 million of them in the CIS countries. Statistics show that-partly as a result of legal restrictions-ethnic Germans now almost exclusively immigrate from three CIS countries: Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (see figure 1).

It must be taken into account that, because of more frequent mixed marriages of ethnic Germans living in Russia and Central Asia, future ethnic German immigrants will bring along an unspecified number of non-German spouses and children. It also seems inevitable that as long as political and economic conditions deteriorate in Russia and Central Asia, an increasing number of people will try to declare themselves members of an ethnic German minority in order to have the option of emigrating to Germany in the future.

2.2 Migration Between East and West Germany
GDR citizens (Übersiedler) were the second major group of German migrants. After the foundation of the GDR in 1949, over 3.8 million East Germans had left their country by the time the Berlin Wall was built in August 1961. During this period, there only was a single year (1959) in which fewer than 200,000 individuals migrated from East to West Germany. The motivation for this stream of migration between the two German states was dissatisfaction with the political system in the GDR, the attractiveness of West Germany during economic booms, and, in many cases, family reunion (Ulrich 1990).

It must be pointed out, however, that from 1949 to August 1961, a total of 393,000 persons also migrated in the opposite direction, from West to East Germany. The annual average was between 25,000 and 40,000 (see figure 2). Some of these migrants were members or ideological supporters of West Germany's communist party (KPD), which, as a result of the cold war, was declared illegal in the 1950s.4 For others, marriage to an East German or family reunion was the main motive.

Figure 2: Migration Between East and West Germany, 1950-95

Source: Rudolph 1994 (for 1950-90); data from the Statistisches Bundesamt (for 1991-94).

The yearly loss of inhabitants as a result of emigration caused economic and eventually political destabilization in the GDR. Each bottleneck in supplies and the implementation of socialist redistribution of property (nationalization of even small businesses, collectivization of agriculture) coincided with a higher rate of emigration. After a new rise in east-west migration in 1960-61, the East German government closed the last "hole" in the Iron Curtain by building the Berlin Wall in August 1961. As a consequence, the number of east-west migrants sank to an annual average of 23,000 from 1962 to 1988. The number of West Germans moving to East Germany declined on average to 2,600 persons a year (see figure 2).

Between August 1961 and late 1988, despite the existence of the Wall and a very restrictive travel regime, almost 600,000 GDR citizens managed to emigrate to the FRG. About half of these were either people who had been freed from prison by the West German government (some 34,000 cases), which paid a certain sum for each of them, or others whose emigration had been individually negotiated (a total of 215,000). The remainder were GDR old-age pensioners, of which most were allowed to travel freely to the West. It was not until 1989, when there were increasingly visible signs of the destabilization of the communist regime, that the number of citizens leaving against the will of the authorities rose once again. Tens of thousands of East German tourists fled to West German embassies in Prague and Budapest and across the Austro-Hungarian border.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a mass exodus ensued. In total, about 390,000 people left the GDR in 1989, and another 395,000 departed in 1990. This large number of emigrants was one of the factors precipitating the end of the GDR in 1989-90. After German reunification, the number of German east-west migrants sank noticeably. At the same time, the number of west-east migrants rose: in 1993 only 172,000 people left the former East Germany, but 119,000 moved there from the western parts of the country (net migration balance, -53,000; ). Between 1989 and 1993 the eastern part of the country (the territory of the former GDR) lost more than 1 million inhabitants to the western parts (east-west migrants: 1.4 million; west-east migrants: 352,000). Another 300,000 East Germans commute daily or weekly to workplaces in West Germany.5

Overall, more than a quarter of East Germany's population emigrated between 1949 and 1993. During this period, 5.9 million Germans migrated from east to west, but only 822,000 moved in the opposite direction (see table 1).

Special provision was made for East Germans, as well as for ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe and the USSR, in order to facilitate their integration into West German society. This took place in the form of compensation for property left behind, the acknowledgment of pension entitlements, special payments for the establishment of a new household, and other subsidies aimed at integration, as well as education subsidies, language training, professional retraining, and other measures. Public acceptance of these integration programs was promoted in the immediate postwar years. The regulations dating back to this period were mostly maintained until German unification. Even today, special integration measures for ethnic Germans exist. A further peculiarity of ethnic German immigration is the fact that economic cycles and crises in the FRG had almost no influence on these flows. Cold war and détente, the political climate in the countries of origin, and the extent to which the different governments were interested in this group of people or even bought out would-be migrants played a much more important role.

2.3 Emigration and Remigration of German Citizens
Since 1945 the focus of public debates has always been on immigration. The considerable numbers of people leaving the country are a less well-known fact. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Germans emigrated overseas partly for political but mostly for economic reasons. During this period, 7 to 8 million Germans relocated to the United States, Canada, or South America. The wave of emigration only came to an end with the outbreak of World War I and the more restrictive U.S. immigration laws of the 1920s (Bade 1992).

In the 1930s mainly people persecuted by the Nazis for political, racial, or religious reasons emigrated. The destinations of Jews and political emigrants were the European neighbor states, the USA, the Soviet Union, and a number of other overseas countries (Kulischer 1948).

After 1945 economic reasons were again at the forefront of the push and pull factors. Many people attempted to emigrate overseas, wanting to leave destroyed Germany behind. The motivation for some was better career opportunities; for others, it was the desire to escape the atmosphere of political restoration in postwar Germany. Still others married soldiers and staff of the allied forces and later joined them when they returned to their countries of origin, especially the United States.

In the 1960s temporary emigration for the purpose of studying or working abroad became the most important motivation. A growing number of (West) Germans joined multinational companies and international organizations or engaged in development projects or technical and humanitarian aid in third world and former socialist countries. And a continuously growing number of old-age pensioners is moving to Austria, Italy, and Spain.

Between 1954 and 1994 a total of approximately 3.3 million (West) German citizens left the country for a long period of time or even permanently.6 This amounted to an annual average of 81,000, though in the years prior to 1970 the numbers were slightly higher (103,000 per year), and the same is true for the years since 1989 (98,000 per year). The recent (1988-1994) emigration wave of German citizens is partly a consequence of the large numbers of Übersiedler and Aussiedler immigrants to West Germany. (West) German citizenship was granted to all of them, but some used Germany only as a transit country on their way to the United States, Canada, Australia, or South Africa, thus appearing in statistics as German emigrants. In addition, the significant reduction of allied forces in Germany (which were never documented in vital and population statistics) led to the emigration of Germans married to foreign soldiers and staff (Schulz 1994).

During the same period (1954-1994) some 2.3 million (West) German citizens immigrated or returned to (West) Germany.7 Paralleling the emigration of German citizens, this remigration was higher during the fifties and sixties, diminished somewhat during the period 1971-88, and has risen since. As far as its own citizens are concerned, (West) Germany's migration balance with Western Europe and overseas was negative for most years, resulting in a net loss of 1 million people from 1954 to 1994.

3.1 Recruitment and the Rotational Model
With the exception of the refugees and expellees of the years 1945-1948, foreigners from Mediterranean countries formed the largest part of West German immigration. From the mid-1950s, the government itself initiated and encouraged this immigration for economic reasons. In its initial phase, it was accounted for in bilateral agreements.

Long before World War II, there were periods in which the immigration of workers from other European countries increased. The census of 1910 indicated 1.3 million foreigners living in Germany, most of them labor migrants. During World War II, Germany's economy and the German military machine could in large part only be kept running with large numbers of foreign workers mostly recruited against their will (Bade 1992; Dohse 1981). By 1944-45, the number of these foreigners working in Germany had risen to almost 8 million (Herbert 1986). In 1945-46 most of them returned or were forced to return to their countries of origin.8 Others emigrated to Western Europe, Israel, and other countries overseas. Only a few remained in Germany as displaced persons.

In the immediate postwar years, high rates of unemployment impeded the economic and social integration of refugees and expellees. When Germany's export-oriented so-called economic miracle set in during the 1950s, however, demand for labor increased rapidly. Unemployment disappeared, and postwar refugees, expellees, and GDR citizens were integrated into the West German economy (Luettinger 1986).

Despite the large number of expellees and the yearly entry of hundreds of thousands of GDR citizens, workplaces in some West German industries already could not be filled in the mid-1950s. The West German economy thus began to recruit workers in southern Europe. A formal agreement to this end was signed with Italy in 1955. Other recruitment agreements followed: with Spain and Greece in 1960, with Turkey in 1961, with Morocco in 1963, with Portugal in 1964, with Tunisia in 1965, and finally with Yugoslavia in 1968 (Rudolph 1994).

In the beginning, these agreements had little impact. During the 1950s, employment expanded through the reduction of the number of unemployed and the integration of ethnic German immigrants and former GDR citizens. In 1950 there were only about 72,000 foreign workers in the FRG. By 1960, however, this group had increased to 329,000, of which 144,000 were Italians. Employment of foreigners then started to take off seriously in 1960 and accelerated after the construction of the Berlin Wall (see figure 3).

Figure 3: Migration of Foreigners to and from Germany, 1954-1996 (in millions)

Note: Until 1991, West Germany only.

Source: Data from the Statistisches Bundesamt.

In 1960 for the first time since 1945 the amount of vacancies in West Germany was higher than the number of unemployed. A further decline in the number of German workers was expected, a consequence of demographic development, later entry into the labor market as a result of greater enrollment in higher education, and the declining retirement age. With the export-oriented German economy in full boom, alternatives to the recruitment of foreign labor were hardly discussed: more capital intensity in the coalmining, iron and steel, automobile, and ship building industries would not have brought any immediate relief; increased female participation in the labor force seemed out of the question during this period of restoration of traditional family values (Rudolph 1994); and there was very little reason for West German industry to export work by investing in low-wage countries. Instead, the West German economy stepped up the recruitment of foreign workers. In 1964 the one-millionth foreign worker arrived to a warm welcome.9 Besides Italy (296,000), Greece (155,000) and Spain (151,000) became the main countries of origin (see figure 4). The total number of foreigners in Germany was around 1.2 million in 1964 (2 percent of the total population). By 1970 the number of foreigners had reached 3 million (5 percent of the total population). And in 1973 employment of so-called guest workers reached its peak: 2.6 million, or 12 percent of all gainfully employed people in West Germany. Labor migrants from Turkey (605,000), Yugoslavia (535,000), and Italy (450,000) constituted the largest groups, and a total of almost 4 million foreigners lived in West Germany (7 percent of total population) (see figure 5).

Figure 4: Foreigners and Foreign Labor in Germany, 1960-1994 (in millions)

Note: Until 1990, West Germany only.

Source: Amtliche Nachrichten der Bundesanstalt für Arbeit; data from Statistisches Bundesamt.

The aim of West Germany's recruitment policy was not to foster organized immigration but to counterbalance cyclical and demographic bottlenecks in the West German labor market. Only people who could immediately start to work were welcome and thus recruited. Their work was generally unpleasant and unprestigious and further characterized by lower wages. In contrast to other countries, these wages were fixed after negotiations with German trade unions, which insisted on equal pay for Germans and foreigners. But Germans were no longer interested in such jobs and were hardly willing to fill these vacancies.

Figure 5: Foreign Labor in Germany by Selected Nationalities, 1954-1994 (in thousands)

Note: Until 1990, West Germany only.

Source: Rudolph 1994; Bericht 1997; Arbeitsmarkt 1994.

As a rule, the work and residence permits issued to recruited foreign laborers were only valid for one year. In the beginning, the temporary character of guest workers' stays and the rotation of the foreign workforce were questioned neither by the German public and business circles nor by the guest workers and their home countries. This setup not only explains the high level of immigration and remigration in the 1960s and early 1970s (see figure 3) but also the low degree of opposition in the receiving society to this mass migration of foreign labor.

In the GDR a not-too-different model was introduced later. In order to meet its chronic labor shortage in the 1970s, East Germany recruited workers from other socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe and later also from Cuba, Mozambique, and Vietnam. But in contrast to their West German counterparts, the GDR authorities strictly insisted on compulsory rotation (Dorbritz and Speigner 1990). Almost all labor immigrants were forced to return to their countries of origin when the contracted period was over. From the quantitative point of view, however, employment of foreigners in the GDR never played the role it did in the FRG. Even in the late 1980s the number of foreigners did not exceed 200,000 (1.2 percent of the population).

From 1954 to 1965 the average number of foreigners immigrating to the FRG annually surpassed that of foreigners leaving the country by 136,000. As a consequence of the recession of 1966-67, however, the number of foreigners immigrating to Germany declined noticeably, while the number of those remigrating to their home countries increased. West Germany's migration balance, positive (97,000) in 1966, became negative (-198,000) in 1967.

During this period, the heavy influence of business cycles on the immigration and remigration of foreign labor was apparent. When the next boom period started in 1968, the migration balance again became positive as a result of further labor recruitment. From 1968 to 1973, more foreigners than ever came to West Germany. Every day some five hundred to a thousand new guest workers were recruited, bringing the surplus of foreign immigrants to 387,000 a year. Sometimes trains and planes had to be chartered in order to bring enough additional workers into the country. The foreign population grew from 1.9 to 4.0 million, and the number of foreign workers and employees increased from 1.1 million to its historical peak of 2.6 million (1973) (see figure 5).

Starting in the late 1960s, the rotational model, well accepted at first, began to lose ground. Many labor migrants were not able to save as much money within one or two years as they had hoped. West German employers, forced constantly to revolve their foreign staff, no longer wanted to keep recruiting and training new workers just because the work and residence permits of those recruited earlier had expired. The governments of some countries of origin began to voice criticisms, as did German trade unions, employers, and other groups. The West German government reacted by easing restrictions on the renewal of residence permits. Beginning in 1971 labor migrants who had worked in Germany for at least five years could claim special work permits valid for another five years. For many foreigners, this change improved their legal status. One consequence was increased family reunification. A growing number of spouses and children of foreign labor migrants moved to Germany. The ability of the German authorities to regulate immigration according to the demands of the labor market was thus strongly reduced.

3.2 The Recruitment Stop, Attempted Consolidation, New Waves of Immigration
The year 1973 brought a dramatic turn in Germany's migration history. First, even before the first oil price shock and the ensuing recession, the government tripled the fees that employers had to pay for the recruitment of foreign labor. (Other European countries also stopped or limited foreign recruitment during this period: Switzerland, under pressure from xenophobic right-wing movements, in 1970; Sweden in 1972; and France in 1974.) Then, in October 1973, just after the OPEC oil embargo, the West German government announced the end of foreign recruitment altogether. Some channels of legal immigration to Germany remained, notably family reunion (with children less than sixteen years old and spouses) and asylum. New channels have also emerged, provided for in regulations governing the admission of quota refugees; seasonal and contract workers; and managers and specialists working for multinational and foreign companies doing business in Germany, correspondents of foreign media, artists, and foreign students. In addition, citizens of EU countries and, since 1 January 1994, citizens of countries belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA)10 may work and live anywhere they choose within the EU and EEA.

The recruitment stop was part of a package aimed at consolidating and decreasing foreign employment in Germany. Other measures were meant to promote either remigration to the country of origin or social integration in Germany. But although the package eventually limited the number of new immigrants, in the medium term it did not have the desired results. In fact, the measures had some unexpected side effects (see Bade 1994a; Höhn and Rein 1990).

During the recession of 1974-75 immigration decreased and remigration increased slightly. The balance of migration remained negative from 1974 to 1977. The total number of foreigners decreased by a mere 200,000, but the number of foreign laborers by 706,000, dropping to 1.9 million in 1977. This development did not continue, however. As early as 1976 the annual number of newly arriving foreign immigrants started to increase again, while fewer foreigners left the country. In 1978 the balance was positive by 50,000, in 1979 by 180,000, and in 1980 by 246,000 (see figure 3). In 1980 4.5 million foreigners lived in the FRG (7 percent of the total population). Foreigners in the workforce numbered 2.1 million, particularly laborers from Turkey (592,000), Yugoslavia (357,000), and Italy (309,000; see figure 4). In the following years, the number of foreigners hardly declined (4.4 million in 1985) despite the recession of the early 1980s, even though the number of foreign workers sank noticeably (to 1.6 million in 1985). In 1983-84 the German government tried to promote remigration of labor migrants by offering financial incentives, and from 1982 to 1984 West Germany's net migration balance for foreigners was indeed negative (-470,000). But from 1985 to 1987, the balance once again became positive (see figure 3).

The declining employment of foreigners during this period had several causes, among them a slower rate of economic growth and the entry of West Germany's baby boomers into the labor market. There was also a massive reduction of jobs in those economic sectors and branches where most foreigners were employed (Münz and Ulrich 1993).

A new wave of immigration set in after 1987, spurred by a rise in the number of applicants for asylum (see figure 6), the fall of the Iron Curtain, war and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia, and the mounting pressure on the Kurds in southeastern Turkey. Ethnic conflicts and bloodshed in former Yugoslavia and southeastern Turkey increased not only the number of asylum seekers but regular migration as well. Many foreign workers originating from these regions chose to bring remaining family members to Germany.

Apart from a variety of push factors there was a distinct pull factor: the short economic boom in 1990-91, sparked by debt-financed German unification, also led to a new wave of immigration of foreign labor. This involved not only foreign labor from Turkey and former Yugoslavia but also, for the first time since 1945, labor migrants from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and the like who came to Germany as seasonal workers on a contract basis-employed, for example, as harvesters-or in order to receive professional training (Rudolph 1994; Velling 1994).

In 1988 4.5 million foreigners were living in West Germany. By 1996 their number had increased to 7.5 million. Foreigners employed in Germany, however, only increased from 1.6 to 2.2 million in 1994 (see figure 5). A breakdown by nationality shows that the largest groups of foreign workers and employees are still those from Turkey (605,000 in 1994) and from former Yugoslavia (420,900), both matching their 1973/74 highs in 1992-94. In contrast, the number of workers from Italy (202,500), Greece (118,600), and Spain (52,600) is markedly lower than it was twenty years ago (see figure 5).

3.3 Asylum Seekers and Refugees
Article 16 of the German Constitution (Grundgesetz) states: "Persons persecuted for political reasons have the right to asylum." Until 1993, this meant applicants possessed an individual and personal right to be granted asylum if they were able to prove persecution, a fairly generous condition compared to that in other countries. This stipulation had been included in light of Germany's Nazi past and the fact that some politicians of the postwar era had survived the period from 1933 to 1945 in exile.

Figure 6: Asylum Seekers in Germany, 1970-1996

Source: Data from the Statistisches Bundesamt.
Between 1953 and 1978 a total of 178,000 asylum applicants arrived in the FRG (an average of 7,100 per annum). The numbers increased in the short term in 1956, after the suppression of the Hungarian uprising, and in 1968/69, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. As a result of the last military coup in Turkey (1980) and the introduction of martial law in Poland (1980/81), a further 200,000 applications for asylum were filed between 1979 and 1981. The federal government reacted by implementing administrative restrictions and changing the respetive laws. After more than ten years of visa-free travel to Germany, Turkish citizens again had to apply for visas. This measure was maintained for Poles and many fewer visas were issued, despite the imposition of martial law. The number of asylum applicants from the two countries immediately decreased by almost 90 percent (see figure 6).

The number of applications for asylum did not again rise above 40,000 a year until the mid-1980s, with the exception of the years 1979 through 1981. Then, beginning in 1985, conflicts and crises such as the outbreak of civil war in Sri Lanka and the persecution of the Tamil minority (in 1985) and, later on (from 1991/92 to 1995), war and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia (mainly in Croatia and Bosnia but also in Serbian Voyvodina and Kosovo) led to an increased influx of refugees into Germany. Some analysts regard this as further evidence that push factors take precedence over pull factors (Bade 1994a). Statistics show that, whatever the motivations behind immigration were and are, the main gates of entry shifted from labor migration to family unification and asylum: in the early 1970s the share of asylum applicants was below 1 percent of total foreign immigration to Germany; in the early 1990s it reached levels above 30 percent (see table 3).

Table 3: Asylum Applications and Regular Foreign Migrants, 1970-94

Immigration of foreigners Migration balance of foreigners Asylum Applications as a percentage
of all
number in thousands number in thousands number in thousands foreign immigrants2
Year1 (1) (2) (3) (4)
1970 976.2 541.6 8.6 0.9
1971 870.7 370.5 5.4 0.6
1972 787.2 272.7 5.3 0.7
1973 869.1 342.3 5.6 0.6
1974 542.4 -39.5 9.4 1.7
1975 367.3 -233.1 9.6 2.6
1976 388.2 -127.4 11.1 2.9
1977 423.5 -28.7 16.4 3.9
1978 456.7 50.7 33.1 7.3
1979 545.9 179.8 51.5 9.4
1980 632.3 246.3 107.8 17.1
1981 502.0 86.2 49.4 9.8
1982 322.4 -111.4 37.4 11.6
1983 276.4 -148.7 19.7 7.1
1984 333.3 -213.2 35.3 10.6
1985 400.0 32.2 73.8 18.5
1986 479.5 131.5 99.7 20.8
1987 473.3 139.1 57.4 12.1
1988 648.6 289.5 103.1 15.9
1989 770.8 332.5 121.3 15.7
1990 842.4 376.3 193.1 22.9
1991 920.5 423.0 256.1 27.8
1992 1,207.6 592.9 438.2 36.3
1993 986.9 276.6 322.6 32.7
1994 773,9 152.5 127.2 16.4
1995 788,3 227,3 127,9 16,2

1. Until 1988, West Germany only; in 1989-90, East and West Germany; since 1991: unified Germany.

2. Asylum applicants are immediately registered for the statistics in col. 3) but enter immigration statistics (col. 1) only with a time lag, therefore col. 4 is only a rough estimate for individual years.

The data include regular foreign immigrants and asylum applicants but not GDR citizens and other ethnic Germans.

Source: Data from the Statistisches Bundesamt.

After the annual number of asylum applicants had surpassed 100,000 in the late 1980s, the inflow of immigrants and the possibilities to reduce it became a central issue for German domestic policy. It was stressed that a large portion of asylum seekers did not suffer from political persecution but instead came for economic reasons. There is hardly any doubt that economic interests formed part of the motivation of some of these would-be immigrants. Discussions about the size of this group in Germany have been influenced by the low rate of recognition of applications. Until 1980 the rate of recognition was over 80 percent, to a large extent because of the cold war. In 1985 the rate was still 29 percent. In the early 1990s, however, only 3 to 7 percent of applicants were granted asylum, in most cases after an administrative procedure lasting several months and sometimes even years. With the asylum regulations in force since mid-1993 the legal procedure for decision making was speeded up, while at the same time the numbers of applicants were reduced. In 1992 the number of new applicants was twice as high as the number of decisions made. In 1994 the stock of undecided cases was reduced substantially. For every new applicant in 1994 almost three decisions were made, and that share increased again: in 1994 some 20 percent and in 1995 14 percent of all applicants were given the desired refugee status. This does not mean, however, that the rejected applicants must all be classified as spurious refugees or economic migrants.

The German procedure for granting or denying asylum only recognizes cases of individual persecution and human rights abuses if they were of a clearly political nature and carried out by representatives of the state of origin. This means that, today, a simple threat to life and freedom caused by civil war, terror, or torture practices accepted within the country of origin no longer confers a right to political asylum. But many applicants who have not been granted status as political refugees are tolerated in Germany or at least not sent back to their countries of origin, in consideration of the current circumstances there. This practice of nonrefoulement is codified in the Geneva Convention on Refugees in the ban on the expulsion of such individuals.

Others have engaged in litigation against the denial of their refugee status and had their negative decisions overturned. Estimates indicate that until 1993 about one-fifth to one-third of all applicants belonged to this category (Bade 1994a). In the last years some 15 to 20 percent of all unsuccessful applicants have been forced to leave Germany. Larger numbers have returned more or less voluntarily to their home countries. Others left Germany for a third country. But more than two out of three asylum applicants in the years 1985 through 1993 stayed in Germany (Schulz 1994).

According to estimates by the German Ministry of the Interior, in 1994 more than 1.7 million refugees and asylum seekers were living in Germany (Bericht 1997). The largest group (650,000) were de facto refugees who had not been granted political asylum but were tolerated for humanitarian and political reasons. The second-largest group (415,000 in 1994) consisted of asylum seekers whose applications were still under consideration. Another group comprises victims of (civil) war and ethnic cleansing, for which since 1 July 1993 an amendment to the law on foreigners has created the possibility of temporary protection without examination of the individual case. Between 1993 and 1995 this status was granted to some 350,000 persons, mainly Muslims from Bosnia. Since 1996 Germany and Bosnia have tried to repatriate these Muslim refugees. Only 267,000 recognized political refugees and their families were entitled to permanent residence in Germany in 1994.11 Quota refugees, individuals who have been granted political asylum elsewhere and were accepted into Germany within the framework of international burden sharing or for particular humanitarian reasons, are entitled to permanent residence permits; they account for a small share of all recognized refugees (67,200). Jews from the former Soviet Union are also accepted as quota refugees in Germany without having to prove any individual persecution. Between 1990 and 1995 some 48,000 (ex-) Soviet Jews were allowed to immigrate. Another 110,000 have applied at German embassies in the successor states to the Soviet Union.12 The statistics on asylum seekers and refugees also include a group of 20,600 persons who have been denied status as political refugees but cannot be repatriated because they are stateless.

The sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers between 1988 and 1992 and the large amount of total immigration during that same period led to fierce political debate over an amendment to German asylum law and the German Constitution that would restrict access to political asylum. The ruling conservative parties (CDU/CSU) and other conservative groups were mainly interested in limiting the further immigration of asylum seekers (and other foreigners). The oppositional Social Democrats (SPD) and some of the Liberal Democrats (FDP, a coalition party of the CDU) sought a package of regulations combining measures on legal immigration, social integration, and naturalization. In 1993 these debates resulted in a compromise on asylum law (Blahusch 1994; Bade 1994b). The possibility of applying for asylum was limited in two ways. First, applicants who have entered Germany via other states belonging to the EU or any other so-called safe country (the Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland) can be forced to return to that country. Second, a simplified recognition procedure was introduced for asylum seekers from so-called states with no persecution; in most cases this leads to immediate rejection of the application and possible.

Because Germany is surrounded by safe countries, all of them signatories to the Geneva Convention, asylum seekers can only apply when arriving by air, by sea, or through another entry not related to one of the surrounding safe countries or if the transit country from which they entered Germany cannot be identified. In addition to the revision of the asylum law, bilateral readmission agreements were signed with Romania (1992), Poland (1993), Switzerland (1993), Bulgaria (1994), the Czech Republic (1994), and Vietnam (1995). Some of these agreements only regulate the readmission of nationals from these countries. Other countries, such as Poland, have also agreed to take back citizens of third countries who entered Germany illegallyvia their border with Germany or who have been denied asylum in Germany after having crossed this border. From 1993 to 1995 Germany paid DM 120 million to cover parts of Poland's additional expenditures for tighter border control and the subsidizing of rejected immigrants. Similar payments were made to the Czech Republic (DM 60 million). Romania has received financial compensation for taking back Romanian asylum seekers, most of them of Gypsy origin.13

Modification of the German Constitution and the more restrictive procedures obviously had the intended effect: In the second half of 1993, the number of applications was already lower then before. Between January and June 1993, 224,000 applications were filed; between July and December 1993, the number decreased to 98,000. And in the entire year of 1994, only 127,200 individuals were able to apply for asylum in Germany. Almost exactly the same number (127,900) applied for asylum in 1995. In addition to this decrease, some side effects of the new regulation are already visible. For one thing, it seems that a diversion of asylum seekers to neighboring European countries has taken place; the Netherlands and the countries of East Central Europe have registered a significant increase in applications for asylum since the new German and French regulations came into effect (Bade 1994a). Some observers have also diagnosed a shift from (statistically visible) legal asylum seekers to illegal immigration to Germany (Blahusch 1994; Winkler 1994).

4.1 From Guest Workers to Immigrants
Postwar refugees, GDR citizens, and other ethnic Germans came to West Germany with a clear perspective: to settle here and to stay for good. In contrast, the first generation of foreign labor migrants planned to earn money and then return home. Calling them "guest workers" made sense. This could be the main reason that Germans at the time did not challenge the recruitment of several million foreigners. The so-called guest workers not only filled gaps in the labor market and jobs Germans didn't want but also served to buffer against fluctuations in the business cycle without having to be integrated.

During the economic recession of 1966-67, many unemployed guest workers moved back to their home countries only to return to Germany when the economy recovered. After the recruitment stop, however, foreigners from non-EC/EU countries, hence particularly Turkish and Yugoslav nationals,14 could not count on being able to reenter the country after returning home. For this reason, many of them stayed in the Germany in spite of being unemployed during the recession phases of 1974-75 and 1981-84 (see figures 3 and 5).

The intention of the recruitment stop was to reduce the number of foreigners in Germany, but unintended side effects led to the opposite. Until the mid-1970s, the foreigners themselves had adhered to the concept of staying temporarily in Germany. Now they knew that they either had to stay in Germany or to leave the country with no chance of returning during the next economic boom. This inevitably changed the structure of migration (Seifert 1995).

Until 1973-74 mainly younger men between twenty and forty years of age had come to West Germany. From the mid-1970s on, more and more of them brought their families (spouses and children) to Germany or established new families here. There is no precise information on the number of foreign immigrants who came to Germany by way of family reunion. Some authors (Velling 1993a; Franz 1991; Schmidt and Zimmermann 1992) estimate that family reunion accounted for more than half of the immigration in the 1970s and 1980s. Using the German Socioeconomic Panel (GSOEP), Velling analyzed the determinants influencing foreigners to bring their families to Germany. The probability of family reunion was highest among the Spanish population in Germany. It increased with higher age and longer residence. Family reunion was often postponed during phases of general unemployment in Germany. The percentage of married foreigners living in Germany without their spouses declined from over 80 percent in the early 1960s to below 20 percent in the early 1980s.

Figure 7: Foreign Nationals in Germany by Duration of Stay, 1996

Source: Data from the Statistisches Bundesamt.

With increased family reunion and the formation of new families in Germany, the rotational model became obsolete. This is also reflected in the increasing duration of foreigners' stays in Germany (see figure 7). By the end of 1994 half of all foreigners had been in Germany for over ten years, and one in four had been here for more than twenty. Only about 30 percent of all foreigners had entered the country less than 4 years before. Of the 7 million foreign nationals living in Germany, 1.2 million were born in this country. There are varying patterns for different nationalities, however. The Portuguese were among the first guest-worker nationalities. The majority of those living today in Germany has been in the country for more then ten years. However, the share of Portuguese with shorter stays in Germany has increased. Turks, too, belong to one of the nationalities that have long been settled in Germany. More than two out of three have already spent more then ten years in the country. For the Poles, the corresponding share is only 21 percent; instead, the majority of them arrived in Germany at the end of the 1980s or later. And in case of Bosnia, the impact of the wave of immigration during the civil war (1992-95) is apparent, although the share of Bosnians who are long-term residents of Germany might be understated because some of them are still counted as Yugoslav nationals in the German Foreigners Register.

Today there can be no doubt: what started as temporary labor migration in the 1950s and 1960s has turned into regular immigration to Germany, not intended but made possible by the existing legal regulations. Most foreign labor migrants now live here with their families. They will stay in Germany until they retire, if not for the rest of their lives, and many of them will be buried here some day.

4.2 Origins of Foreigners
Between 1954 and 1994 21.9 million foreigners arrived in Germany, but 15.6 million left the country during the same period. The range of countries of origin has become more diversified since the early 1970s. Until then, more than 50 percent of the foreigners came from countries belonging (then or now) to the EC/EU, most of them from Italy, Greece, Spain, or Austria. In the 1970s other nations made up a higher share of annual immigration (see figure 8). In 1970 Turkish and Yugoslav nationals became the two largest groups, outnumbering the Italians (see figure 9). In 1994, EU nationals accounted for a quarter of foreigners living in Germany. Turkish nationals (2 million) now are by far the largest group. They represent 28 percent of the foreign population living in Germany. Second are the citizens of former Yugoslavia (18 percent, of which many are victims of war under temporary protection), followed by Italians (8 percent) and Greeks (5 percent). The percentage of Poles has recently grown to 4 percent (see figure 9).

In the 1960s and early 1970s most foreigners had only been living in Germany for a short time or were planning only temporary stays. The recruitment agreement with Turkey mentioned a maximum residence of two years, with subsequent rotation. As early as the second half of the 1960s, however, this principle was no longer enforced very strictly. After 1971 non-EU nationals who had worked in Germany for more than five years became entitled to apply for a work permit for another five years.

Today nationals of other EU and EEA countries (25 percent of all foreigners) have the best legal status. They may enter Germany freely, establish legal residence, and work here without special permission.15 Other foreigners have a more or less secure status. They may be only tolerated16 or have temporary residence permits, or they may possess a permanent right of residence.

Figure 8: Structure of Gross Immigration of Foreigners to Germany, 1960-95 (in thousands)

Source: Data from the Statistisches Bundesamt.

Figure 9: Foreign Nationals in Germany by Citizenship, 1971 and 1994

Note: For 1994, "Ex-Yugoslavia" includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.

Source: Data from the Statistisches Bundesamt.