This is where (and why) Germans are moving abroad

The majority of Germans move abroad for professional reasons - and earn significantly more there, according to new research.

This is where (and why) Germans are moving abroad
Photo: DPA

The first results of the study “German Emigration and Remigration Panel” were presented by Andreas Ette of the Federal Institute for Population Research earlier this week in Berlin.

The majority, or 76 percent, out of the 180,000 people who move abroad every year are graduates, reported Focus Online.

“Emigration is a domain of the highly qualified,” said Ette.

But other types of workers also benefited from the move, he added.

READ ALSO: Explained: Who are the foreign workers coming to Germany?

On average, full-time employees earned around €1,200 more within one year than they would have in Germany. This also applies when adjusted for purchasing power, the researchers found.

By way of comparison, net wages in Germany also rose in twelve months, but only by an average of €87.

For the representative survey, 10,000 people born in Germany between the ages of 20 and 70 who had moved abroad – or returned to Germany from overseas – between July 2017 and June 2018 were interviewed.

Most of them cited their own profession as a reason for moving (58 percent). The second most frequently given motive was the lifestyle in their target country. 

For 37 percent, however, moving due to their partner’s career decision was the decisive factor. 

Around 180,000 people emigrate every year

For both graduates and low-skilled workers, the move abroad was particularly worthwhile, they said. Their earnings increased at an above-average rate. 

Around 180,000 Germans emigrate every year – and about 130,000 Germans who had been living abroad return each year. 

This graph (“Where the Germans Emigrate: Most popular target countries”) shows the number of Germans who have moved abroad over the past 10 years, and to which countries. Graph: DPA

Yet it is unclear how many people stayed abroad for the rest of their lives, the researchers said. 

Currently, five percent of Germans live abroad. In comparison with other OECD countries, Germany ranks third in the number of citizens heading overseas – behind Poland and the UK.

Most important target country: Switzerland

As a result of the move, Germany will lose skilled workers, at least temporarily, said Ette. However, because skilled workers from other countries are migrating at the same time, the migration balance remains positive. 

“The best are doing well [abroad], but the best are also coming [to Germany],” the researchers said.  

The migration of skilled workers is therefore not a brain drain, but a brain circulation – i.e. not a migration of competent workers in and out of the country, but rather a cycle.

The most important destination by far for German emigrants over the past 10 years has been Switzerland with almost 200,000 having moved there, ahead of the US (127,000), Austria (108,000) and the UK (82,000). 

Although men and women emigrated in equal parts, a “more classical family model” dominated, in which men's careers played a more important role. Women often only returned to the workforce after they were back in Germany again.

Younger people above other groups tend make the decision to move: The average age is between 36 and 37-years-old and thus just under 10 years below that of the German population.

Since the 1980s, the number of German emigrants has risen continuously, said the researchers.


Emigrate – Auswandern 

The domain – (die) Domäne

Circulation – (der) Kreislauf

The most common reason – (der) häufigste Grund

The lifestyle – (der) Lebensstil

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

  1. It would be very interesting to see a breakdown of these statistics per year, if available.
    For example, I’d guess the number of Germans moving to the UK has declined over the past few years due to BREXIT!

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Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

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In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

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The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

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