On the finality of emigration decisions: Germany’s experience of return migration of its citizens

Lenore Sauer, Federal Institute for Population Research, Germany
Rainer Unger, Universitat Bremen
Andreas Ette, Federal Institute for Population Research, Germany

Whereas in earlier times the “brain drain” question played an important role in the study of international migration from developing countries only, now the most developed countries also fear that highly skilled nationals might leave the country in significant numbers resulting in serious economic disadvantages. But this argumentation pays little attention to the fact that many migrants return to their home country after having spent a number of years abroad. Those who return might have accumulated human capital in the country of destination, so that their return might have positive effects on the society and economy of their home country. Whether migration is resulting in a loss or benefit for the source country depends on the interaction of two aspects: First, the scale of out- and return migration and second the characteristics of those returning to the home country and those remaining in the country of destination. Empirical data on the scale of return migration to highly developed countries is still inadequate. Most studies are undertaken by countries of immigration; whereas approaches of countries of emigration are generally based on migration intentions only. By making innovative use of the combination of data of the German pension insurance and the German migration statistics the paper contributes to the debate of return migration to highly developed source countries by focussing on the German experience. It thereby first offers an initial quantification of return migration. It can be shown that about 3 % of the German male population has been living and working outside Germany at some point during their life course. About 75 % of those have returned. Furthermore the analyses of both data sources show that migrant outflow/return ratios also vary by country of destination. The paper therefore secondly reveals the experience of return migration from different host countries.

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Presented in Session 77: Brain drain and return migration