Young Europeans on the Move – Portrait of a New Generation of Migrants

Teaser Bild Untertitel
Gabriel Tzafka

Europe is on the move. Younger generations of Europeans, especially those with high skills and high ambitions, are striving for a bright future. Amongst the strong media discourse about “the crisis” in Europe one could assume that the financial crisis which struck especially the southern European countries has caused a wave of young, high-skilled labor migrants who move from the south to the north of Europe.

We want to explore the meanings of the presumably new migration movements within the EU countries as well as Europe as a whole.

The documentary “Re:Union” by director Gabriel Tsafka delivers a portrait of this new generation of migrants. Driven by his own experience as a young Greek citizen who left for Denmark in the midst of the financial crisis, Tsafka explores what migration and Europe mean for the protagonists of his documentary.

This paper focuses on one aspect of European and German migration policies; that of high-skilled labor migration with a special focus on North-South dynamics.

More than one million people moved to Germany in 2013. Most of them came from other European countries, especially from Eastern and Middle Europe as well as the crisis ridden states in the south of Europe. At the same time, the number of people seeking refuge has increased: more than 110.000 appeals for asylum have been filed in Germany last year.

Especially in the case of Germany, the demographic change calls for a new strategy in migration policy. The country’s population gets older and particularly young people are needed in many sectors of the German formal economy.

Most people who migrate to Germany come from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. At the same time, Germany and Great Britain become increasingly interesting as countries of destination for people from Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Germany clearly profits from the crisis in other parts of Europe: high-skilled people migrate in order to find decent work.

While migration is often problematised in public discourses and racism remains / is still a constant and pervasive form of exclusion in the whole of Europe, current statistics proof the opposite of dangerous discussions around “Armutszuwanderung” from Eastern Europe: the unemployment rate for people from Bulgaria and Romania in Germany was not more than 10 percent in January 2014 and therefore even lower than the overall unemployment rate of all migrants in Germany.

Circular and Internal Migration in the European Union

Internal migration within the EU can be defined as migration of EU-citizens into or from another EU member state. Language barriers within Europe are seen as one reason for less people migrating in contrast to the internal migration in the USA for example. German language proficiency is therefore often seen as an obstacle especially in areas where English as a lingua franca is not applicable (SVR, 2013:83).

The term circular migration in a global context refers to a regulated, controlled or governed form of migration, which allows a certain degree of mobility between two countries. In 2005 United Nations mentioned the concept of temporary migration, which should be helpful in terms of economic development for the country of origin and the host country. Migrants should have the possibility to travel multiple times between two countries and return to their country of origin with qualifications they acquired in the host country. In August 2012 the “Blue Card” was introduced in order to make it easier for high-skilled labour migrants from a third country to apply for a job in Germany. (BAMF, 2014:8, 54).

Circular migration in a European context is linked to a German-French initiative of October 2006. So called third-country nationals[1] should have the possibility to stay in a European country for three to five years, acquire competences which help developing their home country when they return back. On a positive note: this concept could help in avoiding “brain drain”.

Migration towards Germany

Internal migration – following the Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees in Germany (BAMF) –  makes up 58 percent of the whole migration towards Germany and in Germany every fifth citizen has a so-called “migration background”, considering children under the age of ten, the amount is one third (BAMF, 2014:5). In 2012 nearly four-fifths (77.5 percent) of all migrants in Germany immigrated from another EU member state. In numbers: 139.655 people moved away from Germany (EU-14) and 224.477 came. Whereas 277.849 people left (EU-12) and 466.460 came from EU-12 (BAMF, 2014:17).

Migration from Poland still dominates the migration flow towards Germany but the internal migration to Germany from Southern European countries is increasing. Until 2009 there was a continuous decline of the number of nationals from the former recruitment states (Anwerbestaaten) Italy, Greece and Spain. In the years after, it increased (BAMF, 2014:199) for the first time after the “Anwerbestopp” in 1973. In 2012, a considerably higher number of immigrants from EU-14 countries has been registered in Germany compared to the previous year: Italy (4,2 percent or 45.094), Spain (3,5 percent or 37.683), Greece (3,3 percent or 35.811) (BAMF, 2014:18).






































Immigration and Emigration according to nationality in 2012 (BAMF, 2012b:70).




Migration balance













Total EU





There has also been an increasing number of asylum seekers in 2012, when 64.539 first applications for asylum have been registered. This means an increase by 41.1 percent in contrast to the year before. In 2013, a new law should make it easier for asylum seekers to work: According to the “Gesetz zur Umsetzung der Richtlinie 2011/95/EU“ from 28th August 2013, an asylum seeker is now allowed to work after a period of nine months after arrival, if one gets a work permission (BAMF, 2014:95).

Gender aspects

The economic crisis had an impact on the migrant labour force but there is no evidence yet how it affected migration of high-skilled individuals. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) mentions that in general men have been affected more severely by the crisis than women. And therefore “[...] the economic crisis affected the gender composition of recent inflows and of the migrant workforce in general. Partly as a result of rising unemployment in male-dominated sectors such as construction and continuing demand in more female-dominated sectors such as care work, more women than men in some EU countries immigrated during the economic crisis.”(IOM, 2010:4).

38-45 percent of the inflows from Italy, Spain and Greece were women (BAMF, 2014:35; BAMF, 2014:193). In total there were more men migrating, but no data is available about the amount of high-skilled migrants. For women in employment, Germany is among the OECD countries with the highest incidence of part-time work (OECD, 2013:44).

Young, highly skilled and mobility loving?

A paper of Deutsche Bank Research says, that the higher the level of education is, the higher is the wish to work in another European country (dbresearch, 2011:6).

Germany profits from the internal migration within the EU as well as from the immigration of people from Southern European and Non-EU states. The proportion of academics among all immigrants from EU countries is higher than in the majority of the population. Considering the Gender balance of said academics there is an equal level of men and women (see Tab. B.1.1 and B.1.2 in SVR, 2013:100).

Internal migration allows Germany to prosper: young, highly skilled people come to Germany to work. However, it should not be forgotten that the countries of origins loose these young, high-skilled people.

The changing face of migration

The German government lowered the restrictions on labour migration to recruit highly skilled workers, because Germany is confronted with an ageing society and subsequently an ageing workforce, which might lead to labour shortages. The main push-factors for emigration within the EU are economic reasons such as unemployment.

There was an increase of emigration from Greece and Spain since 2009 where the economic crisis led to a growing number of unemployment. In general, there are more young people migrating, but the effect of immigrants making the population younger is reduced because of outflows. Immigration towards Germany is represented as a temporary migration (SVR, 2013:65) which suggests, that with an improvement of the economic situation in Southern Europe, at least a part of the people will return to their countries of origin (SVR, 2013:66).

Since there is an imbalance of employment and unemployment in different EU member states and young people migrate and work in states where they find jobs matching their qualifications and aspirations, one could consider this a redistribution of the labour markets of the different countries. This redistribution helps the crisis-weakened countries to decrease the pressure on the labour market and at the same time highly qualified migrants are profitable for the North, since they have a positive impact on the shortage of skilled labour and the ageing society of North-Western Europe.

In many cases, migration is a temporary phenomenon and people only stay in the host country for a short period of time. This case can be considered profitable for both countries as the brain drain is tempered. These phenomena of young and highly skilled immigration from Southern Europe – in form of circular/temporary migration – can be seen as a chance of a more mobile and flexible young European form of migration through which Europe grows together and European integration is carried further. Following this logic, the new migrants are the agents who shape tomorrows Europe.

Anna Triandafyllidou from the European University Institute suggests a positive outlook on these pioneers of an European integration: “They are overall more positive about EU and Europe then what we call stayers. They are more politically active [...] and they are also more politically active at a transnational level …” (Triandafyllidou, 2012). And:

“After all, European integration is a lot about free movement, […] it is about creating a European society, that [...] doesn’t have borders, or the borders are really quite low.” (Triandafyllidou, 2012).

The EU cannot afford to shrink while the worlds’ population grows. What the EU and its member states need are welcoming structures instead of border securities. An active fight against racism and discrimination, policies that not only allow high-skilled migrants a future in Europe, but also those who flee war and poverty. There must be a cultural change towards migration. One that values migrants regardless of their background or abilities but based on their humanity.

Germany in particular needs a positive attitude towards migration and migrants. A welcoming culture for all people – independent of qualification, age, race, gender. A reform of asylum-policies, more possibilities for migrants from non-EU states and for those migrants who already live in Germany participation and citizenship options that allow them to be an integral part of society.  



References and Literature

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[1]          For a more detailed description of the term see eurofound (2007):…