Germany's struggle to handle the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees has received wide coverage, but less attention has been paid to the small but growing number of Germans leaving the nation.
About 138,000 German citizens left the country last year, according to its Federal Statistical Office. Between 2014 and the end 2015, 286,909 Germans left their country. This total marked the highest two year total since 2008. That movement is widely attributed to the global financial crisis. The reasons Germans are leaving the world’s fourth largest economy today are not quite as clear.
“There are many reasons why Germans emigrate. Most people leave because of job opportunities elsewhere,” said Soren Kern, a fellow at the Gatestone Institute. “Others, especially retirees, move to countries with a lower cost of living and a better climate. Still others leave because they are unhappy with the social changes, including rising crime, due to mass migration. In all cases, emigres are looking for a better quality of life elsewhere.”
Sixty-eight percent of respondents felt that public safety in Germany had deteriorated in the past year, according to a YouGov survey published in October.
The influx of refugees may be one reason for the outflow of Germans. For every person that leaves the country, three newcomers arrive. Germany accepted some 1.1 million refugees in 2015, mostly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, according to government statistics. Germany spent $5.9 billion in benefits on its asylum seekers in 2015 - double the amount spent in 2014 and the sixth consecutive year of increased spending on refugees.
Germany is the second largest destination for immigrants and fourteenth in the world as an origin of immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. But even those numbers may not capture all the movement. “There is a great amount of circulation that is not recorded in these figures," said Susan Fratzke, an Institute policy analyst. "There isn’t a great amount of data about why people leave on an annual basis but, certainly education and employment opportunities are likely the top reasons,” she said.
Data compiled by the Institute suggest that as of 2015 the top three destinations for German citizens were the United States (627,000), Switzerland (363,000) and the U.K. (322,000).
Frederik Fleck is one of over half a million Germans living in the United States. A founding partner at Richmond View Ventures, an internet company in California, Fleck moved to Silicon Valley six years ago. “If you want to excel in the internet industry or the start-up industry, San Francisco and the Bay Area in California is still the place to be. That is true for the other Germans I know who have left Germany, it's for university or a job and maybe sometimes for love” he said with a grin.
Steffen Vitt, a director at an industrial plant in Germany, offers his own take on why so many of his countrymen emmigrate. “I think most Germans with an academic background leave because it is a necessary next step in their careers," he said. Observing that car mechanics are better paid in Norway than in Germany, he added, "for non-academics [they] leave for what they hope will be better pay or conditions.”