Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Bridging the GapsLinking Research to Public Debates and Policy Making on Migration and Integration$

Martin Ruhs, Kristof Tamas, and Joakim Palme

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198834557

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198834557.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy).date: 25 May 2019

Gaps and Challenges of Migration Policy Advice

Gaps and Challenges of Migration Policy Advice

The German Experience

(p.111) 8 Gaps and Challenges of Migration Policy Advice
Bridging the Gaps

Klaus F. Zimmermann

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The gap between scientific insights and societal perceptions of international migration is large. It stems, at least in part, from the complexity of the matter and the fears raised by the unknown. This chapter reflects upon these issues against the background of post-World War II migration and migration policy in Germany. It argues that providing robust evidence is not enough for a policy adviser to succeed. Patience, persistent argumentation, and the propagation of successful migrant role models seem to be of key importance to influencing public debates and policy-making on migration and integration. A ‘jobs approach’ that integrates both migrants and refugees early into the labour force could make a difference. Germany, while stumbling slowly on its path, has still a chance to find a proper balance between observing humanitarian migration and following economic needs.

Keywords:   migration, refugees, policy advice, role of economists, media, migration policy, migrants and the labour market, Germany


The gap between scientific insights and societal perception of international migration is large. It stems, at least in part, from the complexity of the matter and the unspecific fears the unknown raises. This chapter reflects upon these issues against the background of post-World War II migration and migration policy in Germany. Providing robust evidence is not sufficient for a policy adviser to succeed. In my experience, patience, persistent argumentation, and the propagation of successful migrant role models seem to be the key to influencing public debates and policy-making on migration and integration. A ‘jobs approach’ that integrates both migrants and refugees into the labour force early could make a difference. Germany, while stumbling slowly on its path, still has a chance to find a proper balance between observing humanitarian migration and following economic needs.

Since the end of World War II, Germany has experienced large migratory movements: war refugees and resettlements after 1945; guest worker recruitments, mostly in the 1960s until an abrupt ban in 1973 in face of the oil crisis; the unification and integration of East Germany after 1990; integration of European labour markets, including the Eastern enlargement of the European Union (EU) in the mid-2000s; and, most recently, the so-called European ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015 and thereafter. Although only recently and slowly recognized and accepted, Germany has long been a country of immigration. However, this status is not yet fully accepted by German society and, even (p.112) more importantly, not sufficiently considered to react flexibly and successfully to the major challenges of our time. Such challenges include the ageing and shrinking of the population, the rising and increasingly unsatisfied demand for skilled workers, the rising use of robots, the humanitarian and economic challenges raised by the inflows of refugees, and—more generally—the search for a proper balance of economic rationales and human concerns in public policies on migration and integration.1

Facing these developments, Germany has struggled and stumbled on its way to a balanced strategy towards migration phenomena. A key question and challenge on this path has been how to deal with the rising gap between scientific evidence on migration and integration, and the many myths that often dominate public perceptions of the issue, as outlined in this book by Martin Ruhs, Kristof Tamas, and Joakim Palme (Chapters 1 and 15). The question has to be understood in the context of the use of expert knowledge in policy-making as discussed, for instance, by Zimmermann (2004), Boswell (2012) and Davies (2012).

This chapter intends to describe and understand Germany’s evolving policy challenges and developments, from the perspective of a scientific observer and academic policy advisor over a period of several decades. For over thirty years, I have been intensively involved in migration research and policy advice. As Programme Director of the Centre for European Policy Research (CEPR), Founding and Acting Director of the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), and President of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Berlin—the largest German think tank in economics—I was concerned among other issues with the creation of research on migration and related topics in Europe and, in particular, in Germany. I was also deeply involved in the dissemination process of research to policy-making.

I will outline the major migration policy debates and developments since World War II in Germany, and discuss the difficulties encountered in conveying messages to society and politics which are widely accepted by the research community. The core issues of concern have been about:

  • accepting the status of Germany as an immigration country;

  • the struggle of creating an immigration law allowing for skilled migration with Schröder’s ‘Green Card’ and its cessation after the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001;

  • the fight around free and unfettered labour markets in the context of EU Eastern enlargement;

  • the fight against misperceptions about ‘welfare migration’;

  • the debate about the need for internal labour mobility in Europe;

  • the challenge of openness to high-skilled labour migration to Germany; and

  • (p.113) the 2015 refugee crisis, including the policy switch from an attempt to open up even more to economic migration, to welcoming refugees, and to hindering refugee migration in 2016–2018.

The Migration Debate in Historical Perspective

In this section, I outline and discuss the evolution of German migration and migration policy since World War II in distinct periods.2 For a considerable time, the migration issue was characterized by substantial ignorance about empirical facts and scientific knowledge.3 This section describes how, over time, the country has dealt with this and how it has moved closer to reality and to considering—if not always accepting—scientific facts and advice.

Over decades, the German government was unwilling to recognize that the country was, de facto, an ‘immigration country’. It would have been more accurate to argue that the country did not want to be an immigration country, which was still the case in 2018. Although labour immigration has frequently been debated, Germany still has no clear legislation in place. With the exception of the 1960s, the prevalence of labour scarcity was not acknowledged, although the scarcity of skilled labour has progressively become more of an issue during the 2010s. Further, the long-term challenges of an ageing German population and the long-term needs of migrants are still not taken seriously.

Extending the analysis of previous literature (Schmidt and Zimmermann 1992; Zimmermann 1996), one can distinguish the following migration phases that have affected Germany following World War II:

  • 1950–1961: War Adjustment Phase from 1950 to 13 August 1961, the day of the building of the Berlin Wall.

  • 1961–1973: Manpower Recruitment Phase in West Germany from August 1961 to November 1973, when the guest worker regime was halted at the onset of the oil price crisis.

  • 1974–1987: International Migration Consolidation Phase in West Germany.

  • 1988–2003: Transition after the Socialism Phase including the process of German unification, the Bosnian war, and ethnic German resettlement after the end of communism.

  • 1992–2003: European Labour Market Integration Phase following the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, intensifying the EU and free labour mobility.

  • 2004–2014: EU Eastern Enlargement Phase.

  • 2015–2018: European Refugee Crisis.

(p.114) In the 1990s, economic research slowly began to provide the necessary empirical evidence for policy-making (Kahanec and Zimmermann 2009, 2016; Zimmermann 2014a, 2016, among others). However, since the time of the EU Eastern enlargements, the flow of evidence seized up.4 Schmidt and Zimmermann (1992) evaluated the West German immigration experience at that time and found that Germany has been an immigration country since the beginning of the 1950s. Adjusting for population size, Schmidt and Zimmermann found the inflow comparable to that of the United States at the beginning of the last century, when immigration there was the greatest. So, Germany was, de facto, an immigration country from early on.

What else can we learn from the various periods? Certainly, we can observe that it was possible to integrate many ethnic Germans either as war refugees or, later, as ethnic migrants, and to organize substantial labour immigration with official recruitment offices in many sending countries. So, (West) Germany always was a covert immigration country. We have also seen many guest workers returning after 1973, when labour recruiting was abruptly stopped in the middle of the first oil crisis and a recession. Similarly, many refugees from the Bosnian war left after 1995. One can generalize that while, most of the time, policy debates concentrate on the potential burden caused by the inflow of migrants, a fully realistic picture also has to take into account the large parallel outflow of people; this can typically be seen, but is ignored. The net effects are relevant, and those flows have been either positive or negative over time. It is important to observe the size of long-term net inflow, which was at an annual average of about 200,000 in Germany for many decades.

Germany also had to learn that the guest worker regime of the 1960s was not easy to terminate in reality; the ‘guests’ were not necessarily leaving and the country was suddenly confronted with unplanned integration challenges. In contradiction to the myth, the majority left after 1973, but there were interesting differences. As Zimmermann (2014b) has noted, numbers of migrant from countries that either were EU members or became members, and hence enjoyed free labour mobility, decreased or stagnated. In contrast, the number of Turkish nationals rose substantially, although there was no free labour mobility between Germany and Turkey. More openness correlated with lower migration, a phenomenon which was also observed with Mexican–US migration (Massey et al. 2016). This can be explained easily and is another important message for policy-making. Labour migrants come and go according to the attraction of the economic situation. If flexibility is stopped, however, workers stay even if they cannot easily find employment. They bring their family and have children. Hence, the transition of mobility-restricted populations from full employment to a much lower labour market (p.115) attachment is—at least in part—associated with or caused by labour mobility restrictions. Establishing the right to return to Germany for work in the future for Turkish workers returning to Turkey after 1973 would probably have reduced the levels of Turkish migrants in Germany.

The Maastricht Treaty (1992) later imposed free labour markets for all EU member countries as a pillar of existence, although the European labour markets were, de facto, not only far from being integrated, but they are also still not fully integrated (Constant and Zimmermann 2017; Krause et al. 2017). With the creation of the euro in 2002, the need for rising internal labour mobility became transparent. To fight internal asymmetric economic shocks, labour was expected to play the role of an adjustment factor to substitute for the exchange rate flexibility that was no longer available. The labour markets have taken on this role; labour mobility in Eurozone member states has increased, but not yet sufficiently (Zimmermann 2014a; Constant and Zimmermann 2017; Jauer et al. 2018). Hence, the subsequent decades can be referred to as the European Labour Market Integration Phase (1992–2003), which overlapped the Transition after Socialism Phase (1988–2003) and was followed by the EU Eastern Enlargement Phase (2004–2014), which involved a larger number of Eastern European countries with a complex set of transition periods to free labour mobility. The EU Eastern Enlargement Phase is often seen as a ‘natural experiment’, a reliable model that shows that the labour market effects have largely been positive, in particular in the UK (Kahanec and Zimmermann 2009, 2016; Wadsworth et al. 2016).

Finally, we are currently in the middle of what has been called the European Refugee Crisis (2015–2018), which is more a crisis of the European political regime than of refugees, and is strongly driven by perceptions and public sentiments.5 Later observers may call this and the Brexit decision the beginning of a European Disintegration Phase, a phase that also encompasses rising concerns about internal mobility—in general, and also for EU citizens—in correlation with the rise of far right-wing and populist parties. This is connected with general propagated fears that migration causes welfare take-up, creates job losses for natives, and depresses their wages—even though the facts do not support these concerns.

Behind the ups and downs in migration and migration policy across the diverse phases, one can identify a path that will lead Germany to a more open society and a better developed immigration law. I shall now analyse the elements of this process.

With the decline of non-labour migration and rising scarcity of skilled labour at the end of the 1990s, reflections about the status of Germany as an immigration country increased. The understanding was that Germany should open up more. An indication of this was the announcement by Chancellor (p.116) Gerhard Schröder, in February 2000 at the Cebit Fair in Hanover, that a German ‘Green Card’ (temporary work permit) was to be created to attract non-EU IT specialists. This initiative broke the ice in the public debate to allow labour immigration to be viewed as beneficial and to reflect Germany’s status as an immigration country. Consequently, in June 2000 a high-ranked government commission began to prepare modern immigration legislation that was potentially to include a points system; the commission reported in July 2001. Germany was close to a significant change in its migration policy;6 however, the New York terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 caused a de facto termination of the initiative. The ‘Green Card’ initiative, although quite successful, faded into the shadows.

The reservations against migration in German migration policy remained strong in the following years and policy was also cautious towards the citizens of the new EU member states during the EU Enlargement Phase that began in 2004. Unlike other member states of the EU, Germany and Austria applied full labour market flexibility only after the end of the seven-year transition period. The media played a particular role, predicting large inflows of migrants in all the phases of enlargement (2004, 2011, and 2014) although scientific research at the time was suggesting that this would not be the case (Kahanec and Zimmermann 2009, 2016; Zimmermann 2014a, 2016, among others). If anything, the decision to keep Germany’s labour market closed for as long as possible redirected qualified Polish and Baltic labour migrants to Ireland and the UK, where their presence was very beneficial, while Germany did not get the workers it needed but, instead, only lower-qualified and mainly black market migrants.7 Furthermore, for over a decade, practically every year since the EU Eastern Enlargement, the media has supported rumours about welfare shopping by the citizens of the new member states’. It did not matter that these circular debates died out swiftly because the claimed evidence was, at best, anecdotal. In particular, EU2 migrants (Romanians and Bulgarians) were blamed, but mostly they found employment and did not take up welfare benefits.

Over the years and across many party lines, policy-makers began to understand that a more flexible and open labour market-oriented immigration regime was needed. However, politicians often acted in a helpless fashion and were either too defensive to fight openly for such a policy, or were overwhelmed by political pressures. Under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first grand coalition cabinet of Christian and Social Democrats (22 November 2005–27 October 2009), Germany began a double-sided migration policy that attempted to attract the skilled migrants while trying to keep out the unskilled migrants. On the one hand, the country remained closed as long as possible to the citizens of the new Eastern European member states, but, on the other hand, began to open up to worldwide high-skilled migration. (p.117) Merkel’s labour minister in 2007–2009, Olaf Scholz,8 discretely managed to liberalize high-skilled labour immigration through changes in various administrative regulations and through the preparation of the Work Migration Control Act of 2008.9 Under this new policy and since that time, all those considered qualified (either by virtue of a university degree or a high salary) mainly needed a concrete job offer to be able to take up work in Germany. This policy continued and was refined through the next two Merkel cabinets, the last again a cabinet with the Social Democrats.

However, in the opinion of many observers, Germany’s worldwide immigration image was determined by its closed-door policy towards Eastern Europe and the low-skilled world; see, for instance, Fihel et al. (2015) and SVR (2015). Hence, in spite of an ever-improving labour market and a substantial need for skilled labour, only few such workers came. This was interpreted as having been caused by the absence of a ‘welcoming culture’ (Willkommenskultur). Observing short-term pressures and expecting long-term needs, in the first half of 2015 all the major parties started debating how to update the immigration regulations into concise immigration legislation.10

When, in 2015, an increasing number of refugees crossed the German borders, Merkel and large parts of the German media took the chance to use the asylum seekers to promote a more open German welcoming culture. What first got the sympathy of Germans, and many in the world, was soon destroyed by the alternative media picture of refugees ‘invading’ Europe and Germany, which was (wrongly) portrayed in the public after Merkel solved the problem of the stranded migrants in Budapest later in 2015. It is unknown what motivated Merkel to help the Hungarians, but one could see this as a move to establish European solidarity and the introduction of a fair quota system between the EU member states. I had recommended this in various studies including Rinne and Zimmermann (2015), a paper which, indeed, was on the desk of the Chancellery. I still think that there was no alternative for Germany but to lead Europe into a solution to the refugee challenge. This issue remains valid, since there is no alternative if one wants to preserve the EU in the future.

After the events in Budapest, the paranoia about migrants exploded, fuelled the rise of right-wing populists, and ended any ongoing efforts to establish a modern and flexible labour immigration regime in Germany. The Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), the Bavarian part within the German conservative movement with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) as a partner in all other German states, insisted on a humanitarian quota which Merkel had for a long time (rightly) argued to be non-constitutional. Ultimately, all government parties saw a substantial loss of votes in the 2017 federal elections in favour of a new right-wing party, the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany—AfD).

(p.118) However, the situation is much less dramatic than some people claim. Politically, Germany has remained rather stable, although it has taken by far the greatest number of asylum applications in Europe (Constant and Zimmermann 2016). If there is a country in Europe with the right to be nervous about keeping the refugee inflow manageable, it is Germany. Nevertheless, the AfD won only 12.6 per cent of the votes. This is a relatively small number if one compares it with many other recent country elections—for instance, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, or even the French presidential elections. It is not even necessary to weight the results with the relatively small numbers of refugees those countries received. Nevertheless, the AfD is larger than the other small parties (the Left, the Greens, and the Liberals) and hence can claim the constitutional role of opposition leadership, which gives it significant visibility.

However, the formation of a new government took six months, from 24 September 2017 (election day) to 14 March 2018, the longest in German post-World War II history. At first, the Social Democrats preferred to lead the opposition, but coalition talks between the Conservatives, the Greens, and the Liberals did not converge. Hence, after challenging negotiations, Conservatives and Social Democrats finally formed a third cabinet under Merkel. The government contract reveals a two-tier migration policy strategy. The difficult refugee issue was addressed by the agreement to seek a maximum of 200,000 refugees net (!) per year, if possible and in accordance with the German Basic Law. Largely undiscussed in the media is that the government contract clearly announces modern immigration legislation allowing for a much stronger labour market oriented immigration policy. The contract signals clear criteria which can be associated with a points system. Hence, my prediction is that Germany will soon have modern labour immigration legislation, which would be a great success for those researchers who have supported such a policy for a long time.

What can we learn from recent German migration policies? One can ignore economic or social constraints for a while, following one’s own objectives or the preferences of voters. However, in the long run, one has to observe constraints such as budget deficits while, in the short run, overspending or ignoring environmental or social damage is possible. Destroying Europe and keeping migrants out can imply large welfare losses in the long run. Reality will then force policy-makers to adjust—see the recent French elections. Such a policy is sustainable, if it is clearly formulated and consequently followed.

Rethinking Policy Advice

This section reflects the failures of past migration policy-making from my perspective as a policy advisor. Optimizing the impact of policy advice on (p.119) migration issues must begin with an analysis of the interests and weaknesses of the main actors—voters, politicians, media, and scientific policy advisors. The task of policy advice is challenging, since the migration topic is analytically complex and emotionally heated.

It is natural that voters follow preferences and emotions, and are not always aware of facts and constraints. Hence, scientists need to communicate facts and insights to a broader public through both traditional and social media, to act as a policy advisor by providing reports or personal face-to-face advice, or to communicate directly with the public through speeches and popular books. Too few are doing this; neither are they educated for this purpose, nor are they free of self-interest.

However, academic success is related to creating new knowledge, which can be too specialized to be helpful to policy-making processes. In my view, in their advisory role, scientists need to advocate the mainstream, not outsider positions. Scientific advisors need to respect the different time-horizons of science, which are long term, and policy-making, which is short term and often immediate. This means that the production of knowledge should be completed long before its time to be used in the political arena has come. This implies that the researcher should stand by, until the right time comes. Obviously, in 2018 it is high noon for policy advice on the migration issue. New political directives are needed, and the scientific profession is better prepared for it than ever.

In my view, the media is the most important channel for policy advice; here, both society and policy-makers can be reached informally and effectively. However, the traditional media are committed to providing balanced reporting, which leads to a bias against mainstream scientific findings. The weights given to minority findings are too great. Scientists are much less prepared for the traditional media, which focus more strongly on entertainment, than for social media. Social media are not only easier to access, they are also easier to use and communication is faster.

In my observation, policy-makers tend to use facts and scientific evidence, if this supports their own ambitions, if it is unavoidable due to constraints or the challenge has become unacceptable. A crisis is helpful to push for reforms. Hence, explaining constraints and trade-offs is an important task; for instance, outlining the existence of budget constraints, or explaining that following one objective may often hurt another. Although migration is a very complex topic, the policy-makers I have interacted with in all major parties understand it. However, since the general public has a broad misperception of the need of migrants and their economic effects, the policy-makers often only engage in low-dimensional or simplistic migration policies. Over the years, I have seen few German politicians who regard themselves capable of explaining the benefits of mobility for society to their voters. An example is that immigration (p.120) can fight unemployment if migrants help to create jobs; since this is more difficult to explain, it is easier to argue that migrants are not needed if the country faces a large unemployment level. On the contrary, some take the easy way to collecting votes by following the prejudices of their voters, instead of convincing them about true insights. It is, however, the job of policy-makers to make it transparent to voters where society’s long-term needs are.

It is of major importance to reach society and the voters directly—in particular, since policy-makers are caught in the political trap of short-term decision-making and muddling-through. The broad misperception in the population about the economic consequences of migration is one point that it is necessary to address. The understanding in society is often that migration causes economic problems for natives, and that migrants make excessive use of the welfare state. Others are just not aware of the large potential economic benefits mobility and migration can have (van Noort 2016). This stands against broad academic evidence that migrants are economically successful and do not take jobs but, rather, stimulate the economy and are needed in the long term—see, among many sources, Zimmermann (2005, 2014a); Kahanec and Zimmermann (2009, 2016); EU Commission (2011); Constant and Zimmermann (2013); Blau and Mackie (2016); Wadsworth et al. (2016). Migrants can reduce native unemployment if they are complements in the production of goods and services, and not substitutes for native workers. As a consequence, more employed migrants may cause a larger labour demand for natives. Besides public fears, the risk of welfare migration is also low (Giulietti and Wahba 2013; Giulietti et al. 2013).

Another point is to take the fears and concerns of people seriously and introduce them to realities that can generate positive affections: for example, to make transparent the misery of war and flight—solidarity with and responsibility for the fate of refugees can be strong incentives for acceptance and support; and informing the public about the success story of migrants in society and employment, and their usefulness for the economy demonstrated through the presentation of real-life migrant role models. As an example, the German Federal Railway recently advertised their services using the real-world example of a migrant born in Africa, who became popular as the role model for a helpful and service-oriented train conductor. Globally seen, concerns about migrants and refugees are often the largest in geographical areas where no migrants or refugees live.11 Anecdotal evidence for Germany illustrates this. The infamous anti-migration Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) started in Dresden, the capital of Saxony, in 2014. In the 2017 federal elections, the AfD, having won 27.0 per cent of the votes (Germany: 12.6 per cent), became the largest (!) party in that German state, while the share of foreigners in that year in Saxony was 3.9 per cent (p.121) (Germany: 10.5 per cent). Integration policies and practices in companies need to take this as a starting point to expose role models in society and in workplaces, and to mobilize and involve ethnic networks or diaspora.

Simply teaching facts about migration does not help. It is also important that migration policy is consistent, persistent, and transparent (Zimmermann 2017). Points systems in immigration laws, for instance, provide transparency for migrants and the host country. They have been effective in screening and guiding mobility for regular migrants. This enables a government to base the selection criteria on integration indicators such as education, language proficiency, job characteristics, the professions needed and social activities. This transparency is not only good for the migrant for guidance and orientation; it also helps natives to understand that the newcomers are of value for the receiving society. Using the labour market as a filter for the selection of non-humanitarian migrants ensures that the inflow focuses on people who are likely to have a job, are able to finance their own life, and are useful for society. Research has shown that countries that have clear labour immigration policies exhibit less negative attitudes to foreigners (Bauer et al. 2000). Following the public German migration debate, it seems that these insights have been understood by major policy-makers. Therefore, Germany is expected to improve its immigration law in the near future as has been announced in the coalition contract of the new government.

Similarly, access to employment needs to be discussed in the context of forced migration (Constant and Zimmermann 2016; Zimmermann 2017). First, one has to respect and accept that all refugees and asylum seekers also have economic needs—they need an income source to maintain their lives. Early access to the labour market is essential for this; poor immigration regulations at entry into the host country are often partly responsible for a slow rise in labour market performance when recognized later. Germany already allows asylum seekers to work soon after filing a refugee application. It tries to profile them upon entry to understand the abilities and qualifications requirements for educational interventions and placement services. Providing language classes is important, and the quality of the courses in Germany needs to be improved. Access to the labour market is not only an integration policy, it also becomes a development policy if the asylum seeker is not recognized later as a refugee or, if recognized, the migrant moves back home or further on. Forced migrants should also have the option to transfer to a regular labour immigration scheme if they qualify.

This all suggests that, and describes how, humanitarian and work-related migration can be integrated in one immigration concept where forced migrants are given the right early on to accept jobs temporarily and enter channels to regular immigration if they meet the requested criteria. Of course, (p.122) asylum seekers have to leave the country when not recognized. Guided by research starting with Bauer et al. (2000), I expect that this labour market orientation could also raise the social acceptance of humanitarian migration.


The virtue of open markets and free labour mobility is not easily understood in society. A recent trend towards evidence-free policy-making and a rising mistrust about globalization is strengthening this. Against this background, this chapter has studied Germany’s long path towards being a well-managed immigration country. Despite broad academic evidence of positive effects, resistance against migration remains strong in society—witnessed by the many recent election results; for instance, in Germany, Austria, France, and Italy. To reduce the gap between facts and misperceptions, the combined promotion of knowledge about the effects of migration that have been mentioned and the social identity of successful migrant workers (‘role models’) is suggested. How can the image of migrants be associated with being construction workers, artists, lawyers, and soccer players, for instance? This means confronting prejudices about migrants with job performances demonstrating that they are respected members of society.

Driven by questions raised about the economic consequences of migration, the research community has provided a number of insights which are important for policy-making. Among those are that Germany has long been a country of immigration and could do so much better by means of improved management through well-considered immigration legislation. Public debates often focus on the inflow of people and ignore the large outflow of migrants. Effective flexibility of labour increases the output of the economy and the welfare of people. Restricting free labour mobility may force people to stay and bring family members, which is against what policies were intended to achieve. More migrants in jobs can increase the employment of natives when they act as complements and not as substitutes. There is also no convincing evidence that migrants overly exploit the welfare state. Hiring economic migrants and finding jobs for asylum seekers help to reduce tensions in the native population and strengthen the chances for successful economic integration.

Nowadays, German policy-makers have understood that the country is an immigration country; it benefits from open labour markets and needs more migrant workers in the future, particularly skilled migrant workers. The aim therefore is to modernize the country’s immigration legislation to allow for selective labour immigration policies oriented towards short-term labour market needs and long-term requirements. The refugee challenge needs to be (p.123) approached in a framework of European solidarity, which could start with the early access of refugees to the labour market. Researchers need to understand that they should be ready with evidence when the right opportunity appears. Until such time, it is important to communicate evidence repeatedly through traditional and social media in order to prepare the background for change. The time for evidence-based policy-making will probably return when political realities clash with economic constraints.


Bibliography references:

BAMF. 2010. Bundesministerium des Innern, Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge. Migrationsbericht 2008, Berlin.

Bauer, T. K., Lofstrom, M., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2000. Immigration policy, assimilation of immigrants, and natives’ sentiments towards immigrants: Evidence from 12 OECD countries. Swedish Economic Policy Review 7: 11–53.

Blau, F. D., and Mackie, C. (eds). 2016. The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration, A Report of the National Academies, Washington, DC.

Boswell, C. 2012. The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brenke, K., Yuksel, M., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2009. EU enlargement under continued mobility restrictions: Consequences for the German Labor Market. In EU Labor Markets after Post-Enlargement Migration, eds M. Kahanec and K. F. Zimmermann. Berlin: Springer Verlag, 111–29.

Constant, A. F., and Zimmermann, K. F. (eds). 2013. International Handbook on the Economics of Migration. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Constant, A. F. and Zimmermann, K. F. 2016. Towards a new European refugee policy that works. CESifo DICE ReportJournal of International Comparisons 4: 3–8.

Constant, A. F., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2017. Le défi des migrations: quelles options pour L’Europe? Revue Economie Financiere 125: 195–207.

Davies, P. 2012. The state of evidence-based policy evaluation and its role in policy formation. National Institute Economic Review 219(1): R41–R52.

Elsner, B., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2016. Migration 10 years after: EU enlargement, closed borders, and migration to Germany. In Labor Migration, EU Enlargement, and the Great Recession, eds M. Kahanec and K. F. Zimmermann. Berlin: SpringerVerlag, 85–101.

Esipova, N., Ray, J., Pugliese, A., and Tsabutashvili, D. 2015. How the World Views Migration. Geneva: International Organization for Migration (IOM).

EU Commission. 2011. Frequently asked Questions: The End of Transitional Arrangements for the Free Movement of Workers on 30 April 2011. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-11-259_en.htm

(p.125) Fihel, A., Janicka, A., Kaczmarczyk, P., and Nestorowicz, J. 2015. Free Movement of Workers and Transitional Arrangements: Lessons from the 2004 and 2007 Enlargements, Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw.

Giulietti, C., and Wahba, J. 2013. Welfare Migration. In International Handbook on the Economics of Migration, eds A. F. Constant and K. F. Zimmermann. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 489–504.

Giulietti, C., Guzi, M., Kahanec, M., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2013. Unemployment benefits and immigration: Evidence from the EU. International Journal of Manpower 34(1): 24–38.

Hatton, T. J. 2013. Refugee and asylum migration. In International Handbook on the Economics of Migration, eds A. F. Constant and K. F. Zimmermann. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 453–69.

Hinte, H., Rinne, U., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2015. Flüchtlinge in Deutschland: Herausforderungen und Chancen. Wirtschaftsdienst 95: 744–51.

Hinte, H., Rinne, U. and Zimmermann, K. F. 2016. Punkte machen?! Warum Deutschland ein aktives Auswahlsystem für ausländische Fachkräfte braucht und wie ein solches System aussehen kann. Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, 17: 68–87.

Jauer, J., Liebig, T., Martin, J. P., and Puhani, P. A. 2018. Migration as an Adjustment Mechanism in the Crisis? A Comparison of Europe and the United States 2006–2016, Essen: GLO Discussion Paper 178.

Kahanec, M., and Zimmermann, K. F. (eds). 2009. EU Labor Markets after Post-Enlargement Migration. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Kahanec, M., and Zimmermann, K. F. (eds). 2016. Labor Migration, EU Enlargement, and the Great Recession. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

Krause, A., Rinne, U., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2017. European labor market integration: What the experts think. International Journal of Manpower 38(7): 954–74.

Massey, D. S., Durand, J., and Pren, K. A. 2016. Why border enforcement backfired. American Journal of Sociology 121: 1157–600.

OECD. 2016. How Are Refugees Faring on the Labour Market in Europe? A First Evaluation Based on the 2014 EU Labour Force Survey ad hoc Module. Paris: Working Paper 1/2016W.

Rinne, U., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2013. Is Germany the North Star of Labor Market Policy? IMF Economic Review 61: 702–29.

Rinne, U., and Zimmermann, K. F. 2015. Zutritt zur Festung Europa? Anforderungen an eine moderne Asyl- und Flüchtlingspolitik. Wirtschaftsdienst 95: 114–20.

Ruhs, M. 2013. The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Schmidt, C. M., and Zimmermann, K. F. 1992. Migration pressure in Germany: Past and future. In Migration and Economic Development, ed. K. F. Zimmermann. Berlin: Springer, 201–30.

SVR (The Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration). (2015). Immigration Countries: Germany in an International Comparison. Annual Report, Berlin.

van Noort, S. 2016. The Paradox of the Immigration Debate: Distorted Perceptions of the Influence of Immigrants on the Economy, mimeo. Amsterdam.

(p.126) Wadsworth, J., Dhingra, S., Ottaviano, G., and Van Reenen, J. 2016. Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK. London: LSE, Centre for Economic Performance. http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/brexit05.pdf

Zimmermann, K. F. 1996. European migration: Push and pull. Proceedings volume of the World Bank Annual Conference on Development Economics 1994, Supplement to The World Bank Economic Review and The World Bank Research Observer 10 (1995): 313–342. Reprinted in International Regional Science Review 19 (1996): 95–128.

Zimmermann, K. F. 2004. Advising policymakers through the media. Journal of Economic Education 35(4): 395–405.

Zimmermann, K. F. (ed.) 2005. European Migration: What Do We Know? Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Zimmermann, K. F. 2014a. Migration, jobs and integration in Europe. Migration Policy Practice 4(4): 4–16.

Zimmermann, K. F. 2014b. Circular migration. IZA World of Labor 1. https://wol.iza.org/articles/circular-migration/long

Zimmermann, K. F. 2016. Migrationspolitik im Mediensturm. Wirtschaftspolitische Blätter 63: 497–508.

Zimmermann, K. F. 2017. Refugee and migrant labor market integration: Europe in need of a new policy agenda. In The Integration of Migrants and Refugees. An EUI Forum on Migration, Citizenship and Demography, eds R. Bauböck and M. Tripkovic. Florence: European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, 88–100.

Zimmermann, K. F. Bonin, H., Fahr, R., and Hinte, H. 2007. Immigration Policy and the Labor Market. The German Experience and Lessons for Europe. Berlin: Springer Verlag.


(1.) This broader issue has been globally studied and forcefully reflected by Ruhs (2013).

(2.) Reviews of German migration history and policy can be found in Schmidt and Zimmermann (1992) and Zimmermann (1996), among others.

(3.) Germany was therefore always a model case for the gap between facts and perceptions on migration and integration—described by Ruhs, Tamas, and Palme in their introductory chapter to this book—long before the situation became globally even more challenging in many countries around the world. This is very different from labour market policies, where evidence-based policy-making played quite an important role, at least for some time (Rinne and Zimmermann 2013).

(4.) For instance, see Kahanec and Zimmermann (2009, 2016) for the evaluation of the consequences of EU Eastern Enlargement.

(5.) The refugee issue is a crucial topic for handling the migration issue in society. It can only be approached successfully in a European or even worldwide context. This has been analysed by Hatton (2013), Hinte et al. (2015), Rinne and Zimmermann (2015), OECD (2016), and Zimmermann (2016). While of great importance, it can only be a side topic in this chapter.

(6.) The book by Zimmermann et al. (2007) is based on analysis undertaken for the Migration Commission and has been further developed propagating a modern immigration law with a points system.

(7.) These and other consequences of the German closed-door policy were revealed in the studies by Brenke et al. (2009) and Elsner and Zimmermann (2016). For more details on the consequences of EU enlargements, see the various research contributions in Kahanec and Zimmermann (2009, 2016).

(8.) Being the First Mayor and head of the city state of Hamburg for many years, he became the new Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor in the new and third cabinet of the Christian and Social Democrats in March 2018.

(9.) Arbeitsmigrationssteuergesetz, 20 December 2008 archived at: https://perma.cc/2AF6-F72R. A more detailed analysis can be found in BAMF (2010: 97–101). The cabinet had discussed the new high-skilled labour immigration strategy in August 2007 and July 2008. Law and administrative regulations came into effect on 1 January 2009.

(10.) Various influential groups in the Conservative and Social Democratic parties had, at the time, invited me to explain what form new work-oriented immigration (p.124) legislation could take following an outline provided by my research paper ‘Punkte machen?! Warum Deutschland ein aktives Auswahlsystem für ausländische Fachkräfte braucht und wie ein solches System aussehen kann’ (Hinte et al. 2016).

(11.) Esipova et al. (2015: 14), based on interviews with over 183,000 adults across more than 140 countries between 2012 and 2014 surveyed in Gallup’s World Poll, find: ‘Countries where migrants constitute 10 per cent or more of the population are the most likely to have an opinion about immigration levels, and they are more likely to be positive (a combined 51 per cent favour keeping levels the same or increasing them) than negative (43 per cent favour decreasing levels). One explanation for this could be that in countries with higher percentages of migrants, the population has a greater chance to interact with migrants and this might promote greater acceptance.’