Auf Wiedersehen, Germany! | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.01.2005
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Auf Wiedersehen, Germany!

More and more Germans are turning their backs on the economic problems plaguing their homeland in the hopes of better pay and working conditions in foreign countries. But saying goodbye isn't always easy.


More Germans are taking off in search of new career prospects

In 2003, the German government registered 127,000 cases of Germans moving abroad, though many more pick up and leave without informing the authorities of their decision.

"It's always the strongest, the most mobile, and those most open to risk-taking that go," summarized Klaus Bade, professor at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) in Osnabrück. "And the tendency is rising."

Every year, thousands of Germans also return home from extended periods abroad, but their numbers aren't enough to balance the growing numbers of emigrants.

Labor migrants, expatriates, the "de-naturalized" -- Germans have several names for those who move abroad in search of work. Many of them are highly-qualified academics who choose to research and experiment in the United States or Canada. Overseas, a regular headhunt for top qualified workers from Germany has begun.

"It's absurd," said Bade. "We're exporting top workers to the West, and we're importing tractor drivers and dairy farmers from the East."

Opportunities and risks

Moving abroad has many advantages -- a bigger salary, for example. A teacher in Buenos Aires earns twice as much as a teacher in Berlin. In foreign cultures, there's often more respect and recognition associated with certain jobs, as well as a faster climb up the career ladder. Not to mention the benefits that come with learning about a new culture.

"The attraction has definitely grown stronger," said Bade, adding that unlike earlier emigrants, Germans who move abroad today tend to stay longer in their new home.

But living abroad also has its pitfalls, such as cultural misunderstandings. In Japan, for example, employees who fail to nod off in the middle of a meeting give the impression they're not working hard enough. And the direct way in which Germans tend to handle negotiations isn't always appreciated.

Working abroad can also prove to be stressful for accompanying family members who suddenly have to adjust to unfamiliar food, new schools and foreign customs. The longer and further afield expatriates go, the harder is the culture shock upon their return.

Brain drain

In Germany, the growing number of emigrants is cause for concern and intense debate over the effects this "brain drain" will have on the country. For Klaus Bade, though, an even more urgent problem is the lack of any exact, representative figures.

Statistics on the number of Germans moving abroad do not take into account the profession of the people in question. Therefore, no one knows for sure how many physicists need to be brought into the country to replace those who have moved abroad. "When it comes to immigration, Germany is flying blind," said Bade.

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