Turkish Immigration to Germany

Turkish immigrants became one of the most important migrant groups from the late 1960s onward.  Yaşar Aydın, in a 2016 report for the Transatlantic Council on Migration, set twentieth-century Turkish immigration to Germany in three phases.[1]  The first phase, labor recruitment as Gastarbeiter, lasted from 1961 to 1973.  In 1973, the West German government passed a law eliminating labor recruitment programs.  Thus began the second phase of Turkish immigration to Germany: “family reunification and irregular migration.”  Since many Turkish migrants who had come to Germany as guest workers could not remain so for much longer, those who intended to stay had their families move to Germany.  Others “entered illegally or overstayed tourist visas.”[2]  This phase continued into the 1980s.  With the third phase, according to Aydın, a large number of Turks came to Germany as refugees: “[d]uring the late 1970s, political turmoil in Turkey encouraged many Turks to seek refuge in Germany; a 1980 military coup intensified this migration.”[3]  Turkish immigration to Germany persisted for years afterward, and it created a large Turkish-German subculture, one often marked by difficulty and lack of integration.  According to Catherine J. Ross, a law professor at George Washington University, this is true even among second-generation Turks born in Germany.

“In Germany, a number of legal and cultural boundaries have inhibited the assimilation of second-generation Turks. These include—on the side of the cultural boundary controlled by the state and the dominant culture—the historical difficulty of gaining citizenship, overrepresentation in the lowest educational tracks, and modest occupational mobility, as well as the constitutionalization of religious identity and training in the public schools… On the other side of the cultural boundary—controlled by Turkish immigrants themselves—the strong ethnic ties and identification with the homeland that characterize German-Turks provide meaning and comfort in daily life, but appear to impede assimilation, educational success, and economic opportunity. The proud assertion of “otherness” may be both a product of and a stimulus to discrimination, in ways that lie beyond the law’s ability to control.”[4]


As of 2011, there were over 1.5 million documented Turks in Germany, making them the largest minority ethnic group in Germany.[5]  The large Turkish subculture, and its relative separation from native German society, is a testament to both the history of German migrant policy and the difficulties of integration.  It is also indicative of Germany’s bureaucratic bias toward Germans and the historic German language and culture.

[1] Yaşar Aydın, “The Germany-Turkey Migration Corridor: Refitting Policies for a Transnational Age”, 4.
[2] Ibid, 4.
[3] Ibid, 4.
[4] Catherine J. Ross, “Perennial Outsiders: The Educational Experience of Turkish Youth in Germany.” American University International Law Review 24, no. 4 (2009): 710.