Turkish-German Professionals Young, Qualified and Unwanted

Highly qualified professionals of Turkish descent are leaving Germany because they feel denied opportunities there. In contrast other countries, particularly Turkey, are vying for their talents. Experts warn of the disastrous consequences of this "fatal" brain drain.

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Oguz-Han Yavuz, 30, has a degree in business administration. He had dressed to the nines for his interview with a large furniture company near the western German city of Mönchengladbach. Wearing his best suit, a white shirt and a silver tie, Yavuz decided to walk a stretch after the bus's doors closed in front of him and it drove off without him. But he didn't make it very far.

Before long, according to Yavuz, a police car pulled up next to him and an officer asked him rudely: "What are you hanging around here for?" And, despite the fact that Yavuz looked everything but disreputable, the officer still insisted on running a background check. After the policeman finally returned his ID card, Yavuz said goodbye. The officers said nothing in return.

It was at that moment, says Yavuz, that he decided he'd had enough with Germany -- or, more precisely, enough with being a Turk in Germany. Born in Neuss, a town outside Düsseldorf, Yavuz has been a German citizen for 13 years. But his skin is darker than that of most Germans. Whether it's at a bank or while shopping, he is constantly asked whether he understands German.

Yavuz now plans to leave the country in which he was born and grew up and emigrate to Turkey. His older brother is a pilot for Emirates Airline and lives in Dubai. "But I'd go to China, too" says Yavuz. "It doesn't make a difference whether I end up being a foreigner in Germany or abroad."

An Ebbing Tide of Talent

Yavuz is part of a movement that has taken hold among Germany's professionals of Turkish descent. Many of the best and brightest within the country's Turkish community of roughly 2.7 million people are following in their parents' footsteps and migrating -- but in the opposite direction. They are turning their backs on Germany because they feel unwanted there or have found better opportunities elsewhere. The children of immigrants are becoming emigrants.

Migration is "like a barometer for Germany as a place to do business," says Armin Laschet, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the integration minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. "Attractive countries have immigrants, while less attractive ones have emigrants."

Futureorg, a group based in the western German city of Krefeld, recently polled 250 Turkish and German-Turkish professionals, of whom about three-quarters were born in Germany. According to a preliminary evaluation of the results, 38 percent said they planned to emigrate to Turkey. Of those wishing to emigrate, 42 percent claimed that it was primarily due to not feeling "at home" in Germany. Almost four-fifths of the respondents questioned whether Germany is pursuing "a credible integration policy."

Another Reason to Leave

Sociologist Kamuran Sezer, who managed the survey, calls the results a "poor showing" for Germany, especially in light of problems in the labor market. Last week, for the first time in years, the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce warned that there will be more apprenticeship positions this year than there are people to fill them.

Facing global competition in an era of declining birth rates, Western countries need young, capable immigrants. In California's Silicon Valley, one in two technology companies has been founded by someone from an immigrant family. "If these kinds of people leave the country," says American journalist Fareed Zakaria, "innovation goes with them."

There are now more than 20,000 students in Germany with a Turkish background. For Sezer, it came as "a great surprise" that more than one-third of the young Turkish-Germans surveyed in the Futureorg study claimed that they wanted to emigrate to Turkey, even though most of them are only familiar with the country from vacations or visits to relatives. Surprising or not, the study reveals that most Turkish-Germans with university degrees see themselves as strangers in their country of birth. And when they discover that bilingual, university-educated professionals are actively recruited in Turkey and other countries, there is little left to keep them in Germany.

'A Fatal Brain Drain'

Ediz Bökli, a 34-year-old psychologist, has made a profession out of helping these emigrants find attractive work abroad. And business is booming. Bökli and his two employees have just moved into a new office on the main business thoroughfare in the northern German city of Osnabrück. His database contains information on about 4,000 Turkish university graduates who grew up in Germany.

According to Bökli, there is "a great deal" of interest in jobs in Turkey, where salaries for management positions are approaching German pay scales. And, at the same time, the cost of living is lower. Business graduates and engineers are in particular demand. Companies are seeking Turkish-Germans familiar with both cultures, fluent in both languages and offering what is generally viewed as a German work ethic. "The demand for this candidate profile has risen considerably," says an official with Germany's Federal Labor Agency who handles job placements in Turkey.

According to Bökli, a foreign name is usually a drawback in the job application process in Germany. He recounts his own experience applying for a position with a major German corporation four years ago. The interview went well, which made it all the more surprising when he was turned down for the job. Bökli learned that he had been one of the top three candidates, "but everyone in the unit was German, and there were concerns about potential intercultural problems."

As an employment consultant, Bökli is helping to promote an exodus that he freely admits amounts to a "brain drain that will be fatal for Germany's Turkish community." Integration Minister Laschet even goes so far as to call it a "catastrophe." "The Turkish community in Germany," says Laschet, "also needs its elites and role models."

Those who are staying behind are more likely to be uneducated and to speak neither German nor Turkish well. "They stay," says Bökli, "because they can't find a comparable social welfare system anywhere else."

Experts at the Center for Studies on Turkey in the western city of Essen estimate that, in the 2004/05 school year, four times as many pupils with Turkish backgrounds attended the Hauptschule, the country's lower vocational-track high school than the Gymnasium, Germany's university-track high school. "Welfare recipients don't emigrate," says Lale Akgün, a Social Democratic member of the German parliament, the Bundestag, from Cologne. She calls the emigration of well-educated Turkish-Germans a "horrific scenario." According to Akgün, the people who are leaving are precisely the ones who could build bridges to the majority German society.

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