Turkey pulls, The Netherlands pushes?

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An increasing number of Turks, the Netherlands’ largest ethnic minority, are beginning to return to Turkey, taking with them the education and skills they have acquired abroad, as the Netherlands faces challenges from economic difficulties, social tension and increasingly powerful far-right parties. At the same time Turkey’s political, social and economic conditions have been improving, making returning home all the more appealing for Turks at large.

In recent years articles have been appearing frequently in the Dutch news media about the return migration of highly educated Dutch citizens of Turkish origin (Turkish Dutch) to their motherland. This theme is common within the Turkish community in the Netherlands and has also caught the interest of both the public and political spheres. Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant recently published a manifesto by a group of professionals on the decreasing bond of Turkish-Dutch youth with the Netherlands. It is claimed that Turkish-Dutch people are not doing well, and that their heads and hearts are thinking of Turkey.

The Turkish community is the largest ethnic minority group in the Netherlands. The size of the group has grown from 22 Turks in 1960, to over 384,000 in 2010. The first came to the Netherlands as guest workers in the ’60s. They came between 1964 and 1975, based on a bilateral agreement between the Netherlands and Turkey to recruit Turkish immigrant workers. Later Turkish migration to the Netherlands mainly consisted of “family migration.” There are currently about 187,000 second-generation Dutch Turks, which is the group that the manifesto writers are most concerned about.

The De Volkskrant manifesto focuses on the labor and social integration of young Turks, based on the assumption that problematic integration leads to isolation and return migration. The fact that a group among Turkish youths exists which does not finish its education, develop its own social networks or seize the opportunity to position itself in Dutch society is an important observation. However, this is only one side of the problem. A portion of Turkish youth is losing its motivation for and vision of a future in the Netherlands. This is not only due to a hardening of society, with its constant criticism for being different, but also because of the group’s upbringing and introverted attitude. The question is whether the Dutch government will solve the problem behind closed doors or working together with the group itself. It is undeniable that the pressure to assimilate meets resistance within private circles. At the same time, there are also many young, second-generation youths who feel right at home in the Netherlands, and do not allow themselves to end up in a victimized role.

Braindrain and braingain

For highly educated Turkish Dutch, a spontaneous increase of return migration among second-generation Turks is in progress. The percentage of remigrants is 10 percent higher among Turks than among Moroccans, the second-largest ethnic minority in the Netherlands. The intention among Turkish Dutch to return to the country of origin of their parents is even higher. In addition to motives for remigration from the Netherlands, such as the social, political and economic climate (push factors), there are other reasons which make Turkey an attractive alternative to those seeking to make a living (pull factors). Those influenced in this respect are primarily young professionals and entrepreneurs who see economic opportunities in the homeland of their parents. The Turkish government would view such return migration positively, and this phenomenon can be considered a “braingain.” Capable young people are returning to Turkey to build a new life and contribute to a thriving Turkish economy. However, as Turkey gains the Netherlands loses. The knowledge of well-educated Turkish-Dutch citizens threatens to disappear with them. From the perspective of the Netherlands, the loss of knowledge – or braindrain – represents a decline of human capital, which to a large extent was funded by public money.

‘Myth of return’

Remigration, or return migration, is a process in which people voluntarily return to their country of origin having lived in another country for a substantial period of time. Turkish natives who immigrated to the Netherlands are re-emigrating to Turkey. Turks who were born and raised in the Netherlands are also emigrating; moving for the first time to Turkey. Returning has always been discussed among older generations, and the second and third generation has grown up with these stories among their parents. However, there are often a number of practical and intangible reasons stopping the first generation from leaving. In particular, the location of remaining family members, children and grandchildren; prospects of a new beginning; and fear of the re-integration process in the country of origin are discouraging. The decision to migrate back can be seen as an emotional decision. The question is what motivates the young Turkish Dutch to re-emigrate.

Again, thoughts about migrating back to Turkey remain alive among Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands. However, there is often a big difference between what one desires and what one actually accomplishes. The desire to leave seems to be strong, but the number of people who seriously consider leaving actually appears to be low. The development of return migration can be considered in five phases: (1) the idea of return migration; (2) the intention of leaving for the country of origin; (3) the decision to migrate back; (4) the action of migrating back; and (5) the degree of satisfaction with return migration. It seems likely that the desire to repatriate among the Turkish Dutch is high, but that many do not actually think about it in practical terms and ultimately do not re-emigrate. This is also called the “myth of return.” Migrants talk and behave as though they favor return, but the reality of daily life means this step is hardly ever taken. Exploratory studies show return migration is a topic of conversation among first, second and third-generation Turks in the Netherlands.

Push and pull factors

Research on migration patterns often utilizes the concepts of push and pull. Push factors are those that contribute to the decision to leave the country. These are factors present in the forms of social exclusion and discrimination, a deteriorating environment and the economic situation, including high rates of unemployment. For this reason the perception of the home country among highly educated Turkish migrants in the Netherlands is important for analyzing return migration patterns. In contrast, pull factors are those that encourage an immigrant to opt for a specific foreign country, in this case their country of origin. These factors include economic growth, a known social network, stable political climate, and the perceived potential for freedom or prosperity. The question is whether Turkey is an attractive pull factor to highly educated Turks, or if the situation in the Netherlands is a significant push factor. The social and political environment, along with labor integration, make up some of the influential push and pull factors for those Turkish Dutch considering migrating back to Turkey.

Social and political climate

On average it is harder for migrant youth to find their way in the job market, which contributes to their lack of a sense of being at home in the Netherlands. It is often argued that they feel under the microscope, pressured to perform three times better than the average employee in order to prove themselves. They struggle to climb out of their social strata, and employment figures demonstrate it is hard for this group to find a job at their (educational) level. Developing strategies to improve the sense of belonging, feeling of being at home, and trust in society as a whole are also factors that might counter this push.

It is also important to look at the impact of the political climate in the Netherlands on the desire to move away. Events such as Sept. 11 and the murder of Theo van Gogh have negatively affected the attitude of the Dutch towards ethnic minorities, especially Muslim immigrants. A survey among immigrants in Holland showed that following the enormous increase in representation by the right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Dutch elections, more than a quarter of Turkish and Moroccan Muslims expressed a desire to leave the country. The current political climate in the Netherlands is frequently mentioned as a reason to return to Turkey. The effect of such political developments and other migration factors has increased the tendency to leave the country. The hardening of the debate and the negative image of immigrants in the Dutch media are also mentioned by the Turkish Dutch as factors contributing to the decision to re-emigrate.

Integration into the labor market

Research shows that integration into the labor market is a very important contributing factor towards the positive attitude of immigrants in Dutch society. Integration into the labor market indicates whether members of minority groups are getting a foothold on and moving up the ladder in terms of paid employment. Many educated migrants experience difficulties finding a job. There are a number of different reasons for this. Immigrants fall outside the relevant social networks, so they are less visible as candidates for jobs. Employers sometimes have negative expectations about the performance of immigrants, or fear a more diverse staff may bring negative consequences for the functioning of the organization. When Turkish migrant workers first came to the Netherlands there was a lot of heavy manual labor available, especially in the industrial and agricultural sectors. Today the number of jobs in the service industry has greatly increased. Culturally sensitive communication and relationship skills are much more important in service jobs and may put immigrant workers at a disadvantage, due to a lack of sufficient mastery of the language or trouble interpreting the unwritten rules of social conduct. Training, retention and advancement of immigrant employees lag behind that of their native colleagues. Immigrant workers experience greater difficulty in making connections among colleagues and supervisors, and experience more conflict and fewer career advancement opportunities. This is also a contributing factor to increased remigration.

Cultural identity and social network

In addition to obstacles in the development of social contacts outside their own immediate cultural group, highly educated Turkish Dutch have a specific pattern of identification that influences their decision to leave the Netherlands. Do they identify themselves primarily with the Netherlands as their homeland, or do Turks in the Netherlands have a strong focus on Turkey and Turkish culture? How can this be explained? Most immigrants can create a comfortable situation in a different cultural environment, in which they are able to adopt aspects of the new culture while maintaining aspects of their native one. It benefits civil society when immigrants are oriented towards their new environment. The desirability of maintaining one’s original culture is an important theme in public debate about the integration of immigrants into their country of residence. Proponents consider the “mixing in” of immigrant cultures to be a logical consequence of diversity, and even a source of enrichment. Opponents believe that maintaining the native culture of the immigrant population undermines the stability of society and prevents preservation of a Dutch identity. Research has shown that higher educated immigrants with a strong orientation towards the Netherlands are vulnerable to exclusion because they are faced with disappointing opportunities when one considers their level of education. In the academic literature this is referred to as the “integration paradox.”

It is also important to analyze the social relations of Turkish immigrants to their homeland, compared to the Netherlands. Segregation of social networks is not uncommon in the Netherlands: Most Turkish people have mostly Turkish friends. Modern communication allows immigrants to stay in close contact with family and friends in their home country. Frequent visits to the country of origin are possible and occur regularly. Close relationships with friends and family in their country of origin via electronic technology, combined with a strong focus on the social network between the immigrants in the Netherlands, is seen as a contributing factor in the decision to return to their native land.

Positive developments in Turkey

The factors influencing return to one’s country of origin are “pulls.” It is assumed that remigration is more influenced by positive developments in the country of origin than by negative developments in the country of residence. Turkey is a candidate member for the European Union and has seen progress in socio-economic areas in recent decades. The Turkish economy is booming worldwide and in Europe. As a G20 member state it plays an increasingly important role, globally as well as regionally. The prospect of Turkish membership in the EU and its recent economic growth both make migration back home more attractive.

It is assumed that the process experienced in Spain will be repeated. When Spain joined the EU in 1986, the country’s economy and democracy strengthened so much that the majority of Spanish immigrant workers in Western Europe returned to their motherland. Might the same happen when Turkey joins the EU?

In short, while remigration depends in part on the economic situation and social and political climate in the country of residence, it largely hinges on growing opportunities in Turkey. For years, Turks have been the largest group of returning immigrants in the Netherlands, in contrast with the Moroccans and Surinamese, who along with Turks make up the three largest immigrant groups in the country. The opportunities in Morocco and Suriname are not like those in Turkey, with its rapidly improving economic and political conditions over the last decade. Recent studies confirm that the rising economic popularity of Turkey impacts the desire to leave of highly educated professionals and entrepreneurs in the Netherlands’ Turkish community.

Career perspective and international experience

It is not exactly known how permanent the planned return migrations are. Added to other possible push and pull factors, the career perspective – with international experience – is another compelling reason Turks are leaving the Netherlands. Young Turkish immigrants, like their Dutch peers, value employment opportunities which offer chances for an international career. While the Dutch youth have their (usually temporary) international experiences in the US, Australia or the UK, the Turkish-Dutch youth often choose Turkey because of their Turkish and cultural heritage. Some may argue that many of them see it as temporary emigration, and eventually want to return to the Netherlands. However, a positive experience can eventually lead to permanent residency in Turkey, once youth are able to compare the particular push and pull factors in Turkey and the Netherlands.

To conclude, explanations of the recent remigration tendency among educated Dutch Turks point to the social and political climate in the Netherlands as the dominant push factors, and economic opportunities and the democratization process in Turkey as key pull factors. It is noteworthy that in 2010 the Turkish government decided to set up a special directorate for Turkish citizens who live abroad. This directorate will appoint a board of 55 members and will be headed by the Turkish prime minister. The Netherlands will be represented on the board by three persons. A recurrent topic of conversation for the board will be the highly educated Turkish remigrants, who may fulfill a bridge-building role between the two countries, which celebrate the 400th anniversary of their relations in 2012.