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Three Periods of Migration in Europe

From the 1950s to 1974: Guest Worker Schemes and Decolonization

In the period after the Second World War, North-Western Europe was economically booming. Industrial production, for example, increased by 30 % between 1953 and 1958 (Dietz and Kaczmarczyk 2008). Native workers in this region became increasingly educated, and growing possibilities for social mobility enabled many of them to move up to white-collar work (Boyle et al. 1998). Local workers could not fill the vacancies, as labour reservoirs were limited. Furthermore, the local native population was no longer willing to take up unhealthy and poorly paid jobs in agriculture, cleaning, construction, and mining. As a result, North-Western European governments started to recruit labour in peripheral countries. The main destination countries were Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland. The recruited foreign workers were expected to return home after completing a stint of labour. They therefore tended to be granted few rights and little or no access to welfare support (Boyle et al. 1998). At the end of this period, most migrants in North-Western Europe originated from Algeria, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yugoslavia.

Initially, geographical proximity played an important role in the development of specific migration flows. For example, Sweden recruited labour from Finland, the UK from Ireland, and Switzerland from Italy. A migration system emerged whereby peripheral—especially Southern European—countries supplied workers to North-Western European countries. Migration flows were strongly guided by differences in economic development between regions characterized by pre-industrial agrarian economies and those with highly industrialized economies (Bade 2003; Barou 2006), both internationally and nationally (e.g., with unskilled workers moving from Southern Italy towards the industrial centres in Northern Italy). Within the origin countries, most migrant workers were from poor agricultural regions where there was insufficient work, such as Northern Portugal, Western Spain, Southern Italy, and Northern Greece (Bade 2003). However, European governments gradually enlarged their zones of recruitment to countries outside Europe. One of the main reasons was the Cold War division of Europe which severely restricted East-West labour mobility. In West Germany, for example, there was a significant inflow of workers from Greece, Italy, and Spain, as well as from East Germany. The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, however, put a stop to the latter. As a result, West Germany reoriented its recruitment towards elsewhere. Bilateral agreements were signed with Turkey (1961), Morocco (1963), Portugal (1964), Tunisia (1965), and Yugoslavia (1968). Other destination countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland followed, also signing labour migration agreements with these countries in the 1960s.

In this period, international migration was generally viewed positively because of its economic benefits (Bonifazi 2008), from the perspective of both the sending and the receiving countries. In the Mediterranean region, for example, emigration helped to alleviate pressures on the labour market, as the region was characterized by significant demographic pressure, low productivity and incomes, and high unemployment (Page Moch 2003; Vilar 2001). A comparison of annual gross national product per capita in the 1960s illustrates this with US $353 for Turkey, $822 for Spain, and $1272 for Italy; $1977 for the UK and $2324 for France (Page Moch 2003, 180). Furthermore, migrants' remittances were expected to benefit the national economy. In Turkey, for example, the monetary returns of migrants became a vital element of the economy: the country even experienced economic destabilization when labour migration to Germany ended in 1974 (Barou 2006). However, reasons for origin countries to support emigration went beyond the economic. The Italian government, for example, considered the labour migration programmes of North-Western European countries as a way to 'get rid of the unemployed and to deprive the socialist and communist parties of potential voters' (Hoerder 2002, 520).

Estimates of the numbers of individuals that left Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal between 1950 and 1970 vary from 7 to 10 million (Okólski 2012). As can be seen from Table 3.1, in 1950 immigrant populations were most numerous in France, the UK, Germany, and Belgium.

Twenty years later, at the beginning of the 1970s, these numbers had increased substantially in both absolute and relative terms (Table 3.1). One in seven manual labourers in the UK and one in four industrial workers in Belgium, France, and Switzerland were of foreign origin in the mid-1970s (Page Moch 2003, not in table). Eighty per cent of the total foreign stock in 1975 was concentrated in four countries, namely France, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK (Bonifazi 2008).

At the same time, the process of decolonization gave rise to considerable migration flows towards Europe's (former) colonial powers. A significant number of people from the colonies came to Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the UK, and in the 1970s, Portugal. Many of these (return) migrants were juridically considered

Table 3.1 Minority populations in the main Western-European countries of immigration, 1950– 1975 (thousands and last column % of total population)






As per cent of total population 1975













West Germany
























United Kingdom






Source: Castles et al. (2014, 108). See Castles et al. (1984, 87–88) for detailed sources

Notes: Figures for all countries except the UK are for foreign residents. They exclude naturalized persons and immigrants from the Dutch and French colonies. UK data are census figures for 1951, 1961, and 1971 and estimates for 1975. The 1951 and 1961 data are for overseas-born persons and exclude children born to immigrants in the UK. The 1971 and 1975 figures include children born in the UK, with both parents born abroad

citizens; estimates suggest that between 1940 and 1975 the number of people of European origin returning from the colonies was around 7 million (Bade 2003). The main (return) migration flows were from Kenya, India, and Malaysia to the UK, from Northern Africa to France and Italy, from Congo to Belgium (although in smaller numbers), and from Indonesia to the Netherlands (Bade 2003). Some of these migrants, as for example from the new Commonwealth, came for economic reasons (Page Moch 2003). Others, such as the Algerian harkis (auxiliaries in the French colonial army) in France, Asian Ugandans in Britain, and a substantial share of Surinamese in the Netherlands, arrived during or after independence (ibid.). In the 1970s, Portugal received a significant number of citizens “returning” from its former colonies, fleeing from violent combats in the struggle for independence. Although European migrants returning from the colonies were often quickly able to insert themselves into the social fabric of the mother country, this was less the case for those of non-European origin who were economically and socially deprived and also often discriminated (Bade 2003).

Lastly, the Iron Curtain severely limited East-West mobility. Nevertheless, it did not bring East-West migration to a complete halt (Fassmann and Münz 1994). Straddling our period demarcations we discuss these migrations patterns here, as they started in this period. Between 1950 and 1990, 12 million people migrated from East to West (Fassmann and Münz 1992), many of them to Germany. Between 1950 and 2004, for example, 4.45 million Aussiedler—ethnic Germans from Central and Eastern Europe—returned to Germany (Dietz 2006). Until 1988, most of these Aussiedler migrated from Poland (Dietz 2006; Münz and Ulrich 1998). Nevertheless, the largest share of these Aussiedler (63 %) arrived after 1989 (Dietz 2006). The vast majority who came after the fall of the Iron Curtain originated from the former Soviet Union (Dietz 2006; Münz and Ulrich 1998). Occasionally, however, there were larger inflows of Eastern Europeans, following political crises such as from Hungary (1956–1957), Czechoslovakia (1968–1969), and Poland (1980–1981) (Castles et al. 2014; Fassmann and Münz 1992, 1994). In line with the logic of the Cold War, whatever the motives of those who moved to the West, they were considered to be political refugees (Fassmann and Münz 1994).

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