Migration Pulse

Turkish Migration, the EU and the UK

The UK government has strongly backed Turkey’s accession to the European Union in recent years. While last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed French calls to re-start EU accession talks. Yet immigration remains a major concern for Western governments, which raises the questions about Turkey’s status as a source of immigration. As EU-Turkey talks restart, this is likely to remain an important issue in the coming months.
March 14, 2013
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Ibrahim Sirkeci

Ibrahim Sirkeci is Professor of Transnational Studies at Regent's College London and Director of Regent's Centre for Transnational Studies. He researches and writes about migration, conflict, minorities, mobility and consumers with a particular focus on Turkey and Middle East. He is co-author of Cultures of Migration , and the editor of Migration Letters journal. He is the chair of Turkish Migration Conference.


Immigration is making people and governments anxious around the world. The UK is also plagued with – often negative – debates on immigration. The largest and visible immigrant groups are taking the lion share of this scaremongering discourse. Immigrants from Turkey represent significant minorities in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland but not in the UK. Out of a total diaspora population of around 5 million, only 91,115 Turkish-born are reported to be in the UK according to the 2011 census.

However, the number of Turkish-born who became UK citizens in the last three decades is in excess of 78,000 along with nearly 40,000 asylum seekers and over 60,000 settlement visas granted. During the last decade, about 80,000 visas per annum were issued to Turkish citizens. The numbers admitted at borders reached 212,000 in 2011. Given the history of immigration of Turks and Kurds in the UK spanning over five decades, with Turkish Cypriots being the early movers, the total size of Turkish-born and Turkish origin minority is much larger than the official figures. Indeed, border statistics indicate an increasingly heavy traffic between the two countries. Therefore Turkey and immigration is likely to remain as important issues in the years ahead.

However, things have changed since Turks first started arriving the in the UK. Turkey has been one of very few countries who reported significant economic growth despite the global financial crisis and expected to continue on that trend in the near future. In Turkey, average income level is ten times higher today than what it was 20 years ago, when large outflows of asylum seekers from the country was the norm. During the last 5 years, for example, more people migrated from Germany to Turkey than the other way around. This is significant given the fact that Germany has been historically “the” destination country for millions of Turks.

Increasingly more anecdotal evidence appears to suggest Turkey is becoming a substantial migrant destination country. According to the Turkish Statistics Office, about 1.4 million foreign-born individuals are resident in Turkey. Germany and Britain are the two largest countries of origin for immigrants in Turkey. A stable economy and politics, combined with a warm and secure location, means Turkey is likely to be a prime destination for retirees from the UK and northern Europe, for example.

The Gallup World Poll data shows a significantly lower level of desire to migrate from Turkey (13%) compared to the UK (26%), France (19%) and Germany (18%). However, for those Turks who would like to emigrate, Europe is still the number one destination. Existing Turkish immigrant communities and networks in the UK means it will remain as a popular destination for Turks and Kurds. The UK may also enjoy a disproportionate share of Turks with higher qualifications as English is the medium of instruction in many Turkish universities.

All these scenarios are closely tied to Turkey’s accession to the EU. A strong and prospering Turkish economy within the EU would mean her citizens can freely travel around the continent. Given the costs of migration and economic prospects at home, many are unlikely to be interested in immigrating to the UK or elsewhere. They may simply join the transnational social and economic space of Europe. However, Turkey’s human rights record, the Kurdish issue, legal and political state of affairs are indicators of why fleeing Turkey will remain an option for some Turks, Kurds and others.

Whether Turkey with its currently strong economy and large population is better within the EU or with its porous borders in a neighbourhood of serious conflicts stays outside the EU is a question yet to be answered.


Yes, Turkey's economy is getting better recently but not fairly, rich get richer and gap is getting bigger and bigger, Money comes to Turkey because of So called Arabic Spring, privitasion of state assests, high interst rates to the lenders from all over the world. The gap between import and export almost 70 billion Euros...
New pressures on democratic media and trade unions are other aspects of recent wealth of certain people which close to ruling people. War mongering is a nice excuse of step on opposition and imprisoment of 91 jurnalists...
The human rights under the steps of goverment who has lost record number of cases at European Human Rights court is the strawbery on their bitter cake for ordinary people of Turkey.

Yeah another load of muslims heading our way then eh?

Don't you think there will be more Brits heading to Turkey?

immigration remains a major concern for Western governments how can immigration remain a major concern for western governments' when the Camerons Tory party have done a deal with western government leaders to with hold what is happening with the July 2012 migration laws to their people of their western countries also all media globally it is only when expats want to return to their own country such as the UK that they cant return with their spouses.. So David Cameron why don't you tell the truth about how you are changing from a western democratic country to a communist dictatorship with your people and media plus world media shut down.

How about Turkey handing back Cyprus which has been stolen?

The last thing the EU needs is more crooks.

To person who wrote:

" How about Turkey handing back Cyprus which has been stolen?
The last thing the EU needs is more crooks. "

You are a moron, you need to read the history a little, and learn your facts before you speak about stolen land.

From 1570 to 1878 Cyprus was an Ottoman Empire's land and then it was rented to British Empire, however because after the first world war Turkey was weak British Empire kept the land which I guess it would count for stolen the land, and 1960 it became indepedent which had a 60-70 % Christian and 30-40% Muslim population and problems between the 2 groups got worse and worse, until 1974.