Turkish Migration, the EU and the UK
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
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.