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Turkey

Turkey profits from German 'brain drain'

Turkey is trying to attract skilled workers from Germany. Many Germans of Turkish origin are choosing to make their future in Turkey, where they believe they have a bettter chance of setting up their own companies.

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Goldenes Horn in Istanbul

Eighteen months ago, Dilek Keser decided to leave Germany and make a new life for herself in Turkey.

"I don't regret it for a moment," she says now. Before she left, she was working as the general manager of a company, but she wasn't happy with her prospects in the job.

Now Keser, who was born 36 years ago in Hanover to a Turkish family, has her own business managing real estate in Istanbul. It's a German-Turkish company, looking after the property of European and US investors, and earning both euros and Turkish lira.

"Initially it was important for me to continue to earn European money," she told Deutsche Welle. "But I don't need that any longer."

With German training and language skills in German, Turkish and English, she had particularly good chances on the Turkish labor market.

'Send skilled workers to Turkey'

Many Germans of Turkish descent like Dilek Keser are going back to the homeland of their parents and grandparents. Official German statistics show that 31,000 people moved from Turkey to Germany in 2011, but 33,000 moved in the other direction. It's a trend which has continued since 2006.

Dilek Keser Photo: Dana Alexandra Scherle

Keser has made a better future for herself in Istanbul

One of the main reasons is the high level of Turkish economic growth and the good chances of getting a job. The Turkish industry minister, Nihat Ergün, was in Berlin recently, where he spoke about the good economic conditions in his country: "Germany should send skilled workers to Turkey," he said, "and not the other way round." And he said that Germans without Turkish roots would also be very welcome.

Following the start of the Turkish "guest worker" program in Germany in 1961, 750,000 Turks came to Germany before the program ended in 1973. Ergün says Turkey lost so many workers to Germany as a result that he doesn't want to see any similar agreement in future.

Turkish Germans are an economic motor

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants to turn Turkey into one of the most important economies in the world by 2023. In 2011, growth was 8.5 percent, and the construction and energy sectors are booming.

But Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) in Istanbul, says that "2013 will be a critical year for Turkey" on account of the economic problems of the EU: "Forty percent of Turkish exports go to the EU and 85 percent of foreign direct investment in Turkey comes from the EU."

But Ulgen emphasizes that, especially in economically difficult times, Turkish workers from German play a particularly important role. "Turkey is hoping to exploit the know-how of people with Turkish roots who were trained in Germany," he told Deutsche Welle. "They are in better financial circumstances, and that alone puts them in a better position to set up companies and create jobs." He believes that Turkey has a varied economy which gives people who want to set up businesses more options than they would have in Germany.

Istanbul port
Copyright: DW

The Turkish economic boom has attracted many German Turks back to the homeland

Tolga Sandikci would have to agree with that. He was born in Munich, but he came to Turkey five years ago. In Germany he was a manager in a factory; now he has his own company and sells ice surfaces for ice-skating rinks.

"After just three months, I already had some 400 orders," he recalls. "In Germany, the company could never have grown so fast. There are so many business ideas which still haven't been done in Turkey."

But Sandikci warns against naïve optimism: "There are big differences in mentality - I've only noticed since I've been living in Turkey how German I am." One difference is that there's a much bigger risk of being cheated in Turkey than there is in Germany, the business owner notes.

Economic bubble

But the Turkish economist and business journalist Mustafa Sönmez warns that the boom has a dark side: "Foreign investment in construction has created a dangerous bubble." Turkey should restrain the construction industry and build up the industrial sector, which has been seriously neglected, he says.  "We're an importing country, but we must do more for exports so that the Turkish economy becomes less vulnerable."

And he adds that this is more important than attracting German-trained workers.

But if the outlook in Turkey should get worse, or the difference in mentality should get too big, Turkish Germans have one big advantage: "I can always go back to Germany," says Sandikci. Having two homelands is "a blessing."

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