The costs of immigration to Germany and Western Europe – a meta-analysis

_ Dr. Jan Moldenhauer, economist and chairman, Friedrich Friesen Foundation. Magdeburg,  2018.*

“It is a politician’s foremost question what he can do with his people’s money, and what he can do for these people. This money is our tax money. And with this money you are giving your country the most valuable thing you have. You are giving away a part of your lifetime with your tax money. Because money is nothing other than clotted lifetime.”

– Björn Höcke, November 2015.

Meta-analyses combine a large number of studies and statistics into one synopsis. Study results and statistical surveys are therefore evaluated and compared in order to ensure an overview of the study and data situation in a research area. In the following, available study results and statistics on the economic, fiscal and welfare state cost-benefit balance of immigration to Germany (1) and other Western European countries (2) in past decades are presented in chronological order. The period of investigation begins in 1955 with the beginning of the FRG guest worker program and ends in 2015 with the beginning of the migration crisis (Klaus 2016) to Germany and Western Europe and consequently covers a period of 60 years. On this basis, a balance is drawn up with regard to the validity of economic immigration legitimacy logic (3).

1. Costs of immigration to Germany


In 1955 the first Italian guest workers entered Germany. In 1960 the first Spaniards and Greeks arrived, from 1961 Turks, from 1963 Moroccans and South Koreans, from 1965 Tunisians and from 1968 Yugoslavs. In 1973, the German guest worker program was discontinued as a result of the first major oil price shock and the associated global economic crisis and rising unemployment figures in Germany. From a private-sector perspective, the guest workers may have paid off in the context of entrepreneurial profit maximization. From a state budget and welfare state perspective, i.e., with regard to maximizing tax revenue while minimizing welfare state benefits, the guest worker program has not been worthwhile on balance. This applies in particular to the inclusion of the guest workers who have remained in Germany, especially those of Turkish origin, including families who have followed and their descendants. The relatively small economic benefits generated by the guest workers were limited to the early years of the recruitment program (Caldwell 2009a: 26).


According to the Federal Statistical Office, the number of foreigners in Germany rose from 3 million to 7.3 million between 1971 and 2003, while the number of employed foreigners subject to social security contributions remained constant at 1.8 million (Steltzner 2010). A large part of the immigration did not take place in the labour market, but in the social systems. In 1973, the year the recruitment of guest workers was stopped, 65 percent of foreigners in Germany had a job, in 1983 it was only 38 percent (Caldwell 2009b), in 2003 only 24.7 percent (1.8 of 7.3 million). Thus, between 1973 and 1983 the relative employment rate of immigrants fell from two thirds to one third and between 1983 and 2003 from one third to one quarter.

Between 1980 and 1996, the number of native social welfare recipients in Germany doubled, while the number of foreign social welfare recipients increased thirteenfold (Weiss 2012: 391). In 1996, according to an internal report by the Federal Ministry of Health, foreigners already made up the majority in numerous groups of recipients of social benefits (IfS 2010: 36).


In 2001, professor Herwig Birg from the Institute for Population Research and Social Policy at the University of Bielefeld published a report on behalf of the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior entitled ‘Effects and Costs of Immigration to Germany’ (Birg 2001). The study comes to the conclusion that the average payments made by immigrants to the German state only exceed the average withdrawals from state support and social security systems after a stay of more than 25 years. In the first 25 years, there is a redistribution effect in favour of the immigrants and to the detriment of the state, which the study puts at an average of 1,331 euros per year and a total of 33,275 euros. According to the calculations, in 2000 around 5.5 million of the 7.3 million foreigners living in Germany at the time, i.e., 75.3 percent of all foreigners, benefited from an excess of government payments in relation to the government taxes they paid (Kummer 2002). Birg (2001: 22) sums it up: “A major reason for the redistribution from locals to immigrants is the much higher unemployment benefit rate among immigrants […] and the difference in the social assistance rate.” Consequently, Birg pleaded for a proactive German family policy as an alternative to a continued (lower class) immigration.

According to a study by the Munich ifo Institute from 2001, an immigrant with a stay of less than ten years withdraws an average of 2,400 euros more from the German state coffers than he pays in each year. The authors of the study arrived at this finding by extrapolating all taxes and social security contributions paid by foreigners between 1955 and 2000 and offsetting them against transfer payments made by the state. Common goods such as training and education costs were also included in the calculation. Only after a continuously gainfully employed stay of more than 25 years do the public budgets “profit” with a positive net tax balance (Sinn et al. 2001).


The study ‘An overall fiscal balance of immigration to Germany’ published by the Research Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in 2002 comes to the conclusion that the overall fiscal balance of immigration to the FRG that has taken place up to that point was negative (Bonin 2002) . The authors of the study warn that further immigration to Germany is only beneficial “if future immigrants quickly reach the fiscal capacity of the current population.” (Bonin 2002: Abstract) In retrospect and in relation to the present, it must be stated that the rapid fiscal adjustment required at the time did and does not usually take place.


A study by the Bertelsmann Foundation published in 2008 puts the annual follow-up costs of refusal to integrate in Germany at 16 billion euros and warns of future follow-up costs that will increase significantly if numerous immigrants continue to be resistant to integration (Elger et al. 2009).


In 2010, Gunnar Heinsohn (2010) summed up the costs of immigration to the FRG: “The hardworking people in Germany, who take care of many millions of people with little education and their constantly increasing offspring, can feel proud. […] Germany already had a trillion euros in special debts […] in 2007 for migrants who take more out of the social systems than they can pay into them due to poor school performance and other handicaps. Each of the 25 million full-time net taxpayers owes 40,000 euros for this historically unique task alone.”

The first guest worker agreement was concluded in Rome in 1955. At that time there were hardly any foreigners living in Germany apart from the occupation troops of the victorious allied powers. The ‘special debts’ of one trillion euros were accumulated over a period of 52 years (1955-2007). For the said period, the average annual ‘special debt’ is accordingly 19.2 billion euros. The federal government’s debts currently amount to around 2.1 trillion euros. After deducting special debts caused by immigration up to 2007, the federal government’s debt would amount to a mere 1.1 trillion euros. Due to special debts that have already been incurred and will continue to accrue, future generations of young Germans will be exposed to significant debt repayment burdens. Given the current demographic development, these repayment burdens are devastating.

According to a press release by the then ruling CDU-SPD federal government in 2010, “around 40 percent of Hartz IV recipients were migrants” (quoted from Ulfkotte 2010: 30). In 2010, the German federal budget was burdened with 44.6 billion euros by expenditure on Hartz IV cash benefits. The payment of Hartz IV funds to migrants – i.e., to foreigners and foreign German passport holders – amounted to around 18 billion euros. This amount does not even include the costs for other Hartz IV benefits such as housing benefit, heating costs, contributions to pension and health insurance and other benefits such as furniture, wallpaper or refrigerators. Taking these cost factors into account, the expenses for foreign Hartz IV recipients in 2010 amounted to around 53.5 billion euros, according to a calculation by Udo Ulfkotte.

In 2010, the federal, state and local governments generated state revenues totalling 511.5 billion euros. The relative share of government revenue that was spent on foreign Hartz IV recipients was around 10.5 percent of total revenue. In 2010, 75 percent of the immigrants supported by Hartz IV had no professional training, 20 percent refused to learn German. As a result, the future prospects of most Hartz IV immigrants on the German labour market were extremely unfavourable (Ulfkotte 2010: 30).


November 2014

In November 2014, leading German media reported that foreigners living in Germany paid significantly more taxes and social security contributions than they cost the state, and that immigration to the FRG was therefore a ‘profit business’. The media coverage referred to a study by the Center for European Economic Research entitled “The Contribution of Foreigners and Future Immigration to the German State Budget”, which was commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation and had appeared shortly before (Bonin 2014). The mainstream media rumoured that foreigners living in Germany paid an average of 3,300 euros more in taxes and social security contributions in 2012 than they received in state benefits. Overall, foreigners in Germany would have generated a plus in taxes and duties of 22 billion euros (Böcking 2014). The reports drew particular attention because the alleged study results contradicted previous study results in Germany and other European countries.

December 2014

A few weeks after the said reporting, the head of the Munich ifo Institute at the time, Hans-Werner Sinn, spoke up. Sinn had subjected the figures published by the media to a critical examination. He then accused the media of having misinterpreted the Bertelsmann study – consciously or unconsciously – and of having incorrectly written of a “billion-dollar gain through immigration”. He also pointed out that the study ultimately came to a negative result with an “implicit financing deficit”, namely an average negative balance of 79,100 euros per immigrant. After scientists from the ifo Institute had added unconsidered cost factors to the negative balance listed in the Bertelsmann study, the ifo Institute calculated a “fiscal net balance per migrant of minus 1,800 euros per year”. Sinn’s finding: “Migration is a loss-making business.” (FAZ 2014)

In this context, Sinn accused the old parties of serious omissions: “The way migration is currently going, it’s going wrong.” The German welfare state acts like a magnet for unqualified lower-class migrants. Germany is the second largest destination country for immigrants but occupies one of the last places in the statistics with regard to the qualification level of the immigrants. Therefore, the previous immigration has proved to be a great burden for the state and social security funds. Sinn’s demand on politicians was: “In view of these circumstances, a debate on migration policy that is free of ideology and not driven by the pursuit of political correctness should finally begin.” (FAZ 2014).

He also warned of dramatic social upheavals in Germany in the case of ongoing trends. Meaning in the wording: “If one wanted to stabilize the ratio of old and young and thus at the same time the relative level of pensions and the contribution rates to the pension insurance at the current level, a total of 32 million young immigrants would be needed, most of them probably from non-European areas.” (FAZ 2014) It is hard to imagine that the German people could muster the necessary power to integrate these numbers. The limits of the ‘welcome culture’ propagated by the political-media complex have long manifested themselves in an extra-parliamentary opposition in the form of the PEGIDA citizens’ movement and other protest alliances (FAZ 2014).

In order to solve the demographic problem in Germany, Sinn demanded – similar to Prof. Herwig Birg in 2001 – “a fundamental and radical change in the distorting incentive structures in tax and pension law in favour of families and children”. Only an active population policy and an associated increase in the number of German children can ultimately solve the demographic and pension fund problem in Germany. In addition, Sinn called for EU immigrants in Germany to only be paid social benefits in the amount of the social benefits in their home country (FAZ 2014).

Unsurprisingly, Sinn’s statements met with fierce opposition. Representative of the negative reception, especially in left media organs, reference is made to a contribution to the debate by the Spiegel journalists Demling and Rickens (2014), who unsuccessfully tried to refute “Hans-Werner Sinn’s migrant mathematics” by citing short-term marginal costs with questionable calculation examples. The following sentence in the article is particularly revealing: “Sinn defends himself against this view [of Demling and Rickens] – with reference to economic theory.” With what else? Of course, economic debates are conducted with reference to economic theorems. In the further course of the article, Demling and Rickens try to distract from the economic context of the meaningless debate because of their weak economic arguments with cheap polemics and multicultural and culinary enrichment rhetoric: “Does the AfD have a new chief economist? […] Outside of regulars’ tables and Pegida demonstrations, the consensus has so far been that immigrants are good for Germany. Not just because they make the Federal Republic more colourful and the menus in our restaurants more varied.” Because Sinn dared to disrupt this supposed (!) social consensus, he came under attack from the leftists.

The chairman of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg, also contradicted Sinn. His economic calculation was allegedly “not tenable”. The reason Landsberg gave: The ‘social reality’ contradicts Sinn’s theses. However, Sinn’s contribution to the debate referred to economic and not to alleged social realities. According to Landsberg, many so-called ‘refugees’ – to whom Sinn did not refer explicitly at all – are well educated and are quickly placed in work (Handelsblatt 2014). While this account is incorrect, it remained unchallenged in the debate.

January 2015

As a result of the economically unfounded and often polemical contradiction, Sinn (2015) spoke again in early 2015 in a guest article for the FAZ newspaper. In this context, he defended himself against politically correct left-wing hostilities and refuted the substantive criticism of his contribution to the debate:

“Now two journalists from ‘Spiegel Online’ argue that these other state costs cannot be fully attributed to the migrants because they are incurred anyway. One should only calculate the so-called marginal costs. In doing so, the magazine implicitly refers to the short-term marginal costs, which it does not even fully grasp intellectually. Since the assessment of migration strategies involves extremely long-term phenomena, it is of course not the short-term but the long-term marginal costs that are important. […] Seen in this way, the assertion that a marginal cost calculation leads to a more positive assessment of migration than the average cost calculation used by the ifo Institute on the basis of the actual state budget is misguided. The opposite is the case.”

In addition, Sinn cited the negative findings of the Bertelsmann study in relation to the fiscal balance of immigration to Germany. The study sums it up: “If foreigners are charged a share of general state expenditures – defence, road construction, etc. – according to their share of the population, their fiscal balance ends up in deficit.” (Sinn 2015). In this context, Sinn referred (2015) again to the lifelong deficit of 79,100 euros calculated by the study authors and the lower class migration to Germany: “Since Germany’s immigrants, as the latest OECD statistics impressively show, have below-average qualifications, they earn below-average and therefore benefit from the redistribution activity of the welfare state.”

February 2015

In February 2015, the business journalist Dorothea Siems (2015) joined the then ifo chief economist with her own contribution to the debate:

“They wanted to silence Hans-Werner Sinn. An unprecedented attack was intended to hit Germany’s most prominent economists. It shows how the guild adapts to the zeitgeist and tries to discredit the annoying regulatory policy. […] The man became uncomfortable to them. If there is one economist who regularly puts German politicians in a difficult position to explain, then it is Hans-Werner Sinn. Whether immigration, euro rescue, climate change or the welfare state – the head of the ifo Institute interferes with his razor-sharp analyses in all relevant social debates and cares very little about political correctness. For leftists and trade unionists, the professor with the distinctive captain’s beard is a neoliberal and has always been viewed as an enemy. In the meantime, the Union, which used to often seek his advice, has also distanced itself. […] Most recently, the pugnacious researcher caused a sensation with calculations that immigrants are a loss for the tax authorities. […] In fact, Sinn, who repeatedly calls for uncomfortable reforms, is not a populist, he is just not willing to adapt his findings to the consensus-loving zeitgeist. […] Sinn remains politically incorrect, fortunately.”

A study published in February 2015 by the Institute for State Policy (IfS) entitled ‘The Enrichment Myth – The Costs of Immigrating to Germany’ also deals with the Bertelsmann study and the debate initiated by Sinn. As part of a cost-benefit calculation with regard to immigration to Germany, the authors of the study identify further unconsidered cost factors. The IfS working group on immigration and integration states:

“Neither the Bertelsmann study nor Sinn took into account various cost factors that immigration entails. The same applies to the costs incurred through crime by foreigners and the money that has to be raised annually for the integration and care of immigrants. The outflow of capital, which occurs in Germany because foreigners send money earned in this country back to their home countries, was not included in the calculations. Just like the rising rents due to the increasing scarcity of living space and the falling wages due to an oversupply of workers in certain areas. The economic damage caused by undeclared work by foreigners, especially in the trades, in construction, as well as in the service and care sector, as well as the loss in value of real estate in residential areas where the proportion of foreigners or asylum seekers is increasing due to the construction of refugee homes, was not included in the calculations. The same applies to the sums that the state invests in the education and training of foreigners, who then leave Germany, pay no taxes in this country and also no longer contribute to a more positive demographic development in Germany.” (IfS 2015: 29)

Taking into account the factors mentioned by the IfS, the negative fiscal balance of foreigners in Germany would be even more unfavourable than the 79,100 euros reported in the Bertelsmann study.

2. Cost of immigration to Western Europe


In 1994, only 29 percent of migrants came to France to work, while 71 percent came for family reunification, to apply for asylum or for other reasons (Caldwell 2009a: 49).

According to calculations by the French taxpayers’ association from 2008, the fiscal costs of French immigration policy exceed state revenues by 30.4 billion euros per year (Benoist 2012: 127).

Great Britain

In 1997, only 12 percent of immigrants came to work in the UK (Caldwell 2009a: 49). A study published in 2014 by University College London entitled “The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK” examines the fiscal effects of intra- and extra-European immigration to the UK between 1995 and 2011. During the study period, non-European immigrants weighed heavily on the UK treasury on balance at 120 billion British pounds. The balance of European immigrants, on the other hand, was slightly positive at 4.4 billion British pounds. The cost-benefit analysis takes into account, among other things, costs in school and health care as well as unemployment benefit payments and other transfer payments (Dustmann and Frattini 2014). Critics of the study point out that “some significant costs” were not taken into account, meaning that the actual costs of immigration are significantly higher (Junge Freiheit 2014). It remains unclear what effects the inclusion of disregarded cost factors would have on the slightly positive balance of European immigrants. The British Home Secretary at the time and now Prime Minister Theresa May had already spoken in 2010 of “unacceptable pressure” on the social systems caused by immigration (Welt 2010).


A study entitled “Immigration and the Dutch Economy”, published in 2003 by the Central Plan Bureau, which is affiliated with the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, found that it takes immigrants 25 years or more of continuous employment to provide a positive net payment to the state security systems. The study also ascertains a significant redistribution effect in favour of the foreign population and to the disadvantage of the indigenous population. The redistribution effect in favour of foreigners amounts to an average of 43,000 euros in the case of an immigrant at the age of 25 for the entire remaining life span. The authors of the study conclude that mass migration is not an effective means of compensating for the financial consequences of aging society and warn of the social and cultural consequences of massive immigration (Spits 2003; Vlasblom 2010).

In 2009, 40 percent of immigrants in the Netherlands lived mainly on social transfers (Vlasblom 2010). A 2010 study by the Nyenrode Forum for Economic Research entitled “Budgetaire effecten van immigratie van niet-westeren allochthonen” (English: Budget effects of immigration of non-western allochthones) concludes that an average 25 to 35 year old non-Western migrant costs the state between 40,000 and 50,000 euros. The study’s finding is based on examining the economic viability of 25,000 non-Western immigrants, most of whom were Turks and Moroccans. According to the study, the annual costs for the public sector in the event of a net immigration of 25,000 non-Western migrants and an additional 25,000 family migrants per year amount to around 7.2 billion euros (Bauch 2010: 17; IfS 2015: 19; Ulfkotte 2010: 21, 44).

Also in 2010, the Dutch economist Pieter Lakemann calculated that immigrants burden the Dutch state budget with 5.9 billion euros per year (Vlasblom 2010).

The dissertation by the economist Jan van der Beek, published in 2010, examines the economic consequences of mass immigration to the Netherlands between 1960 and 2005 and how it was tabooed by the Dutch elite. Van der Beek writes about the economic consequences: “The recruitment of guest workers in the 1960s was an economic catastrophe. The state intended to keep wage costs low, but we would have been better advised to allow them to rise.” The economist writes of the reasons why the Dutch functional elites concealed the “economic catastrophe”: “In the 1980s and 1990s they feared the rise of right-wing parties. […] That is why we were kept in the blue from the true cost of migration. […] This circumstance resulted in a [social] knowledge gap.” (Vlasblom 2010; trans. by the author).


In Norway, in the 2000s, non-Western foreigners were ten times more likely to receive welfare benefits than native Norwegians (Fjordman 2011: 44).


For a long time, Sweden was considered a model country for integration. Therefore, the statistics available in the Scandinavian country are of particular interest for assessing the feasibility of foreigners’ ‘labour market integration’. The population of Sweden before the mass migration began in 2015 was 86 percent native and 14 percent foreign. Although foreigners made up “only” 14 percent of the resident population, their share of the unemployed of working age was 48 percent (long-term unemployed: 42 percent). Even after 15 years of residence, 40 percent of the foreigners were still unemployed. In addition, this population group claimed 58 percent of social benefits even before the modern migration to Europe began, and 45 percent of the children with the worst school performance were also of migrant origin. The employed migrants earned on average 40 percent less than locals due to their poor qualifications (Heinsohn 2015). As a result of the mass migration to Sweden since 2015, the statistical values given will continue to deteriorate in the coming years.


In 2010, 80 percent of the social benefits paid out in Switzerland were claimed by foreigners, asylum seekers and recently naturalized people (Köppel 2014).

3. Costs of immigration – a balance sheet

The SPD parliamentary group leader in the German Bundestag, Thomas Oppermann, claims: “Without immigration we would not have any surpluses in the social security funds. And without immigration we would run into an economic disaster.” (cited in IfS 2015: 4) A meta-analysis of available cost-benefit analysis and statistics shows that Oppermann’s statement diametrically contradicts the empirical situation. It is therefore a false claim. Even before the mass immigration to Germany began in 2015, immigrants in Germany (foreigners and ethnically non-German nationals) were by no means generating surpluses for the social security funds. The “economic disaster” invoked by Oppermann is not threatening because of a lack of immigration, but because of mass (lower-class) immigration.

According to the leftist worldview, “immigrants […] come from regions of the Third World affected by drought and hunger, such as Africa, to work in the First World, to pay pension contributions and to work in nursing homes for the aging European native population.” (Caldwell 2009b) The sobering reality, however, is different: “Capitalists and socialists were wrong: uncontrolled immigration to Europe does not provide a lasting gain. It has neither benefited the economy nor does it stabilize the welfare state – on the contrary.” (Caldwell 2009b) In this context, Abt (2010: 14) correctly writes of the “myth of the economic viability of immigration”.

The Institute for State Policy balances and forecasts the fiscal sense of past, present and future immigration to the FRG:

“So far, Germany has not benefited from immigration, but has paid a high price for it. It’s not even about Germany’s internal security and cultural identity, but about the benefits of immigration from a fiscal perspective. The record here is disastrous. If one takes all the available figures and studies, a clear picture emerges: the negative balance of immigration will not be balanced out in the future either. Immigration does not solve any of our problems arising from Germany’s demographic decline. […] There is no rational reason that makes immigration a necessity for the preservation of Germany. Enrichment through immigration is a myth.” (IfS 2015: 38)

We note: The present meta-analysis proves that the previous immigration to Germany from an economic, fiscal and social state perspective has by no means turned out to be a profit, but rather a loss-making business. Due to immigration to the Federal Republic of Germany – this applies in particular to immigration from a remote cultural background – and the associated gradual decline of the industriousness of the resident population, the Germans are not enriched economically, but impoverished. This finding applies equally to numerous other Western European countries. As a result of the migration of peoples, particularly to the Federal Republic of Germany, but also to other Western European countries, the developments depicted in the meta-analysis will become more acute in the coming years.


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* Translated and republished with kind permission by the author from the original publication: Moldenhauer J. (2018). Die Kosten der Zuwanderung in die BRD und nach Westeuropa – eine Meta-Analyse. Friedrich-Friesen-Stiftung. URL:

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