Guest Workers

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Term used in Germany and other European countries for migrant workers from Mediterranean countries, especially Turkey.

The migration of Turks to Europe in search of work started in the late 1950s and accelerated after the first bilateral agreement was signed between Turkey and West Germany in October 1961. A series of treaties widened the field of host countriesAustria (May 1964), France (April 1966), Sweden (March 1967), and Australia (October 1967). Between 1961 and 1973, almost a million workers went from Turkey to Western Europe. The program was phased out following the oil crisis and economic recession

that hit Europe beginning in late 1973. The majority of guest workers, however, resisted repatriation programs and remained in Germany and other countries. By 2000, the guest workers and their dependents from Turkey constituted Germany's largest ethnic minority community, numbering about 2 million Turks, with about one-third under age 18. They owned over 30,000 small businesses, providing more than 100,000 jobs.

In France, the majority of foreign workersthe term guest workers is not used in Franceare Arab migrants from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. They constitute France's largest ethnic minority, numbering with dependents over 2 million in 2000. During the 1990s, several thousand people, mostly young men, began to enter the European Union countries illegally from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon in hopes to finding jobs; some "disappeared" in the wide community of foreign workers while others claimed political refugee status.

In the Middle East, the oil-producing monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula hosted more than four million foreign workers throughout the 1990s. Prior to 1990, the majority of these guest workers were Arabs from Egypt and Yemen and Palestinians. During the 1990s, the majority of foreign workers gradually became non-Arab Asians such as Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos, and Thais.

Through the years, migrant workers have sent substantial remittances home to their native countries, and for Egypt and Turkey in particular, these remittances have helped to ease balance of trade deficits. The foreign migrants, especially Turks in Germany and Arabs in France, generally are not well integrated into their host countries, a situation that has affected their children more keenly than the parents. By the early 2000s, a generation of migrant worker children had matured to adulthood in Europe; a majority of these young adults have cited their experiences with various subtle and overt forms of discrimination.


Abadan-Unat, Nermin. Turkish Workers in Europe, 19601975: A Socio-economic Reappraisal. Leiden: Brill, 1976.

eric hooglund