Migration and psychosocial risks

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Connection to other globalization themes:

1. The shift to outsourcing in the developed countries

2. Globalisation Glossary

3. The economic dimension of globalisation

4. Globalisation and civic society

5. Fair Trade and the need of changing consumption patterns


The European Agency for Safety and Health at work offers a lot of information concerning working conditions. On the homepage are a lot of reports and magazines about this subject. The most interesting for me is probably the second magazine [1] describing “The changing word of work” and its influences to health and safety at work.

The organization of economic cooperation and development has a few different papers describing the subject of health and safety at work. The most of the papers are very complex, but I guess I can use them to get to know more about the subject for myself and probably if I need some clear data or statistics.

The Global Wage Report shows the influence of economic growth and globalization to wages around the word. It is published by the International Labor Organization in 2008.

Focus on a particular theme

  • Research question:
 Are there additional psychosocial risks for migrants compared to the local population in Germany? 
  • Thesis statement
 Social status of migrants has consequences for their psychical state and is manifested as additional health risks compared to
 the local population. Migration brings divers fears, hopes, home sickness, xenophobia and cultural and linguistically problems. 
  • List of references
    • "Gut versorgt? Migrantinnen und Migranten im Gesundheits- und Sozialwesen" by Theda Borde, Matthias David, published 2003, Mabuse-Verlag GmbH in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
    • "Migration und Gesundheit" by Sandra Hinz, Angela Keller, Christina Reith, published 2004, Mabuse-Verlag GmbH in Frankfurt am Main, Germany
    • "Gesundheit von Migranten. Internationale Bestandsaufnahme und Perspektive" by Alexander Krämer, Luise Prüfer-Krämer, published 2004, Juventa Verlag in Weinheim and München, Germany
    • "Armut, soziale Ungleichheit und Gesundheit" by Thomas Lampert, Anke-Christine Saß, Michael Häfelinger, Thomas Ziese, published 2005, Robert Koch-Insttut, in Berlin, Germany


  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Definition of the term “migration”
  • 3. Developement of migration in Germany
  • 4. General description of the health situation of migrants in Germany
  • 5. Psychosocial models for migration
    • a. Machleidt: The four phases of the psychological migration process
    • b. Faltermaier: Influences and health processes of migration
  • 6. Discussion
  • 7. Conclusion


In the last decades the passel of migrants in Germany increased enormous. Globalization brought a lot of mobility and the number of people working transnational grew. There have been different times, where foreign people were recruited by German enterprises. Unfortunately the working conditions have not always been good. But migrants are also confronted with a lot of other problems and risks, which are often forgotten. The change of the own country, culture and mentality brings a lot of challenges. There often appear different psychosocial problems when migrants develop bicultural identities. What exactly are these problems? And how could they be decreased?

In the following article I am going to describe the psychosocial risks of migrants in Germany. At first I define the term “migration”. Then I picture the development of migration in Germany in the last decades, followed by a description of the health situation of migrants in Germany. Afterwards I illustrate two models: The first one shows four phases of the psychological migration process (developed by Machleidt). The second paradigm is by Faltermaier and it shows the process of migration and the influence by social changes of migration. In the end I am going to offer a few own ideas for improvements concerning the psychosocial health risks in Germany. Finally I am going to write a short conclusion.

Definition of the term “migration”

Migration is an important subject concerning globalization, but what exactly does it mean? Mostly migration is defined as a movement of an individual or a group of people from one area to another over a long distance. This change includes a variation of the domicile. Even if the first and second generation of migrants, also growing up with bicultural identities, can still have the same problems as their parents, they do not fit in the definition of migration as described above.

This definition of migration can now be distinguished into immigration, the process of moving to another country, and into emigration, the process of leaving a country. The people who relocated are called migrants.

Developement of migration in Germany

The derivation of migrants in Germany changed over the years. From begin of the 1950s to the reintegration in Germany in 1990 the number of migrants decupled. One big reason for this phenomenon is the recruitment of guest workers in this time. Most of them came from the Mediterranean area. After the stop of recruitment in 1973, there was a small decrease, which was however followed by a period of moving in of the families of the guest workers. Until now, the group of these foreign workers and their families represent the major part of people with migration background in Germany. In the end of 2001 the greatest part of migrants came from European countries. Most immigrants in Germany have their origins in Turkey, Italy or Yugoslavia. Later, there was also an increasing number of refugees moving to Germany. In 2005, there were 7,3 million foreign people in Germany , a quantity, which almost remained constant in the last years. The German Federal Statistic Office quoted that there were 479.783 registered migrants in Germany in 2006.

General description of the health situation of migrants in Germany

There are mainly three aspects playing a role in the health situation of migrants. First, there is a social inequality. Often migration brings a low social state and therewith risks. In the German state of healthcare the rules do not benefit German citizens or discriminate people with other backgrounds or with lower social status. Nevertheless there are other difficulties migrants have to confront. Partial they bring (job) certifications which are not accepted in Germany. Normally, it also needs time until one established a social network in a foreign country with its own rules.

Second, migrants have to confront a different language and culture. At last migration affects the individual path of live, as well as the development of the family over several generations. Studies of the German company health insurance fund describe that more not-German people show occupational diseases than German people. A reason can be the lack of comprehension. Sometimes foreigners do not or to late understand important warnings. Often they are not briefed correctly and neatly enough. Another reason can be that a lot of migrants in Germany work in occupations which are very risky (often in the agriculture and the building and construction industry).

Other than that mentioned, migration brings a lot of psychosocial burdens, which can also cause health risks. In the following I am going concentrate on these problems.

Psychosocial models for migration

As mentioned before, living between two cultures can arouse a lot of psychosocial problems. In the opinion of Prof. Dr. med. Wieland Machleidt, the process of migration has an important influence on the well-being and the development of psychological diseases. He describes the physical and psychological process of migration in a model with four different phases. Even though it is not expected that the process of migration includes all phases, in the most cases there appear different elements of this model. It is build up in a simple way and disregards if the migration has taking place in the first or the second generation. One also has to select the compatible motivations of the migration (work, education, escape). Nevertheless the model offers a good overview of psychical problems, which can appear.

The first phase represents the first personal contact with the new country and its culture. The migrant is often curious, enthusiastic and idealizes the idea of living in the new country. For example if he goes there to work, he probably expects a better living standard; if he goes there for education, he expects to reach certifications, which seem to promise better work chances. Sometimes problems in the new country (for example a different language and culture) are neglected, because of the deep wish to change the own actual situation. One can see that there are different possible expectations from migrants which do not always agree with the real situation in the host country.

Moving in the new country can bring up further problems. These are described in Machleidts next stage. It shows a critical phase of adaption. Migrants have to confront the new life situation to integrate socially and occupational. The accommodation to new cultural values leads to reflections about the own cultural values. The own values are probably no longer important for the existence in the new country. The migrants did not build up a bicultural identity until now. This phase can cause a lot of stress and therewith psychosomatic consequences are possible.

The last phase is characterized by grief. During their adjustment process migrants separate parts of their old values. If migrants archive to maintain old values and to adapt new ones at the same time, they are able to build up a bicultural identity. Machleidts model describes the different steps of a migration process and the optional problems involved. Besides the four phases (preparatory stage, the movement itself, overcompensation and the critical adaption to the new country) Machleidt disregards other influences. The ethnic belonging for example does also play a role regarding the health and psychosocial problems of migrants.

In the description of risk factors by Faltmaier, the main influence for the adaption in the new country and therewith for the psychosocial well-being is the ethnic affiliation. In addition he considers the migration process and the social condition. In Faltmaiers model these three layers are all in-plane and can have different effects on the psychosocial health of migrants.

The ethnic affiliation influences the social identity of a person and partial navigates his/her interpretations the environment. The interpretation of situations and actions influences the individual reactions in conflicts or in reference to health behavior. There can be variances in different specific intercultural attitudes, which can lead to misunderstandings or difficulties of adaption. Examples for individual intercultural attitudes can be the handling with alcohol, cigarettes and coffee, hygiene or eating habits. That does not mean that there is a right way and a wrong one, but that habits in the new country can be strange or not seen of a matter of course for people who did not grow up in this culture.

The second layer describes the problems caused by the process of migration. Faltmaier sees it as a very important and drastic occasion in the individual vita. Similar to Machleidt, he accents the process of migration passing through integration, adaption and identity shaping. This process demands a lot of toughness and can bring areas of conflict.

The material state of affairs and the resources affect the health situation of individuals. The third layer, the social condition includes problems regarding education, professional status, social relationships, meshes and integration. Different statistics document that migrants in Germany do often perform worse than Germans. In 1999 for example did every fourth German pupil reach a higher education entrance qualification while only every tenth foreign pupil did achieved it . This phenomenon cannot be traced back to differences in the basic intelligence of people, but to the factors of environment influence.


Individual paths of lives vary enormous. There are many different motives for migration and the act itself distinguishes individual. People with different ethnic backgrounds handle new cultural situations in diverse ways, having different histories, competences and habits. Therefore it is hardy possible to create a detailed model. Looking at the two paradigms of Machleidt and Faltmaier one can see that they are structured very general. The question is what one can ascertain by this information. I think that they show main problems of migration (Machleidt by describing the different phases of migration processes and Faltmaier by regarding the backgrounds, the social situations and the migration process itself). Even if they are very abstract, they show the basic of optional arising problems. Considering that in a lot of cases migrants do not move to another country because they expect a life full of luxury, but they change their living space because they have problems with the conditions in their own country.

Looking at all the challenges migrants have to confront one should not forget their self perception of satisfaction referring to the own state of health. Comparing German to migrants there are hardly differences until the age of 65 years (measured in the year 2000). The statistics from this socio-economic research show that migrants in Germany over 65 years see themselves a little bit more dissatisfied with their own state of health than Germans which are in the same age.


Concluding one can see that migration is such a wide field that it is hardly possible to narrow it down. There exist a lot of different incitements and forms of migration and the term itself is hard to define exactly. Anyway, there exist parallels in the Problems migrants have to confront. In my opinion the most important complicacies are represented by the difference between personal expectations and the reality in the new country on the one hand and the misunderstandings caused by intercultural differences (language, habits, and customs), what can slow down the process of adaption, on the other hand. So the greatest problem is the lack of communication and the flow of information.

In the connection the differences in expectation are an internal process, while the problems with intercultural differences show an external process. These two paradigms are in interdependency to each other. Difficulties with the other culture can lead to disappointments in expectances. The same can be regarded from the other perspective: If a person immigrates with special expectations- he / she can come upon problems with the new culture. There is a great commonness in both cases: The lack of communication and the flow of information. Information flow can help to get relative realistic expectations and amend the anticipation to the new country and therewith decrease intercultural problems.