In 2010, the overall share of the foreign-born population of the total population in Turkey was 1.86 per cent, which equated to 1.4 million foreign-born people living in the country. According to the 2000 population census, 38 per cent of the foreign-born population of Turkey was born in Bulgaria, 22 per cent in Germany, 9 per cent in Serbia and Montenegro and 5 per cent in Greece. More than half (55 per cent) of the population born in Greece are older than 60 years and 17 per cent of them are older than 80 years, reflecting that their migration was tied to historic population movements. Of the population born in Germany, almost 50 per cent are between 20 and 34 years old. This also shows that there is significant circular migration between Germany and Turkey. The returning Turks tend to be young people of working age who can get well-paid jobs due to their intercultural and language skills (Berlin Institut 2009).

The majority of the foreign-born population in Turkey holds Turkish citizenship. In 2007, there were 207,076 foreigners with resident permits in Turkey, among them 23,018 were for work, 26,772 for education and the rest for other purposes, foreign spouses are likely to be an important category (IOM 2008).

In-migration flows to Turkey are complex. Broadly speaking, flows can be categorized into three different categories.

One category is circular migration which entails return migration from Germany and other countries in Europe. An increasing number of highly skilled young people, educated in Europe either return to Turkey permanently or work temporarily in the country with plans to return to Europe at a later stage (Berlin Institut 2009). Also in this category are retirees who often spend six months of the year in Turkey and six months in Germany in order not to lose their permanent residence permit in Germany.

The second category is asylum seekers who transit through Turkey. In most cases, they are trying to move to countries in Europe.

The third category, which has evolved in recent years, consists of migrants from Central Asia and other former republics of the USSR, who move to Turkey through irregular channels for work. Because they migrate through irregular channels, it is difficult to capture data on them. This migration flow is expected to continue due to Turkey’s geographic position and the close similarity of the migrants’ languages to Turkish (Elitok and Straubhaar 2010).

Another trend which is often not reflected in data is the increasing popularity of Turkey for retirees not of Turkish descent from Europe, mainly Germany and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In 2009, there were 19,408 refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and return refugees in Turkey, of whom 10,350 of them were refugees and 5,987 were asylum seekers. The number of asylum seekers and refugees remained relatively stable during 2000–2005. However, since 2006, it has increased strongly every year (figure 4). The asylum seekers’ and refugees’ main countries of origin are Afghanistan, Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many of them, Turkey serves as a transit country to Europe.

Turkey is also becoming a popular destination for foreign students. In 2008, there were 20,219 foreign students in Turkey. Of that number, about 50 per cent were from the Asia-Pacific region, with 19 per cent of them from Azerbaijan, 15 per cent from Turkmenistan and 9 per cent each from the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Nationalization policies set in Central Asia that promote a shift from Russian to national languages, which are in many cases Turkic languages, will likely reinforce this popular trend.