The Myth of Heimkehrillusion

in German Politics and Society
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Many observers of the German scene have argued that the long-term

non-German resident populations have become de facto permanent

members of German society. Beginning in the 1980s, the term

Heimkehrillusion, the “illusion of returning home,” gained prominence

in accounts of the guest workers’ trajectories, as many social scientists

and policy makers came to dismiss the continued assertions of some

migrant populations of their intention to eventually return “home.”

The increasingly accepted view was that “even though many [migrants]

have the goal to return sometime, this goal becomes increasingly

unlikely the longer they stay in Germany. For many families who have

established themselves here, there are no possibilities left in the country

of origin” (Institute für Zukunftsforschung, 15). The evidence that

“most of the ‘guest-workers’ would not return to their home countries”

continues to be pointedly cited in more recent efforts to push the German

state into reforming citizenship laws and taking responsibility for

the multicultural reality of German society (Hagedorn 2000, 4). The

permanence of the non-German population and their growing commitment

to life in Germany has, over the years, been the cornerstone of

progressive arguments that non-German residents merit full membership

in the German polity and that notions of “Germanness” must be

de-ethnicized and made more permeable. Explicit reference to

Heimkehrillusion has largely dropped out of current discussions of citizenship

reform and forms of belonging, but the conclusion that all resident

migrants in Germany are unambiguously there to stay has come

to form the unquestioned basis of contemporary debate.