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Lufthansa Germany immigration
Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
One way ticket, please.

Germany opened its immigration gates and the rest of Europe came pouring in

By Roberto A. Ferdman & David Yanofsky

Guess who’s moving to Germany? Poland.

According to population numbers released by Germany’s statistics bureau, the number of foreigners living in the country has now reached a record 7.2 million and is growing at the fastest rate in in 20 years. Some 282,800 foreigners moved to the country between 2011 and 2012, marking an increase of 4.1%, double the rate of the year prior.

Germany has proved a popular living destination for regions other than Europe, like Australia and Oceania, but the vast majority of those moving there are strolling across the border from nearby; 80% of new foreigners living in Germany last year trickled in from the European Union. The numbers of Spanish, Portuguese and Greek immigrants, for example, have all risen sharply as of late; Spaniards moving to Germany increased by nearly 50% in 2012. In total, over 200,000 Europeans packed up and settled down in Germany last year alone. Meanwhile there’s been a notable drop in Turkish-born residents, Germany’s biggest ethnic minority.

But no European neighbor is funneling its citizens into Germany quite like Poland, and their migration has been accelerating. In 2009, the number of Poles moving to Germany rose by just over 1%; in 2010 by roughly 5%; in 2011 by 11%; and just last year by over 13%. Germany now over 500,000 Polish-born residents.

The seemingly sudden influx in foreigners, which has caused a 6.9% spike in the foreign-born population since 2006, is largely the result of a policy tweak that went into effect in Germany back in early 2011, when thanks to European Union rules, the country was forced to welcome in greater numbers of Europeans.

At the time, German trade unions feared that an influx of cheap laborers would cripple its job market. The fear, however, was likely based on the bogus expectation that as many as a million Poles would arrive in the first year (fewer than 100,000 did). It’s more likely that Germany is benefitting from the immigration boom. It means an uptick in workers who can help alleviate the country’s shortage of skilled labor in sectors like engineering, IT and healthcare. Plus, more people means more demand for real estate, more money spent on food, retail and other goods, and more tax revenue for the government.