Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Europe’s Immigration Challenge

LONDON – Europe faces an immigration predicament. Mainstream politicians, held hostage by xenophobic parties, adopt anti-immigrant rhetoric to win over fearful publics, while the foreign-born are increasingly marginalized in schools, cities, and at the workplace. Yet, despite high unemployment across much of the continent, too many employers lack the workers they need. Engineers, doctors, and nurses are in short supply; so, too, are farmhands and health aides. And Europe can never have enough entrepreneurs, whose ideas drive economies and create jobs.

The prevailing skepticism about immigration is not wholly unfounded. Many communities are genuinely polarized, which makes Europeans understandably anxious. But to place the blame for this on immigrants is wrong, and exacerbates the problem. We are all at fault.

By not taking responsibility, we allowed immigration to become the scapegoat for a host of other, unrelated problems. The enduring insecurity caused by the global economic crisis, Europe’s existential political debates, and the rise of emerging powers is too often expressed in reactions against migrants. Not only is this unjust, but it distracts us from crafting solutions to the real problems.

European countries must finally and honestly acknowledge that, like the United States, Canada, and Australia, they are lands of immigrants. The percentage of foreign-born residents in several European countries – including Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Greece – is similar to that in the US.

Yet, despite this, we do not make the necessary investments to integrate newcomers into our schools and workplaces. Nor have we done enough to reshape our public institutions to be inclusive and responsive to our diverse societies. The issue is not how many new immigrants are accepted into the European Union, but acknowledging the nature and composition of the societies in which we already live.

It is ironic – and dangerous – that Europe’s anti-immigrant sentiment is peaking just when global structural changes are fundamentally shifting migration flows. The most important transformation is the emergence of new poles of attraction. Entrepreneurs, migrants with Ph.Ds, and those simply with a desire to improve their lives are flocking to places like Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, China, and India. In the coming decade, most of the growth in migration will take place in the global south. The West is no longer the Promised Land, placing at risk Europe’s ability to compete globally.

The aging of Europe’s population is historically unprecedented. The number of workers will decline precipitously, and could shrink by almost one-third by mid-century, with immense consequences for Europe’s social model, the vitality of its cities, its ability to innovate and compete, and for relations among generations as the old become heavily reliant on the young. And, while history suggests that countries that welcome newcomers’ energy and vibrancy compete best internationally, Europe is taking the opposite tack by tightening its borders.

But all is not lost. Europe got itself into this situation through a combination of inaction and short-sighted policymaking. This leaves considerable room for improvement. In fact, there are rays of hope in certain corners of Europe.

Consider Sweden, which has transformed its immigration policy by allowing employers to identify the immigrant workers whom they need (the policy has built-in safeguards to give preference to Swedish and EU citizens). In more rational times, these reforms would be the envy of Europe, especially given the relative resilience of Sweden’s economy. They certainly have caught the attention of Australia and Canada, which aim to emulate them.

There have also been innovations in integrating immigrants. Some initiatives, albeit modest, encourage those with immigrant backgrounds to apply for public-sector jobs in police forces, fire departments, media, and elsewhere. Such measures also respond to the urgent need for public institutions that look like the populations they serve.

There are many other tools to advance integration. We understand well the importance of early childhood education, and what kinds of programs can bridge the gap between immigrant and native children. We know as well the importance of finding a job in the integration process. We know how to recognize immigrants’ skills better, and how to provide the right kind of vocational training. We know how to ward off discrimination in hiring.

But, while we know what to do, we now need to muster the political will to do it. The good news is that, if we get integration right, we will be far more likely to bring publics along on more open immigration policies.

Equally important is international cooperation on migration. Last year, during the Arab revolutions, the EU missed a historic opportunity to begin weaving together the two sides of the Mediterranean. It failed to open its doors to young students, entrepreneurs, and other North Africans. Today, the EU is making a more serious effort to engage its southern neighborhood. Among the potential opportunities are free-trade agreements, an easing of visa requirements for university students, temporary work programs, and incentives to attract entrepreneurs.

No country is an island when it comes to migration, and none can address it alone. We have a long way to go, probably in a climate that will not turn favorable to immigration for many years. How much progress we can make will hinge on our ability to break through the myths about migration.

Migration is changing in fundamental ways, and we must continue to push ourselves to devise systems and approaches that respond to new realities. If we succeed, human mobility can become one of the great assets of the twenty-first century. 

Read more from our "Europe's Immigration Dilemma" Focal Point.

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    1. CommentedDavid Morgan

      Yes we need immigrants admittedly, however, we do not need uneducated illiterates who are sreaming onto our shores from North Africa to escape the wars on their continent. We do not have the resources or the will to support the countless thousands for whom we have no responsibilty for. The best thing we can do is to return them from whence they came.

    2. CommentedOlanrewaju Kamil-Muhammed OSENI

      When you sign up to globalization,this is what you get.Mobility of people will continue forever and the european and other western world cannot do anything about this and immigrant will be a major part of their population in the next 50 years.The only way to reduce this migration is to help the developing and under develop countries nobody want to work as a slave in another man land.African leaders are imporishing their people and stealing monies and keeping them oversea.They should help fight corruption and support good leardership in the developing world and when the country are growing lesser number of people want to move out.

    3. CommentedRalph Musgrave

      Another bit of nonsense in Sutherland’s article is the tired old claim he trots out about immigrants helping to solve the aging population problem.

      The flaw in that argument should be obvious to the average ten year old: immigrants are human beings - they grow old just like everyone else! Then what? Accept even more immigrants so as to deal with the aging immigrants?

      The latter nonsense results of course in an exponential increase in the population. The maths here was actually studied by Frank Denton and Byron Spencer of McMaster University in Canada. The found that if immigration alone was used to deal with the aging population problem, the population would increase twenty to thirty fold every century! See:

      Or as Frank Denton puts it in the conclusion of another paper, “Immigration is clearly not an effective tool for offsetting the process of population aging.” See:

      And not only that, but the largest developing country is now facing an “aging population” problem of its own: that’s China. So the whole idea that immigration helps solve the aging population problem is nonsense.

    4. CommentedHarry Davidson

      Here in London England politicians are never found on overcrowded suburban buses jostling with immigrants who are pushing a pram containing a baby, another youngster holding the mother’s hand and a third baby due to emerge into the world anytime soon. These are not the supposed professional or entrepreneurial class that we are told are being attracted to other parts of the world like Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia. These are poor, uneducated immigrants that I am referring to and who think that they have never had it so good. They are in heaven compared to the countries like Bulgaria, Rumania, Turkey, Sudan, Afghanistan etc etc where they came from. Generous child-related benefits, social housing provided by the Local Councils, education facilities for the growing children and relatively pristine hospitals in which to give birth to the growing family. Meanwhile, services are being stretched to breaking point especially in these times of austerity.

      The politicians and educated, liberal minded people like Peter Sutherland never mix with this class of immigrant. They probably never find themselves on public transport and yet they sit back and formulate endless social harmonization theories and pass laws in parliament

    5. CommentedRalph Musgrave

      It’s pathetic the way Peter Sutherland and other advocates of immigration often start their articles with a series of unsubstantiated insults. According to Sutherland, those opposed to immigration are “xenophobic”: that is the hate or fear foreigners.

      In reply, can I suggest that Peter Sutherland is a half-wit or that he wants to destroy Western civilisation by Islamising it and thus that he “hates” Western culture?

      Of course I prefer intelligent debate to exchanging insults. But the pro-immigration folk like Sutherland should understand that we opponents of mass immigration CAN DESCEND to exchanging insults if we want to.

      I also love Sutherland’s reference to “Europe’s existential political debates..” Perhaps he can let us know which part of Jean Paul Satre’s philosophy he was referring to here.

      As for Sutherland’s suggestion that European countries are “lands of immigrants” just like America or Australia, that is total and complete hog-wash. Of course European countries are rapidly BECOMING “lands of immigrants” thanks to the desire by Sutherland & Co to see Europe swamped by immigrants. But as of two or three decades ago, Europe was TOTALLY DIFFERENT to America and Australia in that immigrants or children and grandchildren of immigrants made up a MINUTE proportion of the population.

    6. CommentedBernhard Kopp

      Respondig from Germany where we do not have a right-wing populist party, at least not yet. The 'fearful public' is first and foremost angry at the politic elite, immigrants are only secondary targets. For more than 20 years the legislation around refugees and immigrants, how the issues are dealt with, how people are treated and sometimes mistreated, how the system can be abused by some - all of that is a mess. A mess created by conflicting objectives of political parties, sometimes including churches and labor unions. It is not a divine creation that judicial proceedings for 'asylum seekers' can take years, and it is no coincidence that hardly any islamic terrorist (including 9/11 participants) and radical salafists are permanently, or at least for extended periods of time, welfare recipients. This occasionally while comfortably living in a single familie house, rented presumably from relatives, and a Mercedes car, also supposedly borrowed from another relativ, aroung the corner. It maybe understandable, but it is not acceptable, that immigrants are 5-10 times higher in the criminal and welfare recipients statistics than their proportionate share in the population.

      Unless the politicians clean up the mess they have created, or have permitted to take such dimensions, the problems will rather get worse than better.

    7. CommentedEric Urbain

      WOW! The authors of this article are severely misguided. In the first place, Europe and the US are apples and oranges so it doesnt help in trying to establish parallels when the only common ground is that there are immigrant destinations (Im half European and half American so know the issues first hand).

      Secondly, the authors fail to recognize that many if not most Europeans do not WANT more immigration, and it is there right to feel this way and therefore incumbent on officials/representatives to do the bidding of the people- instead of castigating their opinions. After all, isnt it the right of each household to decide who comes in their house so shouldn't it be the same for countries?

      Further, left wing European politicians need to wake up to the fact that although immigration has in some cases helped economies, it has also harmed society. Many immigrants have brought bad habits from their home countries, such as violence and prejudice, and its simply not right to call people xenophobic or racist just because they don't want bad people around.

      Immigration is very simple. If the people who come in are 'good apples' and add value to society- are respectful and do their part - they are accepted. However, if they are trouble makers or have any other kind of negative impact, they are disliked or ignored. This is human nature and applies anywhere in the there is no need to belittle Europeans. In fact, more credit should be given to Europeans who have done A LOT to help immigrants integrate, more than in other countries in fact.

      Imagine it the other way around- a European immigrating to Nigeria, Iraq or Indonesia. Would he or she be tolerated as much or protected by law? Would Christian religion be tolerated and welcomed, would he/she receive health benefits...even political representation? In some countries yes but the vast majority will be no. Many muslim countries do not even tolerate the existence of other religions and most countries in the world ban foreigners from owning property, voting, in reality, immigrants in Europe actually have a pretty good deal - not a bad one.

      Lastly, the responsibility for the success of integration is a shared one - it takes two to tango. Immigrants themselves need to be willing and able to integrate, not just society at large. There is a lot of evidence which shows immigrants NOT being willing to integrate and being tolerant towards others e.g. attacks on jews by muslim youths. So who's job is it to integrate...I would say the immigrant...if I move to Japan, its not up to the Japanese to change their culture to accommodate me, I need to learn Japanese, learn cultural norms and fit in...if Im not willing to do this, then I probably shouldn't immigrate to Japan!

        CommentedMoctar Aboubacar

        You write: "So who's job is it to integrate...I would say the immigrant...if I move to Japan, its not up to the Japanese to change their culture to accommodate me, I need to learn Japanese, learn cultural norms and fit in"

        I'm not sure about this, on two points.

        The first is a point of principle and personal freedom which I defend halfway; if someone wants to hang their store sign up in another language because they think it'll get them more business, then why stop them? On the other hand the question of language and others are essential to communicating and so becoming a functional member of society- and those are indeed of the responsibility of the people who migrate.

        The second is more technical in nature. What is, for example, 'french culture'? Doesn't it include immigrants de facto, since they live in France, form part of the society, and have a tradition of some sort in the country? It is not the autochtones who "change" a culture as you put it, but rather the culture that changes naturally to reflect what goes on within national, linguistic, and psychological boundaries. If you name your child 'Mohammed' in France today, I am not convinced that this is not, in a way, a French name.