26th Oct 2016

Europe attracting fewer immigrants

  • Fewer immigrants see Europe as a place of opportunity (Photo: letterlust)

Europe should pursue an open-ended immigration labour policy to help tackle the economic crisis and ensure its working age population is maintained, according to a report presented by the Paris-based economic club the OECD on Wednesday (27 June).

Existing labour mobility barriers in Europe, coupled with a bleak job prospects, deter both low and high-skilled migrants from coming to the bloc. Overall, migration flows into Europe dropped 3 percent in 2010 with a slight increase experienced in 2011.

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Fewer and fewer people from outside Europe, but also from new accession states, are leaving their homes to seek out opportunities in the Union. Europe may be losing out as migrants find more attractive alternatives in Asia and elsewhere.

“The decline in the labour demand has been the driving force behind the fall in migration during the crisis, not restrictions imposed by migration policies,” Angel Gurria, the secretary general of OECD, told reporters in Brussels.

The EU, he said, needs to review its migration policies and promote the free-mobility of labour. He also disputed claims that immigrants take away jobs and do not sufficiently contribute to society. Instead, skilled and unskilled immigrants are a crucial component to the “building of nations and essential to the functioning of our economies.”

He noted that Europe is ageing quickly as older people begin to out number those of working age. “By 2015, immigration – at the current level – will not be sufficient to maintain the working age population in the EU,” he warned.

Jobs left behind by those retired are not replaced. They just disappear, he said.

Immigrants either occupy positions that most Europeans do not want or positions that Europeans do not have the skills to fill. Sweden is currently scouring the world to find four to five thousand individuals with the skills necessary to work in its mining sector.

The study says Asia is the leading source of migration into OECD countries and accounted for 35 percent – or 1.8 million people - of all migration flows. The figure represents a 56 percent increase compared to 2000.

“If OECD countries want to rely on a steady flow of skilled workers from Asia in the future they must take steps to maintain and improve their attractiveness,” said Gurria.

Meanwhile, unskilled migrants in Europe are now without jobs and may be exposed to abuse.

Immigration debate like in 1945

EU affairs commissioner Malmstrom said the current political climate in the EU on immigration is “difficult”.

“It is clear that not since 1945 have had so many xenophobic parties been elected in assemblies today. That of course reflects the political debate,” said Malmstrom.

The Commissioner said immigrants, migrants and Muslims have become scapegoats for some EU national political parties who are searching for easy solutions.

The tainted political discourse on the minorities has had an adverse influence on more moderate political parties. She pointed out that only 4 percent of Libyans fleeing the war last year came to Europe.

Other migrants, from Egypt for instance, primarily go to other Gulf states. The so-called wave of immigrants from North African countries to the EU has not materialised, noted the OECD.

Speaking openly about migration and their positive contribution and benefit to society is rendered all the more difficult as a result, said the Commissioner.

She also noted that migration and asylum-related policies are stuck in negotiations between the European Parliament and member states because of political rhetoric.

The European Commission, for its part, is striving for an open immigration and integration policy.

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