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Immigration is claimed to be one of the most contentious issues faced by the European Union. Much has been written and said about the effects of immigrants from overseas on the economy and labor in the EU. Difficulties in the economic situation across the developing world push thousands of overseas residents to settle in the EU, legally or illegally. In the meantime, EU-member countries demonstrate heightened concerns with regards to their security, economic development, and social stability. The scope of the negative effects of immigration on the European economics and labor markets can hardly be overstated; economic recessions further amplify these interferences. Simultaneously, overseas immigration holds a promise to ‘renew’ the ageing population in the Old World, giving an impetus for the rapid economic and social evolution in the EU. Apparently, the EU needs to learn how to manage overseas immigration properly. In conditions of globalization and integration, the number of overseas immigrants to the EU will continue to increase. In this sense, not overseas immigration but the absence of relevant immigration policies exemplifies one of the biggest issues affecting stability and growth prospects in the European Union.
Immigration is an extremely complex phenomenon. This is probably why EU leaders and politicians in member countries find it extremely difficult to develop a single coherent vision of immigration. In the European Union immigration comes in several different forms (Archer 4). First, EU citizens use their right for free movement within the EU borders and actively migrate in their search of better economic and social conditions (Archer 4). Second, thousands of immigrants from overseas countries come to the EU for various reasons: family reunion, work, and asylum seeking are the most common factors driving immigrants to the EU (Archer 4). In the best case, overseas immigrants come with a legal permission to work in Europe; in the worst case, illegal immigrants from beyond Europe are smuggled into the EU to work illegally (Archer 4). Illegal immigration, especially from countries of the Middle East and Africa, is probably the biggest issue of political concern in the EU. Following the events of 9/11, Europe has become increasingly cautious in its attitudes toward immigration. This is when overseas immigration has come to exemplify one of the biggest issues in the EU. A brief statistical analysis shows that, even when the borders are closed, immigrants from all over the world keep coming to the EU.
Mass immigration to Western Europe is a relatively recent phenomenon. Between 1960 and 1973, the percentage of immigrants in European workforce nearly doubled, from 3% to 6% (Hall). The UK and France became the most attractive targets for immigrants from overseas countries, mainly from the former French and British colonies (Hall). Germany witnessed a sharp increase in the number of Turks arriving at the country’s borders (Hall). The first wave of immigration waned by 1973 when the Oil Crisis began (Hall). Meanwhile, the number of foreigners residing in Europe kept growing, mainly for the account of family reunions and the rapid growth of the immigrant populations that had come to Europe before 1973. EU members continued issuing thousands of work permits every year: in Britain alone, 50% of all 54,000 work permits issued in 1997 went to the Japanese and American citizens (Hall). Nevertheless, the percentage of foreign-born residents in the European Union remains low, with about 9% of the total population in Germany and Belgium and only 2% in Spain (Hall). It is interesting to note that, although the number of asylum seekers in the EU steadily increases, the prevailing majority of overseas immigrants to the EU are from high-income countries. Of the 3.3 million immigrants to Great Britain in the period of 1981-2000, every second immigrant was from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, or other countries of the European Union (Rendall & Ball 23). Thousands of immigrants from the developed countries later leave the EU, leaving more space for refugees and newcomers from third-world countries (Rendall & Ball 23). The statistical data suggest that overseas immigration is hardly the most disturbing issue in the EU; however, immigration can negatively affect the state of economic and labor markets in Europe and undermine the effectiveness of the social and security systems in the EU.
Needless to say, immigrants coming to the EU from overseas countries have the potential to adversely affect economic growth and labor markets. Apart from the fact that immigrants take a share of the national income in the form of wages and social benefits, they also threaten the stability of natives’ jobs, especially where they can sbstitute one another (Biffl 9). Immigration contributes heavily to unemployment in member states and widens the existing wage differentials in those segments that exhibit the highest concentrations of immigrant workers (Biffl 9).
“Labour supply growth as a result of immigration outpaces labour demand growth […] in phases and regions where labour resources are underutilised, concentrations of immigrants may be a concern, particularly in the absence of adequate labour market and social policy to counter deprivation and poverty of the jobless” (Biffl 10).
In other words, immigrants can displace native employees and take their jobs. In the absence of relevant social policies native workers will face the risks of poverty and unemployment in their native country. It is no coincidence that natives’ concerns that jobs are going to immigrants are getting sharper (Archer 3). Recessions further complicate the situation. Most European political systems are built on the principles of the social demographic compact, meaning that European citizens have historically operated in the atmosphere of social safety and security (Archer 3). Citizens in EU states are safe in their knowledge that, in return for the taxes they pay, the government will supply them with relevant social and economic support during crises (Archer 3).
The more limited resources become the more problematic immigration to EU grows. When EU states assume a responsibility to assist and support overseas immigrants they also create the atmosphere of unfairness: natives feel that immigrants are benefiting from the system without making any contribution in its development and functioning (Archer 4). The social and economic unrest resulting from the immigration-induced unemployment in the EU is further supplemented by the issues of security and stability in member-states. Recent years have witnessed the growing securitization of the overseas immigration language in the EU (Archer 5). This is why EU countries develop broad and more specific policies to restrict access of immigrants from overseas countries, especially the Third world, to Europe. The Dutch government developed and passed the Aliens Act to streamline the asylum seeking procedure and optimize the number of refugees attracted to Holland (Hall). From now on, Holland will not grant the full refugee status immediately; refugees in Holland will have to wait three years until the full status is granted (or denied) (Hall). Of particular seriousness is the issue of immigration in Italy: thousands of illegal immigrants come to Italy from North Africa. Recent revolutions in Tunisia and Libya drew thousands of illegal newcomers to the seashores of the Italian state. In this situation, more political parties choose to build their agendas on the anti-immigrant platform (Hall). In this situation, most EU member states forget that immigration can greatly benefit their economy and social systems, and the major issue is not in immigrants but in the quality of immigration management systems across the EU countries.
Throughout the history of Europe, immigration had been one of the most significant demographic trends and the source of considerable economic and social benefits. For many centuries, merchants and intellectuals from overseas were coming to Europe, to build business and advance their careers, turning Europe into the most flourishing continent (Hall). Like many years ago, the immigrant streams to Europe from overseas countries are made up by young people (Rendall & Ball 18). The number of immigrants of pension age does not exceed
two percent of the total immigrant inflow (Rendall & Ball 18). In this sense, immigration holds a promise to replace the ageing population in the EU and revive its economic and social force. Young immigrants, especially of the non-European descent, are believed to exemplify a relevant solution to the fertility problems in Europe (Rendall & Ball 18). Moreover, immigrants can add to the effectiveness of the most European economies, especially in low-paid jobs. Finally, the EU can view the immigrant workforce as a potential source of intellectual and labor capital, especially when immigrants are coming from other countries of the developed world, such as Australia and New Zealand. All these findings imply that overseas immigration is not the biggest issue faced by the EU; more importantly, if managed correctly, overseas immigration can become the source of numerous economic and social, as well as cultural, benefits for EU member states. In this sense, the biggest issue is not immigration but the quality of immigration policies developed by the EU or the lack thereof.
The rationale behind developing a single well-integrated immigration policy in the EU is obvious. First, the past years were marked with the rapid advent of the single free market in Europe (Vickerman 2). The market facilitates migration of overseas newcomers within the EU and calls for the creation of a structured universal approach to immigration at the supranational level. Second, the past years were also marked with the growing unemployment in the EU (Vickerman 2). Partly due to the global recession and partly because of the changes in demographics and social policies, unemployment in the EU is changing Europeans’ attitudes to immigration from overseas (Vickerman 2). Increased negativity in terms of immigration to the EU “disguises the bottlenecks which already exist for some specific skills” (Vickerman 3). Changes in European demography will tighten EU labor markets in the nearest future (Vickerman 3). Proper regulation of immigration from overseas can help all European states to benefit from the skills and knowledge brought by immigrants, without damaging natives’ career and social prospects. Third, globalization reduces and eliminates the inter-state barriers to immigration from overseas. Fourth, when designed and implemented separately independently, immigrant policies can be highly unfeasible for those European economies which open themselves for international trade and economic activities (Caviedes 291). The growing interdependence of EU states cannot be easily dismissed. Finally, changes in the international situation, revolutions, military conflicts, natural disasters and other forces will drive asylum seekers from overseas countries to seek refuge in Europe. Nothing can stop these forces, and even if immigration is not the most serious issue in the EU today it can become the matter of serious public concern in Europe.
For many years, nation-states have been at the forefront of policy development in Europe. In this way members of the EU sought to retain their sovereignty. As a result, the creation of a common immigration policy emerged as the most serious issue within the EU. Reasons why cooperation and collaboration are crucial for the development of relevant immigration frameworks are numerous. First, members of the EU cannot evaluate the state and levels of immigration from overseas, unless they develop collaborative ties with one another, share relevant information, and report changes in their labor market needs (Vickerman 3). Furthermore, member states need to define comprehensive and transparent principles of immigration management, based on rationality, human rights protection, length of stay, and application procedures (Vickerman 3). Finally, all members of the EU must improve the quality of information sharing and monitoring, to manage and control immigration flows. Until then, immigration will remain a contentious issue in the EU. Take a look at healthcare: most immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, have no access to healthcare in host countries; for this reason, they expose native populations to unnecessary health risks (Romer-Ortuno 245). Overseas immigration is not the most serious issue affecting the EU, but it can become the source of serious difficulties for the EU if no coherent supra-national immigration policy is created.
Immigration remains one of the most contentious issues in the European Union. Thousands of overseas immigrants come to Europe, looking for better social and economic conditions of life. The scope of overseas immigration to Europe cannot be disregarded, but immigration is not the biggest issue faced by the EU. The fact is that immigration has always been an essential part of the European history. Scientists and craftsmen used to come to the Old World, to advance their knowledge and business. With time, immigrants turned Europe into the most flourishing continent. Today, legal immigrants from overseas countries, especially from the countries of the developed world, hold a promise to improve the demographic situation in Europe, by replacing the ageing population and raising fertility rates. The skills and knowledge capital brought in by overseas immigrants can contribute to the economic and social development within the EU. Unfortunately, without a coherent supranational immigration policy the EU will never benefit from overseas immigration. Immigrants will displace natives in the labor markets and threaten the stability and security of European social systems. Globalization and integration of markets facilitate overseas immigration to Europe, and the number of immigrants coming to Europe will continue to increase. The absence of a clear immigration policy is one of the biggest issues in the EU. Unless a uniform immigration policy is implemented across all member states, overseas immigration will keep pressuring natives and producing huge adverse effects on European economies and labor markets.