Key issues, which could impact on future EU immigration policies, are the focus of an EU funded report published recently. The report reviews the findings of 17 different research projects, providing an up-to-date picture of migration and immigration in Europe. The report shows that there is no direct cause and effect link between immigration, crime and unemployment. Furthermore, the presence of a strong black economy can encourage immigration. The study also shows immigrants tend to accept marginal jobs EU citizens do not want, and, should immigration decrease, Europe could experience shortages of manpower. “Ignorance is the basis of racism,” said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “This new report will help to ensure that any future policies dealing with immigration issues take into account some of the latest information available about the problems that migrants encounter in Europe today.” The studies explore situations in both new immigration countries and in countries with a longer tradition of immigration, such as France, Germany and the UK. The report emphasises the importance of comparative research and international exchange of experience, and suggests that similar transnational collaboration could serve as an important blue print for EU-wide action to alleviate the problems that migrants face today. The 17 research projects were conducted under the Targeted Socio-Economic Research Programme (TSER).
Migration in Europe: new trends
The report points to evidence that immigrants do not cause the underground economy, but rather an informal economy encourages migration, both in Southern and Northern Europe. Attempts in Germany to clamp down on illegal entry failed to curb the informal economy. The presence of a black economy might act as a “magnet” for poorer immigrants, encouraging them to stay in Europe, once they were involved in such an environment. This in turn leads to Europeans stereotyping immigrants as a criminal class. Research also shows discrimination experienced by some immigrants in the early stages of settlement is likely to foster social inequality and fragmentation, ultimately encouraging crime. The level of immigration caused by families reuniting is increasingly caused by people migrating for work, although there remains much variation in how European countries interpret international conventions on this matter. However, the increase in female immigration is not only due to family reunification. It is also linked to demand for female labour in certain sectors, such as tourism and domestic work. Research indicates that that although the rights of immigrant workers to reunite with their families are underpinned by a variety of international conventions, in practice most Member States interpret the law in different ways, applying rigid conditions for family reunification. EU policy recognises family reunification, but its 1992 Copenhagen resolution on the issue is not legally binding.
Quality of life
A key finding of the research is that immigrants generally experience poorer living conditions than EU citizens living in the same areas, particularly in employment and housing. Immigrant children tend to perform relatively poorly in school, with greater problems and higher drop out rates. Research shows that there is a widespread perception that poor living and working conditions are the accepted norm for migrants. Unemployment represents one of the most serious conditions affecting many migrants in Europe. In Germany, for instance, the employment gap between foreigners and Germans has widened significantly, from 0.7% in 1979 to 8.5 % in 1998. Moreover, whereas only 38 % of unemployed Germans had no vocational qualifications in 1997, the figure among foreigners was 78%. The unemployment rate among 16-21 year-old foreigners in urban areas is estimated to be as high as 50 per cent. A similar situation exists for this age group (15-24) in France. The report concludes that unemployment is not directly related to the rate of immigration. On the contrary, immigrants tend to take up marginal jobs, unwanted by most locals. Should immigration sharply decline, unemployment would actually rise, and not the other way around.
Looking to the future
Research outcomes demonstrate the key role national governments play in influencing the conditions for immigration and integration. They also show that policies in this area have often had unforeseen and even undesirable consequences. An obvious example is the way increased border restrictions have actually exacerbated the cross-border smuggling of illegal immigrants. Government services play a crucial role in integration. Equal access to education, welfare, health and other services is vital if immigrants are to avoid social exclusion. However, research has indicated that some types of service provision actually increase exclusion, by isolating immigrants from the rest of the community. Some special services for minorities may hinder integration into the education system and the labour market. Public opinion appears in many cases to drive official policies. Attitudes have often hindered policies designed to achieve greater equality, or to break down barriers to integration. The media and political leaders play a big part in this. Finally, the research outcomes show the diversity of experiences of various groups of migrants, of various immigration countries, and of various sub-groups in each place. Policies need to reflect this diversity. On the other hand, there are also many similarities in settlement experiences, community formation and national laws and policies. This convergence can serve as the basis for collaborative policy making. It points to the value of comparative research and international exchange of experience. The transnational collaborative approach demonstrated by the multi-national TSER studies can serve as a blueprint for EU-wide co-operation in this field.