“Writers from the Guardian, Le Monde, El País, Süddeutsche Zeitung and La Stampa address some common claims about migration and assess whether they are true in their country.
‘They are taking our jobs’
Immigrants represent 9% of the active population in France and contribute 8.9% to the labour market, according to a study for the French government’s stategic analytical centre in 2012. They also experience more unemployment than non-immigrants: 16.1% compared to 9.1%, according to data from the same year at the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee).
Immigrants generally work in sectors where they are less qualified or not qualified at all, such as construction, catering or seasonal agriculture. According to a government study conducted at the end of 2012, immigrants comprised about one-third of domestic workers, and a quarter of those working in heavy construction and the building industry.
They are also largely over-represented when it comes to precarious employment, what with part-time work and short-term contracts. France has a high unemployment rate, but also faces a shortfall in certain sectors, such as the medical profession, where resources are tight.
The majority of studies contend that France’s ageing population means immigration is necessary to assure a steady level of salarial contributions.
‘They deplete welfare budgets’
In France there are no different categories of immigrants or local people when it comes to welfare policies. It is thus difficult to know who makes or receives what. We do know, for example, that more immigrants claim unemployment benefits than non-immigrants: in the former, 17.3% of women and 16.3% of men are unemployed, compared to 10% and 9.7% of the total population.
However, a 2005 study by the economist Xavier Chojnicki revealed that while immigrants received more benefits for housing, welfare and unemployment than non-immigrants, they also contributed more than others.
The difference can be discerned in pensions. Immigrant populations have a different age structure. They are younger (comparatively too), and are thus more active (55% are between 22 and 55 compared to 40% of the population). Therefore they pay out more, all the while receiving less child benefit or pensions.
‘They don’t integrate’
At the end of the 1990s, many Italian cities experienced the Chinese pizzeria restaurant boom. Young migrants from China bought up the old restaurants that were operating with little energy and transformed them into bustling centres of activity. These taverns had their old ovens and chefs continued to churn out their version of Quattro Stagioni pizzas, just as kebab is still served with chips in the Benelux countries.
Being together is an issue of will, respecting each other’s rights and duties. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has noted that in countries such as Hungary and the UK the electoral participation of immigrants in the long run is higher than that of non-immigrant citizens.
The European commission has also found that a candidate with a foreign name often has to apply to twice as many places to get a job as someone without one.
The same goes for the schools. “The challenge is twice as hard for young immigrants going to school compared to their peers, who may have other disadvantages,” says a commission source.
The most conservative estimates are that by 2061, a quarter of the population will have roots outside their original country. Integration will become necessary. “It’s not true that they don’t want to integrate, it’s just that it is too difficult to overcome those boundaries and that resistance,” says the source.
According to the Migration Policy Centre in Bologna, Latin Americans, Filipinos and eastern Europeans integrate well in Italy, while Chinese and Africans find it harder.
Marco Zatterin, La Stampa
‘They come here illegally’
Post Arab spring, 140,000 men and women fled the various catastrophes in their countries for Europe. Frontex counted 107,000 in 2013 alone. This year that number has increased, and some say it has even doubled. These people are illegal immigrants because they are undocumented, although only a small proportion of them come to Europe for economic motivations. These are people fleeing the horrors of war and of political crises in Syria, the Middle East, Egypt, the Horn of Africa, Libya, Mali and Nigeria.
Nevertheless, this is still a small proportion of the total at less than 10% of the migration movements across the continent.
Marco Zatterin, La Stampa
‘Where there are immigrants you’ll find crime’
Many terms contain an embedded prejudice: ghettoisation, no-go area, mafia. They make it sound as if there are obscure networks running rings of immigrant criminals around European capitals that society cannot beat. But the theory that immigrants are by nature more criminal than indigenous people is wide of the mark. A survey by German criminologist Christian Walburg makes it clear that adult immigrants in Germany are not more inclined to commit crimes than a native German person.
When it comes to younger migrants the story is different; there are more non-German young suspects. But the statistics aren’t completely clear: young people with a German passport count as German in the statistics, even if they have an immigrant background. Walburg says that the appetite for violence and crime has more to do with social marginalisation than the origins of the victims.
Isabel Pfaff, Süddeutsche Zeitung
‘They dilute our values’
Values are neither static nor pure. They are never the same for everyone in a society and they change. In the 1970s, a woman in Germany still had to get her husband’s permission to take a job. That’s far from the case today. We’ve dismissed such things – and yet we criticise immigrants for their supposed discrimination against women.
Values will differ between a supporter of the Green party and a voter for Angela Merkel’s ruling conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). How can a migrant dilute any of it? Maybe they could also be a member of the CDU party, like Cemile Giousouf, the first German politician with Turkish ethnicity elected into the party. The C in CDU, she says, stand for the values that she shares with Christians as a Muslim. Values are always the sum of the beliefs of the individuals that are negotiated as we live together. The more these individuals widen their horizons through immigration, the wider their spectrum of values gets.
Isabel Pfaff, Süddeutsche Zeitung
‘They won’t learn local languages’
The overwhelming majority of migrants living in Britain do not need to learn English, they already speak it. As the most recent 2011 census showed only 138,000 of the 7.5 million non-UK born population in England and Wales cannot speak any English.
It is true that the main language spoken by 4 million people living in Britain is not English or Welsh but Polish, Punjabi or Urdu in that order. But 1.7 million can speak English very well, a further 1.6 million can speak it well and 726,000 can get by in conversation but have difficulties with written English.
This situation is likely to continue as the government has made passing an English language test a condition of getting a visa for work or study or applying for British passport. In addition, it has been made clear to unemployed people that if they are not prepared to learn English they will face benefit cuts.
It has long been recognised that the 138,000 who cannot speak English at all are likely to be among an older generation of Asian women who never learned English and so never worked outside the home or their community. In the past the government funded English as a second language or ESOL classes to improve the chances of integrating new migrants and those who have settled in closed communities. But in recent years funding has been cut and ESOL students required to pay up to £1,000 a course. Despite this courses are oversubscribed – an indication of the strong desire of most new migrants to integrate as fast as possible.
Alan Travis, the Guardian
‘Relaxing immigration laws would lead to the country being inundated’
When Victor Spiresau landed at Luton airport on 1 January from a Transylvanian village on his way to start work at a London car wash he was greeted by two MPs who had gone to see for themselves the widely predicted influx: “I don’t come to rob your country. I come to work and then go home. Here you pay a lot, in Romania it is very cheap,” he told Labour MP Keith Vaz.
There had been alarmist predictions that the decision across Europe to lift the remaining labour market restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers would trigger an influx in the hundreds of thousands. As it happens Victor proved to be the exception as only about 7,000 more Romanians and Bulgarians came to work in Britain in the first three months of 2014 compared with the first quarter of 2013.
The absence of Romanians and Bulgarians in huge numbers this year does not prove that scrapping all Britain’s border controls wouldn’t lead to a massive influx from around the world. But it does demonstrate that tough immigration controls are only one factor in determining the mass movement of people across borders. In the case of Romania and Bulgaria, those likely to emigrate probably did so seven years ago when the EU opened its doors to them even if it was on limited terms. Most went to Italy and Spain not Britain, where language, climate and settled communities had far more to offer.
In Britain’s case, tough immigration controls have proved effective in restricting non-EU migration, particularly of unskilled workers. But the UK still faces historically high net migration levels of 243,000 a year – mainly from within the EU where the principle of free movement renders the question of external border controls academic. Instead the strength of the euro and the pound, the relative jobs market across Europe, differences in GDP growth, language affinities and cheap coach and rail travel all prove far more important in determining the flow of migrants within Europe than any single immigration policy.
Alan Travis, the Guardian
‘Basic services such as hospitals and schools collapse’
This is one of the arguments that people who are hostile to immigrants take refuge in. If they come to Europe as citizens with rights, won’t they end up abusing our most valuable benefit, the welfare state?
“There hasn’t been any study showing this link between immigration and the abuse of social services,” says Sergio Carrera, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies, one of the most influential thinktanks in Europe.
Some experts have tried to take the complex task on, of calculating the difference of what immigrants bring to public budgets and what they consume. A recent study by the Migration Policy Centre, using figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, shows that foreigners are net contributors (they add more to the state than they spend), across almost the whole continent, apart from in seven countries (with Spain among them).
Still, surveys in Spain show that immigrants are net contributors for health; they get ill less frequently because they tend to be younger and have a more urgent need to be fit for work than the native population.
‘They don’t return to their own countries when their situation improves’
Every country closely follows the evolution of its population and especially the rhythm of immigrants arriving on their shores. Very rarely they’ll tell you how many foreigners have decided to go back home. The EU does not have detailed figures, but according to the latest Eurostat data, almost 1.3 million people left the member states in 2012. In all, 541,000 of those – almost half – were citizens of a third country.
The return journeys of those who are considered immigrants, even though they have an EU passport, can be even higher. Many of those citizens come back once they have acquired the nationality of the country that they have lived in, and the statistics don’t label them foreigners. Another obstacle is the lack of precision about where they emigrate to: a foreign citizen could leave Portugal because of bad working conditions and move to Germany, so it’s not that they’re leaving the EU, but just going where there are better work opportunities.
“The problem with the concept of going back to your country is that it is not a definitive state,” says Sergio Carrera. “Some will leave and then come back again later.”
This kind of movement is more common in a collective group, since changing country is not such a traumatic thing for the average citizen, despite all of the myths that stigmatise immigration.”