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“The mix matters”

by Claudia Isabel Rittel

In brief

“Europe will either become culturally and ethnically more diverse – or poor”

“Europe will either become culturally and ethnically more diverse – or poor”

Experts agree that EU policy-making on migration is basically heading in the right direction, but that it still fails to meet the real needs of sending countries, host countries and the migrants themselves. What is urgent above all is an honest debate considering the interests of all parties involved and clearly spelling out the pros and cons.

Both regular and irregular migration is increasing worldwide; but whereas migrants in the past sought to start a new life, the movements of today tend to be temporary. What is more, low birth rates are pushing up the average age of rich-country populations. Experts reckon that the only effective approach is to regulate migration in one fell swoop with a policy that takes account of both increased migration and ageing in rich countries. Accordingly, they welcome EU efforts to introduce harmonised rules that make greater mobility possible.

However, there is still a long way to go. Migration and asylum issues were made a field of joint EU policymaking as early as 1999, when the European Commission was entrusted with taking tangible measures. In principle, EU members agree that they need a common and coherent policy. Nonetheless, coordination remains difficult. To date, only a few topics have been dealt with, including those of letting families rejoin, the legal status of long-term migrants and visa for students and researchers.

The European Parliament has yet to debate a Commission proposal of October on allowing high-skilled migrants into the EU. Then, the Council of Ministers can take a vote. Core component of the proposal is the so-called Blue Card, which would permit entry to and residence in all 27 member countries. So far, each member country has its own rules and procedures. The proposal would also allow skilled migrants, who have lived in a member country for two years, to move on to another EU country. Business leaders who worry about attracting skilled staff are in favour of this approach.

Nonetheless, Thorsten Moritz of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) lambasts the European Commission for incomplete policy-making which, so far, merely indicates the direction in which it wants the EU to head. What is needed, he says, is tangible action. Jakob von Weizsäcker of the European think tank BRUEGEL, however, expresses skepticism. Attracting high-skilled staff is essential in future European immigration policy, he concedes, but he expects no breakthrough for another four years at least. After all, the financial focus of EU migration policy is still on securing external borders.

Karin Lutze of AGEF (Germany’s Association of Experts in the Fields of Migration and Development Cooperation) believes that illegal migration, in particular, needs to be much more widely discussed in Europe itself as well as in the sending countries. According to Steffen Angenendt of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), the action taken so far remains mostly unplanned, uncoordinated and risk-obsessed.

But it will not do to merely attract computer specialists and scientists to the EU. Von Weizsäcker is convinced that “it's the mix that matters”. Immigration profits everyone involved most, he says, when incoming workers bring an assortment of high and low qualifications. High-skilled migrants help to eliminate prejudice in the resident population, and they serve as role models for compatriots with lower qualifications. In any case, financial remittances sent home support the families of migrants and boost development in their countries. Experts estimate that the total volume of emigrants' remittances home is now three times greater than official development assistance. Those who return home can similarly contribute to growth – as entrepreneurs, for instance.

Bekim Xhafa is someone who has succeeded in doing so. He was trained as construction engineer in Germany, but later started Kosovo’s first event agency. Today, he is regularly hosting trade fairs, and thus brokering business contatcts.

Moritz regrets that immigration statistics are still cited alongside unemployment figures in political discourse. As he points out, there is no direct connection between the two. At a conference at the Protestant Academy in Loccum in January, he conceded, however, that discussing immigration sends out “a signal to unemployed Europeans that there is no prospect of a long-term change in their situation". AGEF was a co-host of the event.

At the same time, migration has positive impacts on employment. According to Hans Dietrich von Loeffelholz of Germany’s Federal Office for Migration, every high-skilled worker joining a payroll creates as many as four other jobs. And even immigrants with low qualifications help brighten the national employment picture. US studies found that even a 10 % influx of labour caused a maximum fall of just three percent in average pay. One possible explanation, von Weizsäcker says, is that the arrival of low-skilled workers – who include a large number of nannies – allows more well-trained women to accept jobs.

More mobility would be in everyone's interest. That was the consensus at the Loccum conference. Thorsten Moritz of CCME is convinced that “good migration policy may even be better than conventional development aid”. What is totally wrong, according to Karin Lutze of AGEG, however, the idea of making development aid hinge on whether countries agree to sign re admission agreements. “Many see that as a threat.”

Interestingly, migrants are more likely to return to their original home once they have unlimited work permits, von Weizsäcker has found. While people with temporary permits cling to the host country for fear of not being able to get back in, “open-ended permits make it easier for people to take the often bold step to go home”. Such permits offer security in case the new start back home does not work. Migration patterns will never be fully controllable, argues Angenendt, but the demographic challenges the EU is facing will make compensatory processes vital. According to him, Europe will either become culturally and ethnically more diverse – or poor. (cir)