Immigration Under The Microscope

With the arrival of Romania and Buglaria as full members of the EU the issue of migration is once more attracting a lot of attention. Stefan Wagstyl recently had an FT piece which gave a fair overview of the kind of debate which is presently going on in the UK, where the substantial (and largely welcomed) movement of large numbers of migrants from Poland and other Eastern Accession countries has now lead to an ongoing reflection over whether a repeat performance with its origins in the latest member countries would be considered so desireable. Immigration obviously has the capacity to bring out both the best and the worst in us, often at one and the same time.

As I have often pointed out on this site, attitudes towards migration have changed considerably among economists in recent years as awareness of the significance of population ageing has grown. Here is an early post in which I began to address the topic, New Economist has been covering the latest round of debate – and here – over at Demograohy Matters both Nandan Desai and Claus Vistesen have posts which are directly related to the debate, while Pienso Development Blog looks at the pros and cons of migration from the point of view of the sending country.

One point which is very clear is that there is currently a big difference between Northern and Southern Europe on the topic. In the south, and especially in Italy and Spain, it is unskilled labour which is being seen as particularly desireable, in that it creates a dynamism which facilitates the creation of the kind of employment where more educated locals may find work, while in the North, and especially now in France, it is skilled migration that is being promoted. As I try to argue in this post (and especially the comments) personally I see the southern model as a much more sustainable one, and one which is likely to create less social tension in the longer run.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

17 thoughts on “Immigration Under The Microscope

  1. I don’t know that the comparatively higher unemployment rate and lower educational attainment of the children of underskilled immigrants from the Maghreb in France and Turks in Germany, exactly eases social tension.

  2. “I don’t know that the comparatively higher unemployment rate………….”

    Yep. But these are children of migrants, not migrants, Aidan, and these I would agree are issues for those societies to address. Surprisingly all the teachers I speak to hear in Spain comment on how well the Moroccan girls seem to be doing in the schools. Obviously they must be doing something right or something, but then again these girls weren’t born here.

  3. The point I am trying to get at Aidan is whether history is simply condemned to repeat itself, or are we capable of learning something? There seems to be some sort of fatalism which lying behind your argument. The children you speak of where often born 20 odd years ago, when the societies you mention were far from prepared to address the issues involved. Maybe I am idealistic, but I like to think that there is a learning curve, and that we now are better able to cope with the problems which arise. I certainly hope that here in Spain we are not simply starting from scratch on this, and can learn from the experiences of others.

    Of course the fact that there is a widespread appreciation here that these immigrants are needed if people want to have pensions certainly helps. This awareness seems lacking in some countries, but I am at a loss to understand why.

  4. Yep. But these are children of migrants, not migrants, Aidan, and these I would agree are issues for those societies to address.

    Sure, but they’re hard issues to address, and they’re issues that mostly don’t arise when you bias your immigration policy towards the skilled (or, as a historical proxy for that, towards the economically productive; cf. the Huguenots, or those of Indian background who fled to the UK on Idi Amin taking power in Uganda). The children of people with third level education tend to end up with third level education and working more than those without, not living a life of graffiti and kif in a Parisian banlieu.

    Now, if the demand for unskilled labour hadn’t fallen so dramatically in France and Germany since 1980 or so, there would probably not be so much trouble employing these people and tangentally giving them employment experience making them more employable. The US did manage to avoid that, but working long hours at an ill-paid job without health insurance is not a huge improvement on the graffiti and kif, to be honest.

    I’m not super confident about Spain in a couple of decades’ time; it will always have tourism as a work option for the unskilled, sure, and it will get skilled migrants as the US’s recent tendency to move south and west becomes more pronounced within the EU. But beyond local services, unskilled labour at a Western European price point is not globally competitive, and I do wonder what the Moroccans and Senegalese will find to do once the demand for construction workers dies down.

  5. “Sure, but they’re hard issues to address”

    I wouldn’t disagree, and behind all this lie all sorts of issues, which I think both you and I well understand.

    “Now, if the demand for unskilled labour hadn’t fallen so dramatically in France and Germany since 1980”

    Yes, and one of the questions of course is why this is. This is one of the elements which implicity lies behind the debate, and why people are talking so much about labour market reforms.

    I think it is important to be aware that not all the demand for unskilled labour is disappearing, by any means. One of the main sources of demand in the south is for females to care for the infirm aged. This largely arises because of the underdevelopment of the welfare services in these countries, and this is of course lamentable. But effectively the only way that females over 45 can be expected to participate in the labour market is if there is someone to look after their mum or dad. This is now a reality.

    It isn’t a reality at this point in France or Germany, but it isn’t at all clear that it won’t become one.

    The same goes for the difference between welfare benefits and the wages for unskilled work. All this is in the process of changing. I’m not saying that that is a desireable thing, but it is happening, and looks set to continue to happen.

    If you look at the US then the biggest growth area outside the housing industry seems to be health. This is one of the things an ageing society means.

    “I do wonder what the Moroccans and Senegalese will find to do once the demand for construction workers dies down.”

    To some extent I don’t disagree here either. Sustainability is an issue. But in large part this depends on the level of interest rates, and it may well be that the German economy will need very low interest rates for a very protracted period, in which case housing in Spain may slow but not collapse.

    Basically there are a lot of ‘ifs’ here.

    Also I think Latin America is in the process of becoming a very important growth area, and Spain is quite well positioned to take advantage of this in the knowledge economy, and other relatively high value areas like energy. This is one advantage that say Spain has that Italy doesn’t.

    What do you think all the recent fuss about takeovers in Spanish energy companies? Or why do you think, for that matter, that Spain isn’t supporting the cause of the people of the Western Sahara in the face of Moroccan claims?

    All those greenhouses which are currently down in Almeria will be moving at some stage to Morocco too. At least that is my guess.

  6. Also I think Latin America is in the process of becoming a very important growth area, and Spain is quite well positioned to take advantage of this in the knowledge economy, and other relatively high value areas like energy.

    On a related note, I’ve heard elsewhere that the increasingly large population of South American immigrants in Spain has not been without its own set of problems. Crime in particular in on the rise among the immigrants, with the Latin Kings and MS-13 doing a lot of recruitment among their ranks, in addition there are high rates of illegitimacy and general family breakdown.
    Are these just stereotypes, or are they really happening to a non-insignificant extent?

  7. There are actually two concepts of skilled migration that have become popular in recent years. One is that of blanket skilled migration, but it’s pretty easy to see the problems with such a policy. Another is selective skilled migration to cover up for failures in the receiving country’s education system to provide for the market: for example, the perception in the UK that maths and natural science are ‘boring’ or ‘impossibly hard’ has led to deficiencies in those areas, while a disdain for artisans (relative to people with academic degrees) has led to a shortage of qualified plumbers, electricians and so on, despite the fact that these are well-paid jobs. It would be wrong to assume ‘jobs the natives don’t want to do’ are exclusively low-skilled or low-paid ones.

  8. “Now, if the demand for unskilled labour hadn’t fallen so dramatically in France and Germany since 1980”

    Yes, and one of the questions of course is why this is. This is one of the elements which implicity lies behind the debate, and why people are talking so much about labour market reforms.

    Given the German reputation for frugality, might it be that many of the sectors that traditionally demand low-skill labour, (retail, tourism, restaurant, domestic services …) just haven’t been growth industries? The ‘eco’ does not purchase much labour from the unskilled, or at least not much of it that cannot be globalised.

  9. Also I think Latin America is in the process of becoming a very important growth area, and Spain is quite well positioned to take advantage of this in the knowledge economy, and other relatively high value areas like energy. This is one advantage that say Spain has that Italy doesn’t.

    Yes, certainly Spain does have an advantage there—I hope it can take advantage of it.

    What do you think all the recent fuss about takeovers in Spanish energy companies? Or why do you think, for that matter, that Spain isn’t supporting the cause of the people of the Western Sahara in the face of Moroccan claims?

    I’m not certain that there’s an overarching strategy behind those. The former could be interpreted as a local symptom of that frequent lack of commitment to cross-border merges of national-symbol-companies; the latter as an expression of the belief that the country’s diplomatic sphere of interest is Europe, with other parts of the world long behind it.

  10. “Now, if the demand for unskilled labour hadn’t fallen so dramatically in France and Germany since 1980”

    Yes, and one of the questions of course is why this is. This is one of the elements which implicity lies behind the debate, and why people are talking so much about labour market reforms.

    What? I don’t think there’s much question of it. Paying people is expensive (in comparison to their take-home pay), and firing them is hard. No-one wants to risk hiring someone they’re not sure will be good at their job.

  11. Peter,

    “Are these just stereotypes, or are they really happening to a non-insignificant extent?”

    No these are not just stereotypes, there is a large reality factor behind them. Most of the migration from Ecuador is female lead. The husband – who is often separated from the wife – often follows, then the children (who are normally living with the mothers parents) follow. These children are often completely lost in their new environment, and seek to protect their identity via things like L-Kings etc.

    School related violence was virtually unknown in Spain (as was adolescent pregnancy), but these are both now growing and seen as a problem.

    Also many of the women are unaccustomed to a stable working environment, and again often don’t adapt easily.

    In addition a growing percentage of the gender related violence and assasination has a latin american connection.

    I should make clear here that recent migration is different from the earlier LA migration in that the migrants are now normally not from Argentian and Chile (basically skilled and even highly educated migrants) but is increasingly from Ecuador (the biggest), Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

    But we shouldn’t get all of this out of perspective. Without the Ecuadorian women Spain’s ‘boom’ would be impossible. They carry out a very important social role.

    Curiously we in Catalonia have been recently attcked by the PP for favouring Moroccan and East European migration against Latin America. This again is overdone, but it is interesting that this is just the exact opposite of what many in the US think we think. More or less Moroccan family customs and work culture fit in pretty well here.

    You need to remember that for all the outward fuss, Spain was integrated with North Africa for hundreds of years, and there are a lot more bonds than is normally recognised.

    OTOH, migration from black Africa is another issue. I have a horrible feeling that some incipient racism is surfacing here. When they came as sex workers noone said anything, but now that young handsome African boys are arriving things are changing. We just had the first case of a bunch of skins attacking a Senegalese boy who was with a Spanish girl, I fear that will not be the last, and all of this is unusual in Spain which in reality is a surprisingly non-violent country.

  12. Colin

    “It would be wrong to assume ‘jobs the natives don’t want to do’ are exclusively low-skilled or low-paid ones”

    No, I agree. Indeed the German case is a curious one since they have a large number of unskilled and unemployed while they have a significant shortage of skilled workers in some areas.

    But the point is these more skilled workers won’t come in the sort of numbers which is going to have any impact on the population pyramid.

    Cyrus,

    “The ‘eco’ does not purchase much labour from the unskilled, or at least not much of it that cannot be globalised.”

    No, but I think there are a lot more needs for unskilled workers than people are imagining here. All across the retail and service sectors, warehouses etc. The supermarket check-out here in Barcelona is now increasingly staffed (my own local one exclsuively so) by people coming from LA.

    Aidan,

    “What? I don’t think there’s much question of it. Paying people is expensive (in comparison to their take-home pay), and firing them is hard. No-one wants to risk hiring someone they’re not sure will be good at their job.”

    I think this is the big point, both Spain and Italy have recently regularised huge numbers of unskilled migrants who were previously working informally, what is interesting is the way the transition to the legal economy has been effected. Maybe you could say that the time in the informal economy was a sort of ‘trial period’.

    Which brings us back to the debate about youth contracts in France.

    also

    “The former could be interpreted as a local symptom of that frequent lack of commitment to cross-border merges of national-symbol-companies;”

    I should have been explicit here, the interest in the Spanish companies is in part becuase they have substantial asssets in energy in Latin America. The petrol company Repsol is another example, and Repsol wants to do offshore exploration in the waters which the Saharans claim, and which Morocco want to keep, this part at least is about oil.

    Spain has been carrying out large scale capital export to acquire LA assets. In the last years of the Aznar government around 9% of GDP was going out for this.

  13. Edward, I fear you may be onto something on the matter of racism. However it’s more than simple hatred of those who look different, it’s about national identity. It seems many people just can’t grapple with how this will be affected by demographic changes, leading to exaggerated scare stories along the lines of ‘natives swamped by immigrants’, such as the idea that Islam is about to become Europe’s principal religion.

    Conceptually, small-scale immigration is not a threat to national identity – the country is basically the same but with a few new minorities to add cultural spice. But in the long run, migration on a scale sufficient to ‘correct’ the low TFR countries’ population pyramids is inevitably going to change their ethnic profiles significantly and permanently. That will change what it means to be a German or Italian even for the ethnic Germans and Italians, and this is taking time to get used to. It would be great if we all had a concept of nation that was independent of ancestry, or failing that some kind of ‘immigrant nation’ or ‘rainbow nation’ idea, but I don’t know how many indigenous Europeans are prepared to see their own identity in these terms. Even a stronger pan-European identity wouldn’t necessarily help, as that would call up memories of ‘Christendom’ and of Europe being the homeland of ‘the white race’.

  14. What are European values? Without naming those you can’t say who are a good match for immigration.

    PS. I’m not talking about state values but the values that are closer to the day to day lives of people.

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