Commentary. Taxes and contributions paid by foreign-born immigrants in Italy exceeded the cost of the public services provided to them by more than 60%. So why has a false representation and closed-off attitude gained such considerable prominence in recent years?

Europe is at a crossroads: it’s time to design policies that integrate migrants

After the Malta summit on migration—which was a disappointment, first and foremost on account of its motivations and objectives—yet another deception is being perpetrated before the public. This deception consists in taking it as a given that the migratory flows toward Europe represent a problem for the destination countries, so that it is necessary to persuade them to do the work of receiving the migrants, a task assumed to be both undesirable and difficult.

The truth, however, is the exact opposite: the EU member countries, especially those which are the migrants’ preferred destinations, have a great and urgent need for a far higher number of immigrants than those currently knocking at our door. This is true for several reasons.

In demographic terms, if we consider the population of the 28 EU countries, including the UK, every citizen who is too young or too old to work is currently being supported by slightly under two people of working age (1.8 to be precise), a proportion which is set to fall further to 1.5 within 10 years. The current projections point to an unsustainable situation, according to the European Commission itself (particularly its “2017 Ageing Report”).

In addition, the correction of this demographic imbalance will be essential to ensure the maintenance of the welfare levels currently being provided in all EU countries.

Keeping up the current welfare standards and avoiding further cuts or privatizations would require a larger taxpayer base, corresponding to an increase in the European population of about 40 million people over five years. The only way this could be possible at all is via receiving and granting legal status to a number of migrants that would be orders of magnitude higher than those currently seeking to come here.

Regarding taxation, it has been shown that in Italy, the taxes and contributions paid by foreign-born immigrants exceeded the cost of the public services provided to them by more than 60%, as evidenced by the Italian state budget of 2016 (which was the peak year for migrant reception)—and similar results are found in all the other major European countries.

Furthermore, it’s no longer possible to credibly argue that immigrants are taking jobs away from those who have been residing in the country for longer. In fact, a comparison of the data on migration and unemployment shows that since 2008, unemployment has remained high in Italy and France, while in recent years it has declined in the UK and seen major declines in Germany and in the US. However, immigration grew in all these countries over the same period, and no correlation between migrant numbers and unemployment can be identified.

Quite the opposite: it is crucial to stress the contribution that immigrant labor brings to economic growth in the host countries. For example, in Italy, foreign-born immigrants contributed to 9% of GDP growth in 2016. Similar conclusions can be drawn for other EU countries.

Therefore, we must return to the basic question: If this is how things actually are, why is everyone so stubborn in presenting the phenomenon of migration to the public as if it was something both unmanageable and threatening? And why has this false representation and closed-off attitude gained such considerable prominence in recent years?

There can be only one answer: this was done intentionally for political and electoral reasons, aiming to identify and exploit a widespread social malaise. It is a malaise whose causes go back to the late capitalist restructuring of the last 40 years and the heavy social costs it incurred, having nothing to do with migrants.

Now, the European Union is at a crossroads. One path would be to continue to play along with the politics of closure and rejection which have prevailed up to now. There is, however, another path: to make a sharp turn, promoting well-designed reception policies that can enable the positive social integration of migrants, something that would be beneficial for all involved.

On this decisive issue—and not only—the EU must show its ability, or lack thereof, to play a pivotal role as a mediator between the global North and South, by reviving the cosmopolitan vocation of the Old Continent. If it fails to do so, it will be confined to a secondary role, trying to compensate for the symptoms of the imbalances that run through it but showing itself incapable of addressing their causes.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!