Understanding immigration to coexist in the future

Review

Understanding immigration to coexist in the future

Carlos Ochando Claramunt, Director of the Master’s Degree in Economic Policies and Public Economics Department of Applied Economics, Universitat de València;

Immigration is an extremely important phenomenon in the current context of globalisation and it will continue to be so in the future. Population growth in developing countries, worldwide economic inequality, armed conflicts and the climate crisis are some of the economic and social phenomena that lead us to say this. In turn, some of these realities are transforming the very nature of immigration. We must also bear in mind that nowadays immigration is not solely economic, as many people emigrate above all in search of safer societies. 

Immigration undoubtedly has multifaceted ramifications. It has far-reaching effects on the demographic development of host countries, the labour market, and the economic and political viability of welfare states. Furthermore, it brings about political and cultural changes in host societies (as regards values, cultural integration of diversity, the possible rise of xenophobic parties, uncertainty of citizenship rights, etc.). None of these phenomena are new, but they do acquire a new dimension in today’s context of globalisation. Searching for intelligent, innovative and collaborative solutions to this situation is becoming a vital and – in a way – urgent task. Two books can shine a light on this search. 

The first of these books was released this year by Maciej Duszczyk, Marta Pachocka and Dominika Pszczółkowska under the title Relations between Immigration and Integration Policies in Europe: Challenges, Opportunities and Perspectives in Selected EU Member States. Written from a pan-European perspective, it examines decision making in immigration and integration policies over several decades. It does not cover all EU countries but rather conducts a comparative analysis of six member states (Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic) and one outside the European context (Australia). Perhaps one of its main advantages is the inclusion of Central and Eastern European countries, which have traditionally fallen outside the scope of other studies on the topic. 

In relation to Spain, the book highlights that the debates on migration, citizenship and the national community are still open. Multilevel governance of migration policies, which is in the hands of central government as far as admission is concerned and those of the autonomous governments when it comes to integration, is viewed in two areas that often operate independently and without any structures guaranteeing cooperation and coordination. It is on this point that most of the tensions arise. The particular case of registration (which entitles a person to education and health coverage regardless of legal status) is just one example of the differences between two political narratives that could be better coordinated. 

The key idea of the book is that immigration and integration policies are closely interlinked and that the former should not take priority over the latter. Integration policies can be decisive and on some occasions prevalent for good results in immigration. According to the authors, in the past integration and immigration policies were disconnected from each other, and this would explain some of the problems we are experiencing today. The Spanish case shown, based on in-depth collaboration between non-governmental organisations and local governments, can help us to find some effective institutional responses. 

One of the conclusions we can draw from the book is that the European Union is veering away from rational and economic arguments and is embracing more political ones. Against a background of growing anti-immigration sentiment and the criminalisation of immigration¬related conflicts, continually fuelled by extreme right-wing parties throughout the European continent, the EU feels obliged to reformulate immigration policies. 

According to Duszczyk et al., integration policies can be decisive and sometimes prevalent for good results in immigration

The second book is by Stephen Smith and is entitled The Scramble for Europe: Young Africa on its Way to the Old Continent. Published in Spain by Arpa in 2019 as
La huida hacia Europa: la joven África en marcha hacia el Viejo Continente and written in the style of an essay, it focuses on an analysis that is commonly forgotten by economists and political scientists: that of human geography. 

The aim of the book is to put us in front of a mirror: the demographic decadence of European societies contrasts with the forcefulness of the demographic growth registered in African countries, with a constantly expanding young population that in the future can strain migratory flows to the Old Continent even more. On this point, 
the book provides some figures that are truly extraordinary for their dimension. Let us give some examples. 

According to the data supplied by the author, the population south of the Sahara has more than quadrupled, from 230 million in 1960 to 1,000 million in 2015. Another figure: at present, there are 510 million people living in the EU (including the UK), whereas Africa has 1,300 million inhabitants. Thirty-five years from now there will be approximately 450 million Europeans and 2,500 million Africans; in other words, the African population will be five times larger than the European. 

In this century, Africa will be a demographic exception. The countries south of the Sahara will be the only region of the world where the population will continue to grow by between 2.5% and 3% until 2050. The result: by 2100, out of a world population of just over 11,000 million inhabitants, 40% will be Africans, although it is true that such long-range forecasts should perhaps be taken with considerable reservations. Furthermore, the economic growth of Africa in recent years has enabled something of a middle class to emerge “from this sea of poverty”. This is another vector that boosts and contributes to the increase in emigration, as those who emigrate are those who have amassed a certain amount of income. 

In his book, Stephen Smith levels criticism at nearly everyone. He writes that “for a long time, three types of attitudes [towards African immigration] have prevailed: inattention, denial and awkwardness.” Increased inequality, the perverse effects of development aid and ecological stress are factors that do nothing but aggravate this situation. The diagnosis is correct, but we consider that the book’s main weakness is the lack of public policy proposals that can be applied, in a consensual and coordinated fashion, among European countries. 

To sum up, these are two very different works, but precisely because of their different approaches they can be complementary for the reader. The first is more technical and academic in its content, and therefore offers some institutional designs to address the challenge of immigration. Comparative analysis is always a good tool with which to distil, through historical experience in different countries, the necessary lessons to inspire better public policies in the future.

Immigration has far-reaching effects on the demographic development of host countries, the labour market, and the economic and political viability of welfare states

In contrast, Stephen Smith’s book, written with a more journalistic focus, comes close to being a visceral manifesto that draws our gaze to a reality: demographic imbalances on a worldwide scale. Although we should not perceive this reality as a problem, it is nevertheless a challenge that we must take very seriously. The challenge lies in how to find collaborative immigration regulation mechanisms that help to rebalance migratory flows in order to ultimately build a better, fairer world. 

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