Saturday 16 May 2015

How much do we really learn from history?

"German Jews Pouring into This Country". This is what the The Daily Mail, a British tabloid newspaper, had to say about German Jews seeking refuge from Nazi brutality in 1938. The article quotes a magistrate stating that "The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of the country is becoming an outrage. I intend to enforce the law to the fullest",

The reporter continues by reassuring the reader that enforcement is fortunately increasingly effective: "even if aliens manage to break through the defences it is not long before they are caught and deported".

1938 Daily Mail article

This article did not reflect some extremist, far right-wing sentiment, but a widespread anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe and the concomitant fear of massive immigration of Jewish refugees from Germany, who had been stripped of their German citizenship by the Nazi regime. In the late 1930s, when the situation of Jews in Nazi Germany became increasingly dangerous, European nations and the United States only accepted limited numbers of Jewish refugees

The Nazis initially saw emigration as an important 'solution' to what they called the 'Jewish Problem', including emigration to Palestine. However, European and American countries became increasingly reluctant to host significant numbers of Jewish refugees, while the British closed Palestine to Jewish immigration in 1939. When MS St. Louis, a German ocean liner tried to find a refuge for 915 German Jews, they were denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada, before returning to Europe, where many were killed during the Holocaust.

Also neighbouring countries like the Netherland and Switzerland closed their borders out of fear of being inundated with Jewish refugees, and many were sent back to Germany. (Although, thanks to smugglers, thousands were able to get out despite tough border controls). Such immigration restrictions were often defended with the argument that the crisis-stricken European countries could not bear the burden of large-scale Jewish immigration, but widespread anti-Semitic sentiment was generally the real reason. 

For instance, in 1938 the Dutch prime minister Colijn argued that allowing in more refugees would cause economic pressures. Wryly, he explained that the border closure was actually in the interest of Dutch Jews themselves, because allowing in more refugees would further fan the flames of anti-Semitism.  In an official statement the Dutch government proclaimed that "a further intrusion of alien elements will be harmful of the maintenance of the Dutch race. The government finds that, in principe, our limited territory should be reserved for its own people". 

How much do we really learn from history? 

Wednesday 6 May 2015


Of course 'expats' are just emigrants. They only don't like to be called that way. These days, in Western Europe, the term 'migrant' is more and more associated to supposedly low-skilled people from less wealthy countries, who often have a darker skin, and/or are of a Muslim background, and who come to work and settle in the countries of the Wealthy, White West, sometimes without asking permission.

Europeans living abroad love to call themselves 'expats', although they are of course migrants. 'Expat' has increasingly become a class marker, a way in which privileged migrants from wealthy countries (and wealthy migrants from poor countries) tend to distinguish themselves from poor, low-skilled and undeserving migrants. Migrants do the dirty, dangerous and demeaning ('3D') and underpaid jobs shunned by many Europeans, but are at the same time often treated as potential job thieves and benefit scroungers or as threats to safety (terrorists!), social cohesion and cultural unity. 

UKIP election graphic encouraging 'Expats' to register for 2015 national elections

All of that of course does not apply to Europeans when they themselves move abroad to work and settle in foreign lands. In sheer contrast to the moral outrage about the 'illegal migrant', 'expats' often do not even bother applying for a residence permit in their host countries. Either because they don't need one, or because nobody bothers them if they don't have one.

Between 1998 and 2000  I lived in Morocco for two years on a string of tourist visas, which I renewed by hopping out and in of Morocco forth and back from the Spanish enclave Ceuta on the same day. It is very unlikely Europeans who overstay their visa in Morocco - and most countries in the world - will end up in migrant detention and get deported. And if they are asked to leave, they are highly unlikely to do so handcuffed. 

This is called privilege. And many Europeans (as wel as North Americans and citizens of a handful of other lucky nations) are hardly aware of it. They take for granted that it is their right to go anywhere, to impose their presence, while not being bothered about how 'locals' perceive them. They have done so since colonial times. It starts at a young age. Students find it completely normal to have gap years, to travel around the world, or to work or volunteer for a year or so in a far away country. We go on holiday wherever we want, and more and more people retire in lands where the sun shines and care workers are cheap.

Wherever Europeans find a job, residence and work permits seem to drop magically out of the air, or we simply don't bother getting one, or it is done for us by our employers. Those working for private companies, diplomacy or as development workers in poor countries tend to live luxurious, but highly segregated, lives as 'expats' in gated communities and compounds. When they interact with 'locals', it tends to be the elites, who speak the same languages and have similar manner and levels of education. 

Looking at migration, we still live in a colonial world order. Double standards are typically applied to the migrant 'other' and the expat 'us'. While migrants are expected to learn the language and to assimilate into 'our' culture and society - and 'we' complain if they refuse to do so, or not fast enough, or not wholeheartedly enough to our taste - 'expats' are generally exempt from such demands.

English speaking citizens of wealthy OECD countries set the international standard. Haughtily, 'expats' often do not bother to integrate at all, and nobody would dare to ask them to do so. They can live for years, if not decades, in other countries without speaking one word of the local language. Because they have the power to do so so and to ignore what others think. 

Such double standards also become visible in the schizophrenic positioning of politicians on migration issues. During the 2014 municipal elections in the Netherlands, the right-wing liberal VVD party of PM Mark Rutte was campaigning with election posters featuring the text "In Rotterdam spreken we Nederlands" ("In Rotterdam, we speak Dutch") to clearly signal the VVD's anti-multicultural credentials. However, the same rules did apparently not apply to 'expat' migrants - overtly shown by another VVD election poster targeting resident foreigners who have the right to vote in local elections, which proudly stated (in English!) "Why do expats living in Amsterdam vote VVD?".

The contrast in attitudes towards expats and migrants was also visible in the graphic (see above) used by the anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in a campaign to encourage 'expat' Britons (an estimated  5.5m in total  –  of which about 2.2m live in the EU- almost the same number as the 2.3m EU citizens in the UK) to vote in the 2014 national elections. So, ironically, by "harnessing that xenophobe expat vote" the UKIP tried encouraging British emigrants to vote them in to keep immigrants out of Britain.

Such contrasts in attitudes reveals the double standards applied to the expat 'us' and the migrant 'them'; as well as the superiority thinking underlying this distinction. 

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Will a 'Brexit' curb immigration?

Leaders of anti-immigration parties such as Nigel Farage of the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and Geert Wilders' of the Dutch Freedom Party have often stated that getting out of the EU is the only way to curb immigration. At first sight, this seems logical. After all, as long as countries stay in the EU, they have to respect the free mobility rights of half a billion EU citizens.

This is also why promises by politicians to cut back migration, such as the earlier pledge by the British PM David Cameron to bring UK net immigration down to below to the "tens of thousands" are hollow, since a large share of immigration consists of EU citizens, who are exempt from immigration controls.  For instance, in the 12 months preceding September 2014, about 40 per cent of immigrants were non-British EU citizens, while 13 per cent were British citizens, and 47 per cent were non-EU citizens.

The whole idea that immigration can be controlled just like we turn on and off a tap is a myth. This is once again shown by the increase in net immigration to the UK from an estimated 154,000 in (the year preceding September) 2012 to 298,000 in 2014 - showing the hollowness of Cameron's earlier promise to bring net immigration down below the 100,000 mark.

The recent increase in immigration to the UK is largely the result of a growth in labour immigration, which reflect increasing labour demand and falling unemployment in the UK. In general , levels of immigration are primarily driven by economic growth and labour demand rather than by immigration regulations - no matter how much politicians would like voters to believe that they are in control.

It is therefore unlikely that a 'Brexit' would drastically curb immigration, certainly if the UK wishes to remain an economically open country.

In this respect it may be interesting to look at migration to European countries that are not member of the European Union. Switzerland, for instance, has always insisted on its independence, and has a long-standing tradition of anti-immigration politics. This has been reinforced by the rise of country’s right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) since the 1990s, which favours major immigration restrictions.

However, despite not being member of the EU, migration to Switzerland has soared to unprecedented levels over the last two decades, with yearly net-immigration (immigration minus emigration) of foreign nationals hovering around levels of 1 per cent (see graph).

This structural increase of migration to Switzerland is linked to economic growth combined with an ageing population, which has generated a continued labour demand in higher and lower skilled jobs, for which there is not sufficient domestic supply. These economic demands have put pressure on successive Swiss governments to continue allowing immigrants in.

There is little reason to believe that if the UK  leaves the EU, such structural labour market demands and economic pressures would not persist, and that governments would not succumb to such pressures, as they have always done in the past.

As the graph also shows, since the early 1990s there has been a structural increase of net immigration to the UK. This increase can be largely explained by a combination of economic deregulation, renewed economic growth, decreasing unemployment and a decrease of domestic labour supply because of demographic factors and skill shortages.

It it is therefore inaccurate to link the structural increase of UK immigration since the early 1990s to the decision by the Blair government in 2004 to allow free immigration from new accession states in  Eastern Europe. As the graph clearly shows, the increase of new migration to the UK has been a structural, long-term trend which started in the early 1990s. In 2003, net immigration already stood at levels of 0.4 per cent, up from 0.1 per cent in 1992, to jump up to around 0.6 percent in 2004 to consolidate at levels between 0.4 and 0.5 percent in the last decade. The decision to allow free mobility from new EU member states by the Blair government has consolidated, rather than being the most important cause of, pre-existing trends of rising immigration to the UK.

Assuming that the UK wishes to remain a wealthy and democratic country with an open, deregulated market economy (which all major parties including UKIP seem to wish), it is therefore very unlikely to expect a major decrease of immigration. The immigration of low and high-skilled workers and students (both major sources of immigration) is likely to continue as it is the case in other non-EU countries, and these migrants will inevitably be accompanied by family members.

Although receiving a lot of attention, asylum migration is actually a small component of UK immigration (24,914 asylum applications in 2014, which is 4.6% of total foreign immigration). Further curtailing asylum migration would imply serious encroachments on fundamental human rights. And even if UK would really be willing to do that, the effects are likely to be limited. As migration researcher Timothy Hatton has found in a sophisticated statistical analysis, fluctuations in asylum migration are mainly driven by levels of violence and terror in origin countries, and restrictiveness of asylum policies only play a secondary role.

Source: Long-term International Migration - Office for National Statistics

As long as future UK governments will not wreck the economy (which in many ways is by far the most effective way of bringing down labour demand and, as a consequence, immigration) or will not de-liberalise the economy (such as by drastically increasing labour market regulation and employment protection) it is likely that immigration to the UK will continue at high levels whether the the country leaves the EU or not.

On top of that, closing the borders to migration of EU citizens is likely to have a number of unintended side effects (so-called 'substitution effects') which can make such policies partly if not entirely counterproductive.

First of all, border closure can lead to a wave of 'now or never migration' by people who try to get in before it before it is too late. Such 'beat the ban rushes' happened in the past, for instance when Britain introduced restrictions for 'West Indian' migration with the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act.

Second, closing the border will interrupt the free circulation of EU migrants. As we have found from research in the DEMIG (Determinants of International Migration) project at Oxford University, immigration restrictions bring down return migration by roughly the same extent as immigration, making the effect of restrictions on net migration very small or insignificant.

In order words, borders restrictions have the tendency to push migrants into permanent settlement. This has happened at many occasions in the past. For instance, when West European countries closed the borders for Mediterranean 'guest workers' after the 1973 Oil Crisis, many workers who initially intended to return decided to stay. Because they feared not to be able to re-migrate after return, immigration restrictions encouraged their permanent settlement, followed by a (another unanticipated) wave of family migration.

Because EU citizens can move freely, their migration tends to be highly responsive to economic opportunities. In other words, EU migrants are much more likely to return in case of unemployment than non-EU migrants who have invested considerable effort in obtaining work permits and visas. Closing the borders to free circulation of EU citizens would increase the likelihood of their permanent settlement and make such policies therefore partly or entirely counterproductive.

In other words, assuming future economic growth and the continuation of liberal economic policies, continued high immigration to the UK (and other European countries) seems inevitable, whether in- or outside the European Union.

Therefore, by suggesting that an exit from the EU will bring down immigration, leaders of anti-immigration parties such as Nigel Farage of UKIP or Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party are deceiving the public as much as 'mainstream' politicians such as David Cameron and Ed Milliband with their empty promises to curtail immigration after the next elections.

Friday 1 May 2015

The myth of invasion

Many people believe that migration is at an all-time high and accelerating fast. Images of people crossing the Mediterranean in ramshackle boats and rising political panic about immigration all contribute to the image that migration is rising rapidly and that drastic measures are needed to stem the tide.

These voices are not only coming from anti-immigrant parties and extremist groups. In fact, the idea that migration is rising fast has become mainstream over the past years. Every year again, organisations such as the International Organisation of Migration and the United Nations Population Division hit the news headlines with reports that migration is at an all-time high and will accelerate in the future.  

Some academics sing from the same hymn sheet. For instance, Oxford-based economist Paul Collier has recently published a book under the title Exodus Underpinning Collier's rather gloomy - albeit surprisingly uninformed - view is that future migration risks to reach such high levels that it will start to become harmful for both poor (origin) and rich (destination) societies. 

This all adds to a crisis narrative around migration, with politicians portraying soaring migration as a potential threat not only to the welfare state, but also to the cultural integrity and security of European, North American and other destination societies.

The frequent sinking of boats transporting migrants and refugees to southern Europe (and Australia)  and continuing irregular migration from Mexico to the United States contributes to idea that rich countries are 'under siege' of a rising tide of immigration driven by poverty, warfare and environmental crises in poor countries; and that drastic measures are needed to stop this 'exodus'. This further add to the overriding feeling of an impending migration invasion.

However, the best available data defy the whole idea the world migration is accelerating fast. Certainly, in absolute terms, the number of international migrants has increased fast, from an estimated number of 93 million in 1960 to 214 million in 2010. Yet the world population has increased at a similar pace. The number of international migrants as a share of the world population has therefore remained remarkably constant at levels of around 3 percent (see the graph above). 

So, global migration rates have remained remarkably stable levels. But why do we still think that migration is increasing fast?

First of all, migration has become a political hot topic and is receiving massive media attention. Interestingly, both conservative and progressive forces have a certain interest in playing into fears of mass immigration. Right-wing politicians routinely scapegoat migrants to win the next election through portraying migrants as a cultural or terrorist threat or potential welfare scroungers while also left-wing politicians and trade unions have often portrayed migrants as people who steal jobs from native workers or undercut their wages.

Also international organisations dealing with migration have a certain interest in migration being seen as an urgent issue 'in need of management'  to justify their own existence, increase their perceived relevance and boost their funding.

Development and humanitarian organisations regularly play into deep-seated fears of uncontrolled mass migration to advance their own agendas. For instance, you can frequently hear the argument that more development (through aid or trade) is the only way to curb migration. Many politicians and NGOs have often argue that climate change and environmental degradation, if remained unchecked, will cause mass migration.

While such arguments are based on the deeply flawed assumption that underdevelopment, poverty and violence are the main causes of migration (on the contrary, development rather leads to more migration), by using such arguments politicians and development NGOs (wittingly or unwittingly) play into and reinforce the idea were are facing an impending migration invasion if nothing is done. This is not to say that their concerns about issues such poverty, conflict and climate change are not valid; but rather that they are 'right for the wrong reasons'.

'Euro-centrism' is the second reason for the misconception that global migration is accelerating fast. While global migration rates have remained remarkably stable, there have been major shifts in the dominant direction of migration.

Since the 'discovery' and subsequent occupation of the America by Europeans five centuries ago, Europeans have invaded and conquered overseas territories while subjugating, killing or enslaving murdering their native populations - without asking permission. This was arguably the biggest illegal migration in human history.

European emigration reached unprecedented levels in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Douglas Massey, a prominent migration researcher, has shown that, only between 1846 and 1924, some 48 million Europeans moved out, which is equal about 12 percent of the European population in 1900. For some countries, emigration was much higher. For instance, in the same period, about 17 million people left the British Isles, which is equal to 41 percent of Britain’s population in 1900.

Since the end of World War Two, the direction global migration patterns has been reversed. As a consequence of decolonisation, high levels of economic growth and a drop in birth rates, European emigration has plummeted and Europe has evolved into a global migration destination.

This reversal of European migration has affected the global face of migration. The post-War decline of Europe as a global source of migrants has led to an increasing presence of African, Asian and Latin American migrants in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. The transformation of Europe from a continent of emigration to a continent of immigration has changed the face of European and European settler societies, often leading to heated debates around 'integration' and national identity.

So, from a Euro-centric perspective, migration may seem unprecedented in terms of the increasing diversity of immigrant populations. From a global perspective, this view simply does not hold.

*for more information and data see this study: The globalization of migration: Has the world become more migratory? by Mathias Czaika and Hein de Haas. International Migration Review 48(2): pp. 283-323, 2014