There is an ongoing debate between the left and the right; are migrants good for a country or not? Some say yes they are great, and we should have as many migrants as we can. The others say no, migrants are trouble. The problem is that there are various groups of migrants. The debate cannot be limited to one overarching group, it must be broken down into more detail.
Perhaps there are multiple truths in what people believe. Let’s review some different types of migrants, and their traits. Because how can we ever have a more in-depth discussion on the migration issue, if we cannot tell one migrant apart from another?
The Wage-Seeking Worker
The European Union created free movement of labour across the continent. Wages, however, vary significantly between countries. Eastern Europe, having suffered from communism for decades, has wages that are far behind those of the West. Note that the wages are catching up, but it takes some time. Millions of Europeans left their home countries and took jobs abroad. The work was often unskilled as diploma’s didn’t carry over and the language was a barrier for higher level jobs. They may have a temporary job lined up at the start, but plenty will change jobs and find new jobs after they settle in.
The Romanians, Lithuanians, or Poles are often young and working age when they migrate. They come for the sole purpose of work, chasing the higher wages. Many will save up money that they use to buy a house in their own country, and use the rest of the savings to start a family. However, many end up staying in the country they moved to. It is very easy to say ”I will work for one more year and move back next year”. Moreover, entire communities of migrants have formed in countries like the United Kingdom. This group somewhat resembles the Mexican migrants to the United States. But, they are more likely to return home. Returning home is easier with the visa-free travel within the European Union.
The group pays taxes and generally comes from a country with a similar cultural background. Economically, they are likely to send money back home, or save the money to take it with them when they return home.
The Post-War Labour
They are not the first group to come seeking higher wages. After World War 2, Western Europe received a lot of Turkish and North-African migrants. They were invited as temporary workers during the economic boom in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Although some returned to their home countries, many decided to simply stay. They brought over their wives and children and formed new communities.
It is this group that has created 2nd and 3rd generation migrants that still have not integrated into their host societies. A 3rd generation Turkish migrant might still wave around a Turkish flag during the world cup. In all government statistics these 3rd generation migrants become ‘hidden’, in the sense that they would appear as natives. In a sense that is a fair approach to take, however it makes research more difficult. They are native born, but form a culturally distinctive group. For generations they do not feel closely linked to the country they live in.
Expats are very similar to the wage-seeker, but they are more likely highly skilled. These are the specialists, university-degree holders and MBA’s that go to work abroad for a limited time to further their career. They might end up staying nonetheless, just like the wage-seeker. As they are highly skilled, they will earn a high income and pay a lot in taxes. A key difference with the wage-seeker is that they will have a stable job lined up, before moving to the new country.
Some claim expat is a racist term that is used exclusively for ‘white people’, but an expat can come from any place of the world.
The Home-Bound Refugee
Many parts of the world are war-torn or unsafe for people holding certain beliefs, lifestyles, or political views. People flee these places, afraid for their own safety. Most of the refugees will go to the most nearby country, planning on returning once the violence calms down. Some will go further, making the decision to leave their home country for good. The further away they move, the lower the chance of returning home.
The ones that wish to return home often end up in nearby refugee camps. They live in poor circumstances in temporary housing, often tents sponsored by the UN. This group looks forward to returning to their homes and rebuilding the country after the conflict ends. They would have preferred to stay in their country, despite any difficulties, but flee the extreme violence taking place.
Clearly this group is not discussed in the West, as they never reach Europe. Out of sight, out of mind? This group may suffer the most and live under the harshest conditions.
The Opportunistic Refugee
The West has offered asylum to refugees for decades. Mostly political dissidents, or for example people that were gay in a country where this is not allowed. Even in the time of the reformation, protestant nations would offer a safe place for those persecuted in the Catholic countries. For such refugees, their home country would likely never be safe for them.
However, refugees fleeing violence only require temporary refuge. These are the massive flows of refugees that go to nearby UN-refugee camps just across the border of their own country, or sometimes even in a safe area within the country. These are the home-bound refugees. The opportunistic refugee is different; they take the opportunity of war to leave their country forever, and seek out a new life in the West.
In recent years the destabilization of the Middle East has led to an increase of refugees from primarily Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Refugees often come from lowly educated areas, and have no job prospects after they arrive in their new country. They don’t speak the local language, and don’t have valuable skills for the job market. Many will become a drain on the welfare system and end up as a huge cost for the taxpayers in the country they move to. Some of course will be eager to work and even work their way up the ladder, but those are the exceptions.
Overall they are driven by fear and a desire to make something out of their lives. Although they are opportunistic, these are the migrants the left generally refers to.
The Fake / Economic Refugee
The fake, or economic, refugee is similar to the opportunistic refugee. Rather than coming from a primary warzone, they can come from any poor area on earth. There was no war or extreme violence in their home country, but there was poverty. They have zero interest in nearby refugee camps (if those would exist), because their goal is not to flee. Their goal is to reach the wealthy countries and find an easier life.
Many are not interested in integration, or even honest work. They are drawn by wealth and come to take what they believe they have a right to. They are often unskilled and will form a drain on the welfare state. This is probably the group most likely to turn criminal.
Like the other refugees, they will claim there was violence in their home country, or that they are persecuted for other reasons. Fact is that such claims are difficult to check, and even if their asylum is rejected, they will try to stay in the country illegally. This is the group the right strongly opposes.
There are people that say migration is great, it is economically beneficial and it is needed to offer people opportunity in life. And they are right, there is no problem with migration as a concept. However, other migrant groups are likely to drain the welfare state. They are likely to commit crimes. And they will never develop a close connection to the country. There, we should ask ourselves if it makes sense to take these people in. Whats are costs? What are the benefits? Are there other ways we can help people? We need to understand that Europe is facing severe changes in the population, and we need to understand why these demographics matter.
The discussion on whether migration is good or bad, is far too simplistic.