Skip to main content

Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.

Page | Last updated: 08 Sep 2020

Potential implications of Increasing Significance of Migration

In the long term, migration can lead to better allocation of labour and overall, tends to have a positive impact on the economic and social development in most countries involved. From the perspective of migrants, it opens income, career and individual freedom opportunities that one might not have at home. Nonetheless, migration also triggers concerns, public anxiety and political disputes about its sustainability and potential disruptive potential in both host and sending societies.

  • In general, migrants contribute as much to public finances in taxes as they receive in benefits, i.e. the net fiscal impacts of immigration are minimal. This fiscal impact depends on the characteristics of migrants, with young, in work, highly skilled migrants often representing considerable net gains for public finances.
  • Non-EU migrants are sometimes portrayed as a strain on public finances and a threat to host countries’ welfare systems. However, once differences in age structure, gender, family composition and educational attainment of the two groups are accounted for, research shows that in most countries, immigrants receive social benefits as often as natives.
  • In the short-term, refugees and asylum-seekers represent net fiscal burdens with high social costs and low employment rates.
  • A JRC simulation of the social, economic and fiscal effects of rapidly increasing forced immigration into the EU suggest that in the medium- to long-term, the short-term costs of refugee integration such as language and professional training may be significantly outweighed by socio-economic and fiscal benefits.
  • Depending on integration policies, the annual long-run GDP effect could be 0.2 per cent to 1.4 per cent above the baseline growth, and a full repayment of the integration policy investment could be achieved after 9 to 19 years.

More on this Megatrend

  • Eurobarometer surveys between 2011 and 2019 show that the shares of people mentioning immigration as one of the most important issues for the EU reached a peak during the so-called asylum and refugee crisis in all Member States in 2015/16. When asked what respondents thought to be most important for their countries, immigration featured less prominently. And when considering importance for themselves personally, immigration barely emerged.
  • In all EU-28 countries, people who have positive attitudes towards immigration are also more likely to have positive views towards the EU and vice versa.
  • Voting for parties with restrictive views on migration is better explained by socio-economic factors such as low population density, low income and the age structure of the residing population than the presence of migrants at local level.
  • Zooming in on the Eurobarometer data of 2017, social integration was considered key, with speaking the host-country language placed first.
  • People at the (centre-) right of the political spectrum are much more in favour of mandatory integration measures than those at the (centre-) left.
  • Perceiving integration as successful is positively associated with positive views regarding the impact of immigrants on society and seeing immigration as an opportunity.
  • People who consider themselves well informed tend to have positive views of both immigration and integration. When it comes to actual knowledge, overestimating the share of immigrants in the country tends to be related to negative attitudes on migration.
  • Respondents with frequent contacts among immigrants tend to perceive their integration as successful. However, the relationship between contacts with immigrants and people’s attitudes to immigration is less straightforward.
  • Concerns about immigration can result in public anxiety, xenophobia and increased support for anti-immigration political forces with wide-ranging political consequences for destination countries.
  • However, increased immigration does not always have to result in anti-immigration sentiment. According to the Migration Policy Institute, five conditions fuel societal anxiety about immigration:  
  1. Sudden flows of immigrants that are perceived as destabilising.
  2. Perception of immigrants as competitors for resources, especially in areas of economic hardship.
  3. View of culturally distinct immigrants as a threat to the mainstream norms and values.
  4. Association between migration and acts of terrorism and crime.
  5. Loss of trust in the ability of policymakers to control inflows of immigrants and manage successful integration.

More on this Megatrend

  • The total number of migrant children in the EU was estimated at 6.9 million in 2018 with about 2.6 million EU citizens that live in another Member State and about 4.3 million non-EU nationals.
  • Stocks of migrant children from intra-EU migration have increased by about 32 per cent between 2014 and 2018 while those of non-EU migrants have increased only by about 17 per cent.
  • Syria and Morocco lead the list of countries of origin for non-EU migrant children with around 400 000 persons aged 0 to 19 each in 2018 in EU-21. Romania and Poland hold the same position for intra-EU migration, with Romania at estimated 986 000 persons (592 000 in EU-21) and Poland at estimated 400 000 (240.000 in EU-21). Together, this represents 45 per cent of all intra-EU migration in that particular age group.
  • Numbers of asylum-seeking children dropped from almost 400 000 in 2016 to 185 000 in 2018. The vast majority of asylum seeking children that arrived between 2015 and 2017 came from either Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq (60 per cent), or from the Balkans and Eastern Europe (15 per cent).
  • In the peak period of 2015 to 2016, Sweden, Austria, Hungary and Germany (in this order) received the highest number of children in relation to their own citizens of the same age group.
  • 26 EU countries employ some form of immigration detention of children. There is no single consistent trend in immigration detention of children across European countries. The practice has been decreasing in some while growing in others.

More on this Megatrend

  • The COVID-19 epidemic revealed that migrant workers are playing a critical role in performing basic functions in EU societies. On average, 13 per cent of workers in occupations that have been identified as essential in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the EU (i.e. key workers) are immigrants. This includes both EU mobile workers and workers from non-EU countries.
  • In some occupations such as cleaners and helpers and labourers in mining and construction, up to a third of key workers are foreign-born.
  • Although highly-educated migrant workers are generally favoured by immigration policies and citizens in host countries, low-educated migrants are strongly represented in occupations that are key for hosting societies (e.g. personal care workers in health service, drivers, transport and storage workers, food processing workers).
  • Yet, available evidence suggests that migrants are among the vulnerable groups that are paying the heaviest toll of the crisis. For example, undocumented migrants, remain largely beyond the scope of contributory income-support schemes.
  • The risk of displacement due to conflict will probably increase even though options for travel are likely to be restricted. Conflicts that have in the past forced many people from their homes, have not universally been pacified during the pandemic.
  • The interrelated effects of the pandemic – such as contracting economies, food insecurity, social unrest, political tensions, hardening societies and deepening divisions between population groups – could result in massive displacements and possibly onward movement towards Europe, including many persons with international protection needs.
  • At the same time, migration patterns will likely remain highly disrupted due to restrictions on mobility and possibly coupled with increased digital surveillance. Consequently, refugees’ ability to access to protection whether in Europe or elsewhere may be compromised.
  • A World Bank brief estimates that due to the COVID-related global economic contraction expected in 2020, remittance flows to low and middle-income countries are likely to drop by around 20 percent. This reduction could increase poverty and reduce households’ access to much-needed health services during the pandemic.