|(Translated from the Spanish Original)
Wednesday, July 5th 2006
Immigration in Europe
07/05/2006 - 08:12 hours
Last April this column focused on the new immigration bill in the United States, which remains stuck in
Immigration remains a current subject also in Europe. Last Friday, the French parliament approved a bill to
attract qualified workers and to restrict all the others. The minister of Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, who sponsors
it, has avowed the objective of having an immigration that is “chosen and not suffered” (choisie et non subie).
The minister regrets that half of all immigrants arriving in the United States and Canada have degrees, while
the majority of those arriving to France have not even completed high schools.
Sarkozy has presidential ambitions for 2007, and immigration is one of the top worries of voters, especially
after the revolt of the immigrant suburbs (banlieues) last fall. But even a “tough cookie” as Sarkozy had to cede
and stop deportations of undocumented immigrant families with schoolchildren: some French families hid such
schoolchildren and compared it to the resistance to the deportation of Jewish children during World War II.
Spain and France advocate an integral European plan for immigration, above all with regard to Subsaharan
Africa. After the European Council of mid June, 13 European countries started military patrols off the coasts of
the Canary Islands, Morocco, Senegal and Cabo Verde. With the increase of maritime patrols, and the
diplomatic and cooperation efforts, the number of small boats has gone down in the last month. Nonetheless,
the more than 10,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived to the Canary Islands in the first half of 2006
represent a new record.
In a short time, Spain has become the second EU country with the largest number of foreigners: four million.
Even after the massive regularization of 2005, almost a million of them lack proper documents. Germany has 7.3
million foreigners, the United Kingdom 3 and Italy two.
Neighbor countries have responded to Spain’s plea for the “Europeanization”of the problem of illegal
immigration in Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands, because once they are in the Iberian Peninsula and within
the Schengen area, the undocumented immigrants of one member are everyone’s in this common space
without borders. At the same time, Spain’s European partners have criticized its unilateral decision to give
amnesty to more than half a million immigrants in 2005.
The European Commission tries to get EU members to harmonize their visa rules and procedures and also tries
to create a common European system for the right of asylum. Such persistent lack of coordination is
regrettable, and it hurts both applicants and the European Union.
The challenge of immigration is to combine the desire to emigrate by some, and the needs of receiving
countries. The individual decision to emigrate from the Third World to the first, with all its opportunity, is
perfectly logical and even laudable. On the other hand, every country has the right to control its borders and
manage its inmigration flows.
Europe wants to become the world’s most competitive and dynamic economy thanks to knowledge, and for
this it needs immigrants. The European Commission values the cultural, social and economic enrichment that
immigration brings, especially in a Europe in demographic decline. The newcomers will not solve the Social
Security and pensions crises created by the low European fertility rates, but will help to mitigate them.
High levels of immigration helped fuel an economic boom in the United States in the ‘90s, and to maintain
strong growth also in this decade. By contrast, Japan’s closed doors to immigration aggravated its recession,
with a fall in working population and consumption levels.
Immigration has positive effects, but generates rejection among some sectors because its costs and benefits
are unevenly distributed. Competition with cheap labor hurts unqualified workers in manufacturing and
services. It is also middle and low classes the ones that must live together with immigrants in their
neighborhoods and share with them schools and other public services. But white collar workers benefit from
the increases in productivity brought by cheap labor, and from the arrival of new consumers. And obviously
their children attend other schools.
A research done in Germany after this country plummeted in the PISA global education rankings found out that
the level of excellence in a class dropped significantly once students of foreign origin reached a proportion of
20%. And it seems that language is not the main problem (although the state of Bavaria has introduced a
German test for preschoolers, and those failing it will have to take language classes before starting primary
education). Classes with a high proportion of East European immigrants of German origin but who had lost the
language did not show the decreases in student attainment observed in groups with a large number of children
of immigrants from other cultures.
Europe must remain open to the world, welcoming people with the wish to make a better future for
themselves and to contribute to their host countries. Europe must face the challenge of the integration of the
newcomers, respecting their cultures and making them respect Europe’s values, juridical principles and laws.
Integration is necessary and is doable, if Europe makes the required investments. We need to devote more
resources to education, so every child, local or foreign, can fully realize his or her potential. We need to plan
cities so we avoid the creation of ghettos. We need to guarantee good public services and economic
opportunities in lower income areas. And we need to promote the emancipation of the immigrant woman, so
she can participate in society in equal conditions as men.