The EU integration debate – Giving immigrants a voice20 June 2012
“Immigrants are more positive about their experiences and policy – for example, language and integration courses – than rhetoric would suggest. They want to vote and take long-term citizenship,” said Stefan Schäfers, European programme adviser at the King Baudouin Foundation, introducing the Immigrant Citizens Survey (ICS), the first transnational survey of non EU-born citizens’ opinions of European migration policies.
“There are 32.5m immigrants in the European Union. 12.5m are EU citizens, and 20m have citizenship outside the EU,” said Portuguese MEP Carlos Coelho (European People’s Party group).
“Responsibility for migration policy lies with member states. Progress on building common European policies is slow, due to wide differences in current national policies,” said Coelho.
“A certain degree of adaptability to the host country, such as language skills or cultural understanding, is essential for successful integration. But only ten member states make language skills compulsory for immigrants,” the MEP said.
“Achieving the Europe 2020 target of a 75% employment rate should also happen through the integration of immigrants, but this hasn’t been mainstreamed into policymaking or monitoring,” said Huddleston.
“Most immigrants face local structural problems in finding jobs. The biggest problem is job security, the second biggest is language, and the third is discrimination. But some immigrants aren’t even looking for jobs,” Huddleston said.
“Migrants’ perceptions are in line with what we know about the reality, for example over-qualification. There is no EU-wide system for getting your qualifications recognised. In some countries, there are even regional differences,” said Fiona Kinsman, deputy head of the Immigration and Integration Unit at DG HOME in the European Commission.
“Despite high unemployment, there are significant skill shortages in the labour market, so employers will search for them. Only one third of migration to the EU is labour. The rest is family reunification and asylum,” Kinsman said.
“The role of employers will increase as it begins to bite that they can’t find the people they need,” she predicted.
“We need migrants. Demographic change means many jobs will go unfilled in future. Global competition for the world’s most gifted people is increasing. The EU must make itself more attractive, or it’ll lose out,” said Anna Wittenborg of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH.
“The EU must do much more to become more attractive to migrants and develop more flexible labour markets. Recognition must be easier to get everywhere, or the Indian IT worker will go to the US,” Wittenborg said.
“Citizenship policies are rooted in national heritage, history and politics. In Budapest, significant numbers of immigrants don’t apply for long-term residency because they don’t see the difference. But actually it improves your access to the labour market and social rights, and gives you the right to vote in local elections,” said Vivien Vadasi, a counsellor in the Hungarian Permanent Representation to the EU.
“It’s very important to hear immigrants’ voices to capture national characteristics. They know what’s happening on the ground. We need to emphasise the benefits of citizenship and long-term residency,” said Shannon Pfohman, deputy director of the European Network Against Racism.
“It’s a challenge. The lack of willingness to undergo the procedure is a warning sign,” Pfohman said.
“Consider revising policies, for example by harmonising waiting periods across member states. Long-term residency and naturalisation options are hugely important for an individual’s psychological well-being and desire to participate in society,” she argued.
“Integration is about social inclusion. You can’t separate immigration from integration. It’s a two-way process. To convince actors to fund the integration process, we need to communicate the benefits of migration for EU growth. We need data and evidence,” said Diane Schmitt, head of the Immigration and Integration Unit at DG HOME in the European Commission.