Europe's Shifting Immigration Dynamic

By Ben-David, Esther | Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Europe's Shifting Immigration Dynamic


Ben-David, Esther, Middle East Quarterly


Published in the Spring 2009 Middle East Quarterly, pp. 15-24.

Western Europe has gone through two major stages in its recent immigration history. In the first stage, European leaders misjudged the effects of immigration and, in the second, they miscalculated how hard it would be to stop an immigration dynamic.

Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, European countries have changed from net sources of emigration to attractive destinations for immigration. Today Muslims, many from rural traditional areas, comprise the bulk of non-European immigrants to Europe. Even those who have settled in cities retain a village mentality and are seen as backward by the business and cultural elites in their home countries. Moroccans who settled in the Netherlands and Belgium, for example, are mostly Berbers from the Rif mountains, not the Arab cultural elite1 from Casablanca, Rabat, or Fez. These immigrants came to Europe in order to build railroads, work in the coal mines, clean streets, and do the jobs that Europeans did not want to do.2 Both "push" and "pull" factors affect immigration. Push factors are those that lead the immigrant to leave his homeland while pull factors are those which attract him to a different country. Europe and other Western liberal countries exert a strong pull on immigrants. However, stopping immigration is not easy, if at all possible, since the same European liberal laws that attract immigrants also prevent states from acting to stop them from coming or, later, to deport them.

Background

After World War II, countries such as France, Belgium, and Germany started to allow and even entice foreign workers to come. The economic boom in those countries attracted immigrants, first from poor southern European countries such as Italy and Spain, and then from the far shores of the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. The United Kingdom attracted immigrants from throughout the British empire: Indians and Pakistanis came to Britain from the 1950s on, Bangladeshis from the 1970s. France, Germany, and the Netherlands also attracted immigrants from their former colonies. The host European governments understood these migrants to be temporary guest workers as did many of the migrants themselves.

The economic downturn in the early 1970s led European policymakers to realize that immigration was not always a positive phenomenon. Many immigrants were suddenly unemployed, but they did not go back to their home countries. As fears grew that foreign workers sought permanent residence, between 1973 and 1975, Western European governments instituted an "immigration stop," introducing restrictive measures to deter immigration and to put a stop to recruiting foreign labor.

This immigration stop had unforeseen consequences. Migration of foreign workers dwindled, but the migration dynamic nevertheless continued. Migrants residing in Europe could continue to sponsor their extended family's immigration and, indeed, relaxation of restrictions on family reunification encouraged further immigration. The time between the first proposals for a halt and their implementation exacerbated the problem as immigrants hurried to bring over their families, fearful that the doors to Europe would soon close forever.

Ironically, in the decades that have passed since the halt to immigration, more immigrants have come to Europe than in preceding decades. Indeed, by looking at the number of immigrants in various countries, it would be difficult to determine how far back the block had been implemented in practice. In the Netherlands, for example, the number of first- and secondgeneration Moroccan and Turkish immigrants has increased almost tenfold (see Table 1) since the 1974 halt.

Researchers have long sought to chart the immigration dynamic and to predict future trends. When Poland joined the European Union, forecasts of the number of Polish workers who would immigrate to the United Kingdom underestimated reality. …

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