DOES Europe need more immigrants?
Officially most European countries have narrowed the means of
legal immigration since the early 1970s, when the oil shocks hit the
continent's industries and began replacing foreign-worker programs
with unemployment lines.
Since then, several countries have tried to close the door on all
but the beneficiaries of family reunification provisions. Although
Switzerland has continued accepting immigrants to keep its
industries, hotels, and farms running, France has drastically
reduced its numbers of legal immigrants. Germany even chalked up
high net emigration figures - mostly Turks returning home - before
the opening of Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany.
Yet even as polls show most Europeans believe there are too many
immigrants in their countries, and as extreme right-wing political
parties espousing anti-immigration rhetoric gain increasing
attention, some economists are suggesting Europe faces a demographic
deficit - and an acute shortage of certain kinds of workers - that
will again make immigration programs necessary.
Countries like Belgium and Austria already face population
declines, Spain will begin declining in this decade, and Italy has a
fertility rate (1.7) well below the replacement level of 2.1
children per woman. The former West Germany was expected to shrink
by nearly one-quarter over the next four decades before
reunification muddied the German picture. France's population would
be nearing decline if not for a high birth rate among its immigrant
Some of Europe's labor needs are being filled by "clandestine" or
illegal immigrants and by immigrants who have come to Europe as
political refugees. In recent years, such annual immigration to
France, for example, is estimated to have topped 100,000.
But some economists and other officials are calling for defined
immigration policies, more along the lines of Canadian or Australian
policy, so that governments can take an active role in determining
who they take in.
Austria is a case in point. The government will soon propose a
new program calling for the legal immigration of up to 30,000 people
"It is clear that we need people," says Manfred Matzka, the
Austrian Interior Ministry's director for immigration and asylum
issues. "The question before us is whether we should fill that need
with whoever comes, or with people we need and who are planned for?"
With the country's population declining by about 15,000 a year,
Dr. Matzka says the additional workers would allow Austria to
"secure a slight expansion of the economy." Immigration candidates
would apply in their countries and would be accepted according to a
set of priorities based on country of origin, profession, and age.
Legal immigrants would be assured of housing, language courses,
and job training, says Matzka, making integration an integral part
of the new program.
"In Europe, there have been two opposite models for immigration:
The Swedish model, where everything was planned and the government
said up front and from the beginning they would spend money to make
immigration work; and the Italian, where for a long time anyone was
allowed to come in, but then nothing was done for him," Matzka says. …