So far, we have seen how policies are characterised by many barriers to the integration of MRAs into the labour market. Chapter 3 shows how immigration laws and policies in the analysed countries have had a restrictive turn in recent years. Is this restrictive legal and policy framework ‘justified’ by the real numbers related to the stock and flows of MRAs in European countries? On the one hand, it is true that during the 2000–2017 period, the international migrant stock grew worldwide by an average of 2.3%. In absolute values, it means that since 2000 the estimated number of international migrants has been constantly increasing in the whole planet, reaching 258 million in 2017. On the other hand, the share of international migrants in proportion to the world’s population has remained relatively stable in the last four decades, fluctuating from 2.2 to 3.5% (UN 2017). International migrations show different patterns: the share of migrants residing in high-income countries increased from 9.6% in 2000 to 14% in 2017, and high-income countries host 64% of the total number of international migrants worldwide, but the picture reverses if we consider solely refugees and asylum seekers. They are about 26 million, representing slightly more than 10% of the total migrant population. Eighty-four per cent of them are hosted in low and middle-income countries (UN 2017). Therefore, high-income and low and middle-income countries face different challenges in migration management. In the present volume, the focus is on the first group, but keeping in mind that this is just a partial perspective on a broader, much more complex and diverse phenomenon.
The recent increase of the migrant population affected especially people of working age: in 2017, about 74% of all international migrants were between 20 and 64 years of age, compared to 57% of the global population falling in the same age group. This means that, in principle, a net inflow of migrants decreases the proportion of inactive population (children and elderly people), with positive effects for the host country’s economy and welfare. In particular, scholars have highlighted how migrants in the working age, being net contributors to public finances, will be fundamental in sustaining fiscal revenues, needed to maintain publicly funded pension schemes in a context characterised by ageing population (Storesletten 2003). Relying on generational accounting approaches, several studies find net fiscal gains from immigrants in different European countries, for instance in Spain (Collado et al. 2004), in France (Chojnicki 2013), in Austria (Mayr 2005) and, especially as regards high-skilled immigrants, in the UK (Lee and Miller 2000) and in Sweden (Storesletten 2003).
Narrowing the analysis to Europe, we should highlight that there were 17.6 million persons living in one of the EU Member States on 1 January 2018 with the citizenship of another EU Member State, whereas third-country nationals residing in an EU Member State amounted to 22.4 million, equal to 4.4% of the population of the EU-28 (Eurostat 2019).Footnote 4 In terms of flows, 4.4 million people immigrated to one of the EU-28 Member States during 2017, including flows between EU Member States. Among these 4.4 million immigrants, people of non-EU countries amounted to 2.0 million, EU citizens amounted to 2.3 million and stateless people were around 11 thousand. These are not particularly high numbers, considering that the EU population is over 500 million people.
Moreover, in recent years, immigration has contributed to EU population change. This is indeed determined by two components: the natural population change – specifically the difference between the number of live births and deaths in a given year – and the net migration – precisely the difference between the number of immigrants and the number of emigrants. As reported by Fig. 2.1, since the mid-1980s net migration has increased, and from the beginning of the 1990s onwards the value of net migration and statistical adjustment has always been higher than that of natural change. Between 2016 and 2018, the net migration change (plus statistical adjustment) was even higher than the total change. Conversely, since the mid-1980s the natural change in the population decreased: the number of deaths increased, the number of live births decreased. The difference between live births and deaths narrowed significantly from 1961 onwards and deaths outnumbered live births in 2015, 2017 and 2018 resulting in a natural decrease in the population. The increase in population recorded between 2016 and 2018 was therefore due to net migration and statistical adjustment. Migration is thus fundamental to explain population change in the EU and during the past three decades population growth have been mainly driven by net migration. This trend is likely to persist in the future, given that the number of deaths is expected to increase because of the aging of the baby-boom generation.
If we look at immigration flows both from outside the EU and between EU countries, in 2017 a total of around 1.4 million people immigrated to one of the SIRIUS countries, with UK reporting the largest amount (644,209) and Finland the smallest (31,797) (Table 2.1).
Among the 1.4 million who migrated to one of the selected European countries in 2017, almost one million people (731,196) were from a non-EU country, with a constant increase over time. Again, the UK reports the largest number of non-EU immigrants (320,669), whereas Finland shows the smallest number (16,480) (Table 2.2). As regards migration stocks (Table 2.3), overall, more than eight million non-EU nationals live in one of the SIRIUS countries in 2018 (1.6% of total EU population), 221,911 more than in 2014. The largest number is recorded in Italy (3,581,561), whereas among SIRIUS countries Finland hosts the smallest number (148,491).
If we look at the share of non-nationals in the resident population of 1 January 2018 (see Fig. 2.2), Switzerland shows the highest share of non-nationals (25.1%), whereas Finland and the Czech Republic show the lowest shares (4.5% and 4.9%, respectively). The UK, Italy, Denmark and (to a lesser extent) Greece show very similar percentages (between 9% and 7.6%). However, if took into account only non-EU foreigners, the percentage in Switzerland drops, although it is still the highest among the SIRIUS countries (8.6%). Moreover, shares of non-EU foreigners in Italy (5.9%) and Greece (5.6%) are higher than in UK (3.7%). Overall, however, non-EU nationals represents less than 10% of the resident population in each of the SIRIUS countries, contrary to the narrative about an ‘invasion’ of Europe. Many far-right parties in the last years have indeed campaigned showing ads like “stop the invasion!” or “secure our borders!”.Footnote 5 However, as shown by the numbers we have presented so far and by previous empirical research (De Haas 2008), the reality is different.
Concerning the permits to stay – namely those authorisations issued by a country’s authorities allowing non-EU nationals to legally stay on its territory – Table 2.4 clusters them by reason for issue. In 2017, slightly more than 3.1 million permits were released. The majority were issued for employment reasons (1.01 million; 32.2%) followed by family reasons (829,922; 26.5%), other reasons (766,798; 24.5%) – that include stays without the right to work or international protection – and education-related reasons (529,994; 16.9%). Therefore, Europe, despite the recent economic crisis, continues to exercise a great pulling factor because of its ability to absorb work.
As far as statistics on asylum are concerned, the total number of asylum applications in the EU from non-EU nationals amounts to 638,240 in 2018, approximately half the number registered in 2015 and 2016, when applications amounted to 1,322,845 and 1,260,910 respectively (Fig. 2.3). Therefore, asylum applications reached their peaks in 2015 and 2016, when the EU witnessed an unprecedented influx of refugees and migrants, most of them fleeing from war in Syria. Considering the nationality of asylum applicants in 2018 (Eurostat 2019), most arrived from contexts affected by years of generalized violence, insecurity, authoritarian regimes, etc. (e.g., the first six countries of origin are, in descending order, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria). This suggests that they will probably not come back soon. Therefore, it becomes appropriate to draw up strategies for their active integration into the labour market.
In the 2013–2018 period, the highest number of first instance decisions was issued in 2016 (1,106,395) (see Table 2.5). Out of the total number of decisions issued, 672,890 (61%) had a positive outcome. Furthermore, 366,470 (54%) positive decisions granted refugee status; 50,980 (8%) granted an authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons; and 255,440 (38%) decided for subsidiary protection. It is worth mentioning that humanitarian status is specific to national legislations, contrary to refugee status and subsidiary protection status which are defined by EU law. As for 2018, the total number of first instance decisions dropped to 581,735. Out of these decisions, 217,405 (37%) were positive, of which 122,070 (56%) granted refugee status.
As regards final decisions (i.e. those decisions taken by administrative or judicial bodies in appeal or in review and which are no longer subject to remedy), in 2018, 308,830 decisions were issued, of which 115,925 (38%) were positive (Table 2.6). In particular, 41,720 (36%) resulted in grants of refugee status, 35,800 (31%) granted humanitarian status, and 38,410 (33%) granted subsidiary protection.
It is interesting to focus on 2018 data to highlight the success rate of international protection applications in SIRIUS countries, focusing on first instance decisions. Table 2.7 shows, on the left side, the total number of positive decisions about all international protection applications (including Geneva convention status, humanitarian status, subsidiary protection status) and their success rate; on the right side of the table positive decisions granting only the Geneva convention status (i.e. refugee status) and the related success rate are reported. As regards decisions granting any type of international protection, Switzerland is by far the country with the highest success rate (89.6%), followed by Finland (54.2%) and Denmark (50.1%). Conversely, the lowest success rate is definitely the Czech Republic (11.2%). Relatively lower rates also characterise Italy (32.2%) and the UK (35%). Greece lies in between (47%). People applying in Switzerland and in the Czech Republic might have different characteristics and different life paths, but such a wide gap in the success rate is likely to also depend on different legal provisions and the interpretation of protection standards (for more details on this, see Chap. 3).
Differences among SIRIUS countries become even wider when taking into account only the positive decisions granting refugee status and not considering other forms of protection, as shown by the right side of Table 2.7. Figures drop dramatically and vary from 39.8% in Finland and 39.1% in Greece to 2.9% in the Czech Republic. The country where the difference is minimal is Greece, whereas the maximum difference is in Switzerland. This means that in Greece the overwhelmingly majority of positive decisions granted refugee status, whereas in Switzerland other forms of international protection prevailed. Indeed, other Eurostat dataFootnote 6 show that in Greece national forms of temporary protection are minimal, whereas in Switzerland refugee status is granted less than humanitarian protection (and even less considering also subsidiary protection). The second largest difference between success rate of any form of international protection and refugee status’ success rate is shown by Italy, signalling that in 2018 other forms of international protection prevailed over refugee status. In particular, according to Eurostat data,Footnote 7 humanitarian protection status was by far the most granted form of protection.Footnote 8 In the other countries, there is a greater balance between decisions that guarantee refugee status and those that guarantee other forms of international protection, with a prevalence of the refugee status protection in UK, Finland and Denmark and a prevalence of the other forms of international protection (especially subsidiary protection)Footnote 9 in the Czech Republic. Clearly, not all statuses are entitled to the same rights and benefits, as shown by Chaps. 1 and 3. Differences may be significant, with a relevant impact on people’s lives. In general, these data confirm the restrictive turn discussed in previous section.
The data we have presented so far denies once again the rhetoric of ‘the invasion’. All the countries we analyzed are selective and rigid in granting international protection. Of course, a different discourse can be created about the fate of people who are denied status. Many of them, indeed, are ordered to leave the country, but few are actually repatriated and become illegal, with all the negative consequences that this fact can have for migrants themselves and host countries. This is the real problem that EU countries are not able to solve, and it has shown by statistics on the enforcement of immigration legislation presented in Table 2.8. On the one hand, the number of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU, after a decline in 2014, increased between 2014 and 2018, reaching its peaks in 2017 and 2018 (439,505 and 471,155, respectively), confirming again the increasingly restrictive approach adopted by most EU governments. On the other, the highest number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present was recorded in 2015 (2,154,675). In the same year, not surprisingly, it was registered the highest number of non-EU nationals who were ordered to leave the territory of one of the EU countries (533,395), but only slightly more than one fifth of them (196,190 third country nationals) were returned to their country of origin outside the EU. In 2016, this number increased to 228,995 non-EU citizens, whereas in the following years this number decreased, thus signalling how the increasingly restrictive immigration measures have not gone hand in hand with the capacity to effectively implement repatriations. Over time, indeed, those who are returned to a non-EU country are only a small share of those ordered to leave. This means that the tightening of immigration policies did not impede the presence of ‘illegal’ migrants within EU countries, despite ‘fighting illegal immigration’ being often the declared purpose of many governments. On the contrary, a restrictive approach can be seen as one of the causes of illegal entry: restricting legal entry may have prompted many immigrants to apply for asylum as the only legal access route, but many have been denied international protection, actually making them illegal. In this regard, scholars have talked about implementation gap and efficacy gap (Czaika and De Haas 2013). As regards the first, research has revealed that implementation gaps can be significant (e.g. Wunderlich 2010), especially when immigration policies on paper are unrealistic or not related to concrete migration experiences. The efficacy gap reflects the fact that efforts by states to regulate and restrict immigration have often failed (Bhagwati 2003; Castles 2004; Düvell 2005) because of unintended effects, for instance on other migration flows: rather than having an impact on the overall volume of inflows, immigration restrictions would mostly change the channel of access of immigrants, such as through an increased use of family migration or irregular means of entry. De Haas (2011) calls this reorientation toward other legal or illegal channels of immigration the categorical substitution effect. The low effectiveness of restrictive immigration policies is explained by structural determinants in origin and destination countries (such as labour market imbalances) as well as by the internal dynamics of migration networks and systems (Czaika and De Haas 2013). This explains why (illegal) migration often does not stop despite the tightening of borders control.