AGAINST TIDE. Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at an emerging pan-European backlash against the tide of illegal immigration to Western Europe.
The surge to power of extreme right parties—Jorg Haider’s in Austria a few years back, and recently Jean Marie Le Pen’s in France, and the late Pim Fortuyn’s in the Netherlands—has come on the back of these parties’ avowed opposition to what is perceived to be an extremely tolerant attitude toward immigrants—be they legitimate asylum seekers or plain economic refugees.
Recently, even fairly open countries like Britain have seen the rise of political opposition to the tide of immigration. And mainstream, even left-of-center politicians like Britain’s Home Secretary David Blunkett, have joined in the outcry.
It is not difficult to see why.
Uncontrolled immigration to any country is costly. Take the case of people coming over to the U.K. Some of them come from the Balkans and further east, seeking to escape the horrors of war in their homelands. Most, however, are simply looking for better economic opportunities—arriving from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, the Philippines and the rest of the Far East in their thousands. A few come with employable skills, but others end up in welfare rolls, costing taxpayers billions of pounds each year.
Europe is especially vulnerable to overgenerosity with immigration. As past colonial masters, there seems to be a prevalent feeling of responsibility in many countries on the continent, over what is happening in their former colonies. Thus, France is full of Algerians, Moroccans and Senegalese migrants, and the U.K. is home to many from Hong Kong, the Caribbean and the sub-continent. Somehow, their politicians, and their people, feel that accepting former colonials into their countries is a way of atoning for their sins of the past.
HIGH COSTS. But is it really helping either the past colonial masters or the erstwhile colonized? On balance, one would have to say that it benefits neither, with very high economic and social costs on both sides.
The receiving countries end up shelling out billions of pounds of welfare funds, to sponsor language training and social integration programs, job placement, housing assistance, and similar schemes to help the new arrivals. This preferential treatment alienates their own citizens—especially those lower in the economic ladder—who feel that they are being neglected for the sake of the foreign newcomers. Social tensions are inevitable, tensions that on many occasions often turn violent and confrontational.
The new arrivals also introduce severe and significant distortionary effects in the host country’s employment markets, especially when they are willing to work for far less than the host country’s own residents are prepared to accept.
The countries of origin suffer too. Countries like the Philippines, that have been the source of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to Western countries, have had the travel and mobility privileges of their residents severely curtailed. Any Filipino that wishes to visit a foreign land becomes a suspect, a potential illegal immigrant in the making. While many countries are granted automatic entry privileges for their nationals, the people of those that are the source of illegal immigration are subjected to endless, sometimes humiliating scrutiny before being granted travel documentation.
This difficulty of access to foreign travel and employment has made the playing field even more uneven than it already is. The few opportunities available are not necessarily accessible by the most qualified, but by the cunning and adventurous few—their skills or lack of them notwithstanding—who are prepared to take their chances, whatever the outcome.
Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, June 08, 2002 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/ceb/2002/06/08/bus/batuhan.backlash.html).