What Are the Pressures for and Against a Common EU Immigration Policy?

Introduction

The free movement of persons and goods within the European Union is an important pillar in fostering balanced economic growth and political cohesion among participating countries. Immigration policies therefore determine the scale of migrations with the objective of promoting harmony, security and development among migrant-sending counties with their transit and destination nations. The European Union has created a borderless Europe situation through the Schengen agreement (Boswell, 2003). This has led to emerging challenges related to external immigration among member states. The receptive capacity of countries of destination within the European Union is a priority issue in debating the immigration policy. Immigration policies in different European countries are differentiated and thus create conflicts with the objectives of the European Union. The process of enacting a common immigration policy for the entire European Union and its neighbors seeks to correct the fragmented national immigration laws.

The policy also takes into account the receptive capacity of migrant-receiving countries with respect to their social infrastructure and economic situation. The state of housing, educational facilities, health institutions and labor markets for instance is evaluated in order to prevent a situation where migrants become a burden in their countries of destination (Cole, Dale, 1999). A common immigration policy in the European Union involves independent actors working with various arms of the EU and government officials in strategic ministries such as the ministry of home and foreign affairs. Countries involved in such dialogue consist of the migrant-sending, transit and receiving nations.

Background

The common European Asylum System has emerged as a priority issue under the Treaty of Amsterdam and in view of the Kosovo refugee situation and related migration challenges. It is a major development towards the formation of an integrated immigration policy that cuts across the European Union and its neighbors. It actually creates an alternative to the Trans-governmental mode of co-operation between partner countries in the EU on asylum-related issues and refugee legislation (Cornelius, 2004). The Europeanization of the refugee policy addresses salient features of the legal frameworks in national constitutions relating to migration with a view of integrating them within the EU policy which seeks greater political cohesion. The common European Asylum system was developed by the EU executive leaders at the Tampere European Council. This was informed by the realities of the global migration trends.

Migration of workers, refugees and asylum seekers across international borders has increased in recent times. Legal and illegal migration appear to take place simultaneously with the task of making distinctions between the two being left with immigration officials of the countries involved. Illegal migration is on the increase because of the restrictions inherent in immigration policies of the migrant receiving countries. The European Union serves as the motor for not only economic integration but also political cohesion between member states (Corry, 1996). Refugees from African countries fleeing civil war and rampant political instability have joined other businessmen, students and professionals in mass exodus to Europe either in pursuit of greener pastures or safe havens.

International migration of Indian workers to Middle East has also been witnessed taking into perspective labor shortages in the countries of destination. There has also been substantial migration within Europe as a result of the political developments in Central and Eastern regions. Migrations from developing countries to European destinations serve to promote economic growth in countries of origin due to remittances which act as a tool of foreign exchange. Skilled workers returning to their countries of origin bring with enormous expertise and resources which contribute towards sustainable development and economic growth at home (Dell’ Olio, 2005). It should also be noted that most of the developing countries are plagued with political conflicts, increased population growth and limited employment opportunities. The situation has forced migrants from these nations to seek for either permanent or seasonal immigration status in Europe and other developed countries.

Pressures for a common EU immigration policy

Economic incentives

There is need for labor flexibility within Europe in order to promote economic growth. An increase in economic growth among European countries results in availability of jobs. The lack of sufficient skilled manpower to supply the native labor demand in European companies has occasioned the need for international labor migrations for economic reasons (Dickens, Eichengreen& Ulman, 1993). Migration of persons interested to work in lucrative EU labor markets has been complicated by the upsurge in unskilled labor taking advantage of illegal channels of migration. Policy measures around immigration are therefore centered on filtering out unskilled manpower while admitting skilled labor for purposes of promoting economic growth.

Illegal migrants are perceived to be a burden in their host countries since labor markets and the prevailing economic situation does not favor their integration into most of the EU states. Other categories of migrants include refugees, displaced people and relatives keen on family reunification with immigrants already living in EU countries. The problem of unskilled migration is compounded by the limited opportunities available in European labor markets for permanent and gainful employment (Geddes, 2003). Unskilled labor movements and illegal migrations are therefore closely related due to the restrictive immigration policies existent within EU states. The contribution of an increase in unskilled migrants on social and economic disruptions is therefore high taking into account their unemployment predicament and cultural constraints such as the language problem in host countries. The presence of high populations of illegal immigrants without a source of income in a foreign country may lead to an increase in criminality and social intolerance as a result of poor integration.

A common immigration policy is therefore necessary in fostering economic development and socio-political cohesion among member states through provisions that take into consideration the state of affairs in the nation-states. Developed nations continue to experience high demand for skilled labor occasioned by technological advancement, population aging and the prevailing shortage of native European labor to meet the demand (Joppke, 1999). The future needs in the labor markets cannot be sufficiently adequately met by the education system and the prevailing workforce in European countries. The European Union is therefore under obligation to establish necessary institutional frameworks to attract relevant skilled manpower from abroad to fill the gaps.

The underlying challenge lies in balancing the economy with a prolific mix of both skilled and unskilled labor in European companies for quality and sustainable output. It is understood that the excess demand for skilled workers by these companies reduces incentives for hiring unskilled labor (Kofman, Graham& Hardill, 2001). The nature of the European labor markets is such that lack of skilled labor decreases the availability of jobs for unskilled workers. Skilled workers enhance growth of the local industries which also creates opportunities for employment among the unskilled workforce. As such, the skilled and unskilled workers are interdependent. Due to the inability by the aging population and the educational system to supply adequate skilled manpower, the alternative lies on an organized immigration policy that attracts and integrates foreign skilled workers in Europe.

Labor migration facilitates the appropriate the transfer of factors of production into the host countries and associated benefits in trade and industry (Koppenfels, Stacher& Laczko, 2002). The expansion of the European Union has therefore created more employment opportunities which continue to attract immigrants from neighboring Central and Eastern regions basically to fill the gap in the skilled labor markets. The challenges lie in regulating illegal migration of unskilled workers, security concerns and matters to do with integration. A large number of immigrants already living in Europe are considered inappropriate for the domestic labor markets since they are not economic migrants. Most of these immigrants are dependants of previous economic migrants reunited with family while others are refugees and asylum seekers. These categories of people are not legally allowed to work in Europe since there are no economic incentives supporting such a cause.

Migration policies are designed based on variation in the economic situation of different regions. A comparison in earnings, the employment situation, standard of living and trading patterns determine migrations decisions between regions. In order to migrate to a different region, migrants have to estimate the risks and costs associated with the traveling costs, the distance and the psychological impact of separating from family members (Leal, Freeman& Givens, 2008). Immigration policy is therefore designed depending on the degree to which migrants can be integrated into the host nation’s economic, social and political setting.

Germany, Ireland and Italy have also benefited from the immigration of skilled labor such as in the information and technology sector towards economic development. The free movement of persons is therefore a factor for mutual growth and prosperity. A common EU immigration policy shall therefore enhance cohesive border controls for purposes of human and economic exchange. Properly managed immigration enhances social cohesion in host countries. It hampers the prospects for illegal migration, social insecurities and criminality through sustained border management and filtered immigration (Papa Gianni, 2006). Refugees and asylum seekers are granted immigration status on humanitarian grounds until peace and stability is restored in their home countries. The reception capacity of the host countries is paramount when considering admission and stay of refugees or asylum seekers in order to prevent a situation where they are regarded as a burden in their countries of destination.

Pressures against a common EU immigration policy

Sovereignty

Member states have expressed concerns regarding their sovereignty, security issues and the conflicting refugee status. The creation of borderless Europe is likely to create loopholes in the national security of signatory countries leading to acts of terrorism, drug trafficking and other crimes (Spencer, 1997). Member states are concerned that the free movement of persons across borders is likely to be exploited by terrorists and criminals disguised as international students or businessmen to gain entry into targeted countries. Border controls are therefore sustained in view of territorial integrity and security considerations.

Border control and the task of managing migrations are traditionally considered to be the responsibility of individual countries. National governments are elected into office by their citizens in order to protect the lives of their people, their property and their esteemed sovereignty. The international humanitarian concept of granting refugees and asylum seekers immigration status is acceptable by most Member states even though measured against the receptive capacity in host nations (Thompson, 1996). The process of framing a common European asylum policy has been characterized by competing viewpoints due to controversies on the proper definition of a “refugee” and the subsequent conditions under which the said refugee deserved protection. Refugees are therefore limited to persons fleeing from third countries with exceptional political turmoil.

The refugee problem arose from the effects of the Second World War and the fall of the Soviet Union which led to rapid increase of migrants seeking asylum in Western European countries such as Germany and Italy. Decolonization of previous empires in Africa, Asia and South America led to readmission of citizens back into European destinations. As such, there was pronounced increase in national populations beyond the rate at which the economy was growing. However, subsequent gradual development in European economies improved the employment situation. The Kosovo crisis and other cases of political instability in African countries experiencing civil war forced massive migrations of refugees into Europe. Most of these refugees were unskilled to work into in their industries.

The refugees could not therefore be accommodated enmasse in Western Europe since they were also in need of humanitarian support. The problem of integrating refugees in the host country societies is further constrained by language barrier, racial and cultural differences (Watt& Galgóczi, 2009). Admission of refugee in one country within borderless European Union could render neighboring states porous compromising national securities of the entire region. Participating countries in the EU therefore maintain their solidarity and political cooperation as far as law enforcement and border management is concerned.

Xenophobia and racism

There still remains the problem of reconciling different cultures towards a politically integrated and cohesive society. The increase in number of foreigners has subsequently led to an upsurge in cases of racism and xenophobia which has also been experienced on the political scene (Boswell, 2003). The events surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US have further extended the problem of racism and xenophobia with respect to the interaction between Muslims with other religions and cultures. The ascension of Bulgaria and Romania has consequently complicated the culture problem with the inclusion of the Roma people among EU citizens.

The Roma people have been considered racial and discriminatory among fellow Europeans and other people. The development of the common EU immigration policies are therefore constrained by racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism across Europe (Cole& Dale, 1999). The growing apathy and discontent among European citizens has a background in colonialism and imperialism aspects that the continent has had with other parts of the world. The underlying social problem is the difficulties of European political institutions to integrate huge populations of foreign workers into their mainstream society. Immigration challenges are therefore a product of irreconcilable cultures with respect to actors pressing for preservation of European identity.

It is apparent that the push for a common European immigration policy was meant for exclusive EU citizens with limitations to the rest of the world. The process of implementing an immigration policy for EU citizens took quite substantial time to be enforced among member states. It is therefore difficult for non-European nationals to benefit from the intergovernmental frame, international human rights provisions not withstanding. The manner in which migrants fare in their countries of destination also contributes to their degree of integration in the host societies. The extent to which the sending and receiving nations are related economically and socially determines the degree to which migrants get assimilated in host countries (Cornelius, 2004).

As such, the process of interaction and integration among migrants in their countries of destination is therefore dependent on their level of education, proficiency in host language and economic similarities. The success of the common migration policy is therefore a product of the competing national interests, geographical distance and economic inequalities that exist between the EU member states and migrant sending countries. However, host country sovereignty remains a thorny issue in the process of transferring immigration laws into the supranational framework under the EU. Independent EU member states continue to evaluate the economic, social and political situation in their countries in order to determine their compliance to the common immigration policy (Corry, 1996). Work-related immigration is largely dependant on domestic labor markets and economic situation.

Family reunification

The provision for family reunification with migrants settled among European member states is also an impediment to the common immigration policy. Skilled workers are privileged with work permits and other allowances meant to promote their integration into European countries. However, the admission and stay of skilled workers from third countries is separated from the aspect of family reunification. The skilled workers are allowed to stay with a limited number of family members in some European countries such as Britain and German. It is generally understood that young children who are still dependent on their parents working abroad need their sustained moral and economic support till they mature.

As such, children and spouses of immigrants legally living and working in Europe should be reunited unconditionally (Dell’ Olio, 2005). Lack of cooperation by most European on this aspect is based on economic factors. The notion is that family dependents may not contribute to the development of the economy which is why the skilled migration was institutionalized. They are perceived to increase the burden on social and economic infrastructure if they are not skilled in some profession or keen on developing their careers through the native education system for the mutual benefit. However, family reunification is considered to an important step towards promoting the integration of foreign workers in European destinations. Family members are psychologically and emotionally attached such that long and distant separation could frustrate integration of skilled workers. Persons seeking asylum in Europe may not also contribute positively to the economic development of their host countries.

Conclusion

There are significant pressures towards inclusion of the beneficial aspects of the common immigration policy into national migration legislations. The process of designing a common migration for the European Union is therefore dependent on the degree to which competing national interests are integrated into the supranational legislations and policies in order to harmonize the benefits of migrations across all the participating countries. Essentially, migrations shall continue to exist as long as the levels of prosperity become more dynamic in different regions of the world (Geddes, 2003). Controversial issues that hamper the successful enactment and implementation of a common EU migration policy can be effectively repaired through collaborative deliberations and mutual respect among participating countries. The fundamental issues relating to national security and the sovereignty of the nation-state should therefore be balanced against humanitarian concerns and economic migrations within the European Union.

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