Europe and the immigration drama

The experts who gathered at the recent security conference in Munich have reinvented the wheel. “The world is becoming less western,” they proclaimed.

And then they noted: “More importantly, the west itself may become less western too.” One does not need to be an expert to recognize that the world, including the United States, is under great stress and that epochal changes are underway.

Who in the century just past would have thought that one day an American president would undermine the progressive international order based on established rules and cooperation? Who could have foreseen that populist movements in Europe would defy western liberal values and spread anti-establishment sentiments in nations that after two bloody wars had coalesced into inclusive democracies?

Last but not least, who could have seen the danger of fundamentalist movements and the political disruption in European countries brought about by an unstoppable wave of immigration from Africa, Asia and the Middle East?

The last perspective is clearly the one that most afflicts the western world and that prompts the hue and cry for the building of walls. Shocking as it may seem, even the leader of the United States, the nation that welcomed immigrants as its building lymph, is bent on building a wall and shutting off immigrants from a number of countries. In Europe, countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic, and political parties such as Matteo Salvini’s league in Italy, have erected barriers to illegal immigration. The widespread fear that immigrants are capable of subverting the essential characters of European and American civilizations dominates the social and political dialogue to the extent of ignoring the implacable reality of economic and demographic trends.

This is the naked truth: the population of Africa alone will double in 2050. Over 400 million will enter working age in the next 10 years but less than a third will find jobs. In order to neutralize the demographic contraction that threatens the growth and the welfare of European populations, countries with low birth rates such as Italy will need an inflow of hundreds of thousands of new workers. The agricultural sector in particular will absorb unskilled immigration. The intelligent management of the immigratory flux will thus become the only way to protect the European way of life. Political events in various nations, particularly in the United Kingdom, are complicating the necessary integration of immigrants, both legal and illegal. The British Home Office has announced plans to clamp down the flow of “cheap labor.” The industry sector is left wondering how to recruit the people needed to run its businesses in the face of the lowest unemployment in more than four decades. And yet, if we are to believe statistics, there are now 800,000 NEETs (not in education, employment and training), aged between 18 and 24.

This is another face of a grave problem. The NEETs are “off book” because they do not claim benefits and do not count in the official unemployment figures. But they are not invisible, just like the agricultural laborers in Italy who are abandoned to the exploitation of the landowners and the mafia. A way must be found to equip the young and the immigrants to acquire the right skills to enter the job markets. On the other hand, the case of the immigrants kept out of Trump’s America is also poignant owing to the availability of jobs in an economy that started to flourish before Donald Trump was elected.

Finally, there is an exquisite irony in the British announcement about the new post-Brexit immigration system that establishes English language requirements and minimum salary levels for European immigrants. The new point-based system replaces the freedom of movement that allowed European Union nationals to move freely to the UK.

The same effect will now daunt the British who wish to move to Europe after the transition period is over. They will find the doors mostly closed. Reciprocity also will dictate that they learn French, German, Italian and so on. If this condition were to be imposed on Americans, it is likely that not too many of them would move to Europe. It would be another unfortunate result of the enforcement of the new British norms not just on the EU but on migrants from everywhere. In short, the future is not bright for migrants, legal or illegal, no matter how necessary or regulated they may be.

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