Is Europe ready for non-European migrants?

Integration attitudes linked to perceptions of race and ethnicity

Significant integration challenge ... Refugees and migrants run to cross the Slovenian-Austrian border on November 2nd from Sentilj to Spielfeld. More than 218,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in October -- a monthly record . Photograph:    Rene Gomolj/AFP/Getty Images

Significant integration challenge ... Refugees and migrants run to cross the Slovenian-Austrian border on November 2nd from Sentilj to Spielfeld. More than 218,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Europe in October -- a monthly record . Photograph: Rene Gomolj/AFP/Getty Images

 

Migration has become a daily topic of conversation due to media coverage of those fleeing war-torn Syria and Europe’s approach to the migration crisis.

Reactions would indicate that Europe is far from ready for this significant inflow of migrants and refugees. Given the different strategies being adopted across Europe Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande have urged EU states to show unity in response.

It is therefore timely to examine Europe’s existing attitudes to migrants as an indicator of how well these migrants will be received in destination countries.

Our research highlights that European countries will face significant integration challenges given the existing attitudes of host country nationals to migrants of a different race and ethnic background. From our analysis of attitudes towards migrants, using the European Social Survey, it is clear there is a significant difference in attitudes across countries, and in particular, towards allowing migrants of a different race/ethnicity into their country.

Given that this survey was undertaken in 2012, prior to the current migration crisis, existing attitudes of those living in Europe towards those from a different race/ethnic background are important in terms of understanding how these new migrants will be integrated in host countries. Traditionally most migrants come from within Europe, with half of the foreign-born population being of European origin.

The survey findings highlight that Germany has one of the most positive attitudes towards migrants coming from a different race/ethnicity. Only 4 per cent of Germans would allow no migrants from a different race/ethnicity into their country, 21 per cent would allow many in and the majority, 75 per cent, would allow a few or some in. This may go some way to explaining the liberal approach to this crisis taken by the German government.

Conversely, the UK is at the other end of the spectrum, with the second most negative attitudes towards allowing migrants of a different race/ethnicity to enter. Only 7 per cent are in favour of allowing many into their country.

Least receptive

Portugal

The findings of the ESS survey indicate that those with greater levels of education and those who hold more skilled jobs demonstrate more pro-immigration attitudes.

It is possible that people are more likely to associate migrants from richer countries with higher skill levels and those from poorer nations, such as the current migrants, with fewer skills to bring to the labour market.

This attitude can be connected with the perception that migrants may be a drain on the economy and cause wages to be driven down in the lower skilled areas. Previous research has also shown that those possessing lower educational attainment showed greater anti-immigrant attitudes than those with more years of education.

There is a strong perception that an increased volume of migration makes it more difficult for the native, low-skilled workers to find employment. This is due to both the belief that migrant workers are willing to work for lower pay and in turn drive down wages for all workers at that level, and to the greater selection of skills available to employers.

In this scenario attitudes to immigration are driven by a perceived conflict arising out of the competition for scarce material resources such as jobs, housing and welfare.

Defensive reaction

Germans (who are a very highly skilled population through their education system) are likely to feel confident that their skills will be sufficient to ensure that their status will be unaffected by the entry into the labour market of lower skilled migrants.

Interestingly, attitudes across Europe are more positive towards allowing access to migrants of the same race and ethnic background. Germany once again is one of the most lenient, with the UK and Ireland least receptive to this type of migrant inflows. Nevertheless, only 21 per cent of Germans favour allowing many immigrants from a different ethnic background into their country.

The recent surge in migrants from the Middle East and Africa is likely to test both the willingness of Germans to continue to accept refugees and the limited response to allocate a small number of refugees among EU countries. Overall, it would appear from the recent migrant crisis that Europe is far from ready. European countries will face significant challenges given the existing attitudes of host country nationals to migrants of a different race and ethnic background.

Dr Tom Turner and Dr Christine Cross are lecturers at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick.