President Obama’s recent executive order on immigration has triggered a big debate not only in the U.S. but also in Europe. The president did not propose an outright amnesty for illegal immigrants but proposed a new route for illegal immigrants already active in society to obtain a work permit and avoid deportation. Obama’s executive order gives a relief from deportation for 3 years to those that that can prove eligibility by showing that:
- the person has arrived to the United States before 2010 and at the age of 16 years old or under or
- the person has arrived before 2010 in the United States and has at least one child who is U.S. citizen or a legal resident (green card).
Eligible immigrants are entitled to legal status, through a work permit, but not to citizenship. They are just avoiding deportation for a temporary period. Although the president has been widely criticized by the Republican Party, the policy focuses on people who are already active in the U.S. economy and who often are already working (although in the shadow market). This will be an opportunity for them to move from the shadow economy to the real economy.
According to a recent report on immigration by the UCLA North America Integration and Development Centre (NAIDC), argue that the executive order will have positive effects on the economy:
- In the short term, there will be a gain by US$ 6.8 billion in labor income, 160 000 jobs will be created and US$ 2.5 billion of taxes will be collected.
- In the long term, there will be an increase in GDP by 0.4% to 0.9% corresponding to US$ 90 billion to US$ 210 billion.
In Europe, the situation is quite different. Italy is a case in point. A significant share of the immigrants that is coming to Europe usually enters through Italy. Due to its geographical position, Italy is the easiest way to reach Europe for people emigrating for troubled regions in Africa and the Middle East. However, Italy has not been able to manage the large number of people arriving in the country. Recent reforms seem to fight immigration rather than finding solutions. Italian lawmakers have sought to put harsh financial penalties (up to €10,000) and imprisonment to illegal immigrants. In early 2009, the Italian Senate approved a law authorizing physicians to report illegal immigrants who seek medical treatment. Landlords face jail terms up to three years for renting their properties to illegal immigrants.
Managing large inflows of immigrants to Europe should not only be addressed by the Italian government, or other governments that take grater responsibilities for the humanitarian crises by allowing high immigration. The European Union has far too often remained silent or inactive, especially in situations where burden sharing between EU states are necessary. Although there are European policies addressing rules for asylum seekers, Italy has not seen concrete help from the other Member States. Italy’s turn towards hostile polices towards migration, and those that try to help them, is deplorable, but the situation would likely have been different if other member states had taken greater responsibility.
Generally, Europe should welcome migration also for economic reasons. Europe is suffering from a decline in population occurring in the next 50 years. Italy, for example, will lose 28% of its population by 2050. Therefore, for Italy to maintain its working age population it will need to “import” more than 350,000 immigrants per year or, alternatively, keep its citizens working until they are 75 years old. Countries similar to Italy, rapidly aging at the same time as accumulated debts are too high for a sharp shift downwards in the number of people at work, also need to make their societies more attractive for migrants. Although the issue is quite severe, Europe is generally restrictive with visas to unskilled workers. Member States are rather trying to attract high skills workers: Germany, for example, is targeting 20,000 ICT workers from outside Europe, particularly software engineers from India.
By comparison, the United States has since the late 1990s; the U.S. has seen the entry of one million immigrants per year (730,000 legal immigrants, 200,000 illegal aliens and 100,000 refugees). Moreover, the U.S. immigration policy framework is composed by specific structure. The DREAM Act, for example, grant legal status to young adults from the age of 15 to 29 who came into the country when they were children and they have gone to school or served the military.
The European Union and the United States have approached immigration problems in different manners. The EU has not yet found a common policy accepted by all Member States. Therefore, illegal immigration remains an issue that is largely not addressed in Europe. The United States has had a strange policy of maintaining restrictive controls against migration but accepted the fact that illegal immigration is substantial and contributes to the economy – and hence seen repeated actions by various administrations to allow some illegal immigrants to obtain legal status. Would Europe be better off by adopting a similar approach, if the road to better reforms is closed?