To help ourselves and the developing world, both in this crisis and in the longer term, the EU needs orderly migration say Tobias Billström, Sweden’s minister for migration and asylum policy, and Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s minister for international development co-operation, in the European Voice.
The economic crisis has hit many developing countries hard. Direct aid has dropped, and foreign companies are investing less. But there is a third reason, highlighted in a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: remittances – money sent home by migrants – may well fall. This is important, since for years remittances have been twice as large as official development aid and two-thirds as large as foreign direct investments.
At the same time, the crisis is highlighting weaknesses of the EU’s labour market. The crisis may have increased unemployment, sharply in some countries, but there is still demand for labour in particular sectors. It is therefore clear that the European economy’s recovery will be hampered by the difficulty of recruiting people with the skills employers need. Besides, beyond the crisis and the recovery looms a longer-term demographic challenge. Europe’s working-age population will shrink by 40 million by 2050, while the number of people over 65 will rise.
As well as recognising that Europe faces a labour shortage now, in the medium term and in the long term, it is time the EU acknowledged the advantages of migration: the EU finds itself in a situation where it can help itself and help the developing world.
Migrants can fill persistent gaps in the EU’s labour market. As the scale of remittances shows, migrants help their countries of origin by sending money back to their family and relatives. And, as studies demonstrate, when they return home, migrants bring skills and know-how as well as capital that can contribute to the development of their countries of origin.
Development assistance can play a role in improving conditions in third countries so that returning migrants’ skills and know-how can best be put to use.
Well managed, migration can benefit everybody. It would also reduce two physical dangers many migrants currently face. First, fewer people would risk their lives on the way to Europe. Secondly, the criminal networks that exploit migrants would be weakened.
The EU should seek both to minimise the dangers of migration and maximise its positive effects. That is a process that Sweden, as the EU presidency, will this week (15-16 October) seek to get under way at a conference on labour migration and its potential to help the developing world. It is our hope that what emerges from that discussion will translate into agreements in the Council of Ministers. We should, for example, strengthen the co-operation with countries of origin and transit, and continue the work to make it easier and less expensive for people to send money back home, while making the processes of legal migration simpler and more open.
But whatever emerges in terms of political agreements, we as politicians need to start responding to studies that have shown the important role that migration plays in development and for our labour markets. We need greater cohesion between our migration and development policies.