Global doors slam shut on immigrants
While Arizona's anti-immigrant law gets all the attention, countries around the world are pursuing tough immigration polices on a scale rarely seen in history.
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•The ruling party in Denmark has suggested cutting the minimum wage for immigrants to half that for Danes.Skip to next paragraph
•A party that advocates a ban on Muslim immigrants is set to join the coalition government in the Netherlands.
Still, Europe is not uniformly erecting walls to keep foreigners out. Germany, for instance, is tinkering with its laws so it can attract more immigrants to fill labor gaps in industry, health care, and high-tech sectors. British government ministers are openly divided over the new immigration cap, with some warning that labor migration quotas will only slow economic recovery.
Despite recession, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain have all implemented amnesties for categories of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers, with some 300,000 people getting legal status in Italy and some 100,000 in Spain last year. Even France, which has set deportation targets, annually approves petitions for work permits for some 25,000 illegal migrant workers.
While anti-immigrant sentiment ebbs and flows, it hasn't necessarily evolved into a Europewide political issue as vociferous as the current immigration debate in America.
"The first reason is that the actual number of undocumented workers relative to the population is much higher [in the US] than in most European countries," says Jonathan Chaloff, an analyst with the international migration division of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). "The second reason is that the economic downturn has made it more of an issue. In European countries with large undocumented populations, there is a relatively high employment rate among the undocumented, and no perception of competition with natives, while in the US there's a perception that the undocumented are not employed or are unfairly competing."
To secure the EU's external borders, member countries cooperate in naval patrols to interdict illegal migrants at sea and share data to prevent failed asylum-seekers from applying in more than one country. But internal borders within the 27-member EU are being steadily dismantled. According to a recent OECD study, 44 percent of migrants in Europe are now workers from other European countries.
Agreements on the free movement of labor leave governments little wiggle room for restricting the number of such immigrants or controlling the kind of jobs they take. Family reunification accounts for another 28 percent of all immigrants to Europe.
In Britain, where limiting non-European migration was a central feature of the May national elections, almost half of all the foreigners in the country are European, with newly arrived Eastern Europeans taking the brunt of public hostility.
"Immigration is a proxy issue because there is a shortage of housing, prices shot through roof, and public services are declining, so inevitably people blame immigrants for those issues," said Sunny Hundal, a British writer and commentator on immigration and race issues. "The problem is that most people want to limit EU immigration, which is the bulk of immigration, but we can't do that legally."
European governments can expel EU migrants who lose their jobs and apply for welfare in the host country. The Netherlands and Britain, among others, have erected barriers to family-reunification visas by setting the legal marriage age for foreigners at 21 rather than 18 as it is for citizens.