The Misconceptions Behind Migration

If you open any newspaper or turn on the TV and listen to the news in the UK, you will undoubtedly hear about the massive influx of migrants that are putting a “huge strain” on our country and the EU. It has become a defining social issue in many countries such as France, Italy, Germany and England and perhaps the most influential political issue in the world’s richest countries.

However, if you look at the true statistics, there is little reason to panic; the fraction of international migrants in the world (2017) was roughly what it was in 1960 – 3%. In the EU, which receives 2.5m non-EU migrants a year, they make up less than 0.5% of the EU’s population or one in every 2500 EU residents. These underlying figures show that migration really isn’t a topic that should be at the forefront of our politics or the cause of mass hysteria. In fact, I believe the only reason that it has become a talking point is due to the radical prejudices and racist agendas that some of our citizens hold. Migrants are seen to be parasites on the host nation, taking jobs away from the locals or relying on the generous benefits system; whilst these perceptions are not only horribly misguided, there is also no proof to these claims and they are fuelled by deliberately misleading facts. A survey of 22,500 natives of countries where immigration is a defining political issue (USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden) carried out by Alesina, Miano and Stantcheva in a working paper revealed these misconceptions. In Italy, those surveyed believed that migrants made up 26% of the population when in reality it was only 10%. The respondents also significantly overestimated the share of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, highlighting the racial undertones that are behind the negative beliefs behind migration. Radical politicians prey on these prejudices and fears by blatantly abusing the facts. Marine Le Pen in the 2017 presidential campaign claimed that 95% of migrants in France were taken care of by the state because they wouldn’t work. In fact, 55% were employed in the French Labour force. The worst thing is these figures are believed and are an effective electoral tactic; the same people who carried out the survey found that when people were told the true facts after they had formed their opinions based on the false facts, they accepted the new facts but they did not change their bottom line view on immigration. Therefore, when Le Pen lied about the numbers and portrayed a negative view of migrants, even when corrected, people bought into her anti-immigration mindset and were more likely to vote for her.

The negative theory behind a large influx of migrants is that they increase the labour supply, push wages down and take jobs away from local workers. At best, these assumptions are wrong, and the effects are negligible and at worst the opposite is true as shown by David Card’s study of the Mariel boatlift. When Fidel Castro announced that Cubans could leave the country if they wanted to, 125,000 Cubans fled to the closest US land point, Miami. The Miami labour force rose by 7%. Using the logic of anti-immigration supporters, Miami should have seen a fall in the value of wages offered and locals losing out on jobs, leading to higher unemployment. Comparing the figures to other similar US cities at the time ( Tampa, LA, Houston), Card found no difference between the cities rate of growth in wages or jobs, suggesting the sizeable 7% increase in workforce did not negatively influence the labour market. Similar studies of Algerians into France and Soviets into Israel again showed no negative impact on the labour market.  The US National Academy of Sciences in 1997, concluded that when measured over a period of 10 years “the impact of immigration on the wages of natives is very small.” This shows that the classic excuse of ‘they steal our jobs’ for not wanting migrants is based on false narratives and shows a lack of understanding and education on the matter at hand, instead relying on radical politicians shoving false propaganda down their throats.

There are several reasons why an influx of migrants does not cause an excess in labour supply and a reduction in wages offered. Firstly, migrants create an increase in labour demand which helps balance out the increased supply, as they are also consumers and a new consumer base is open to be exploited by firms, creating new job opportunities for other low skilled workers in the service industry. They also reduce the rate of mechanization as they provide a steady supply of cheap labour, reducing the need for labour saving techniques. When the immigrant farm labourers were kicked out of California in 1964 on the grounds that they were taking jobs from the locals, it did nothing to help the locals gain jobs. Instead firms, having lost their supply of cheap labour turned to machinery to do these jobs for them, creating no increase in job availability. Farms had delayed the adoption of machinery as they had no need for them with near 0% farms using machinery to harvest crops when they had the immigrant workers and 100% adopting machinery by 1967 after they’d been forced out! In fact, a study in Denmark by Foged and Peri showed that often low skilled migrant workers can be of benefit to the local population. Firms in Denmark reorganised their production strategy in the 1990’s when they had an influx of migrants from various countries around the globe. These low skilled migrants who did not yet speak the language were put to work on the low skilled manual labour, whilst the locals who previously did these jobs were upgraded to non- manual, higher paying jobs with new employers. This suggests migrants and locals do not have to be directly competing as the arrival of immigrants can encourage firms to employ more workers, switching the natives to more rewarding, higher skilled tasks. The migrants are willing to do low skilled and low paid jobs such as mowing lawns and flipping burgers, which are jobs often locals refuse to do as they believe it is below them. This means that existing workers can start to do jobs that match their skill levels and it frees up women in particular to enter the labour force as services are now cheaper, so they can afford childcare and cleaning etc. Many migrants are also motivated and highly skilled, meaning they are involved in a disproportionate number of successful start-ups (43% of the fortune 500 list). This creates jobs, higher revenue and a healthier economy which the migrants have contributed enormously to. To conclude, the negative mindset behind immigration is fuelled by a lack of understanding and deliberate “fake news” that is spread through our medias; society refuses to believe that migrants improve our economy, and they fail to see the value they bring by doing these low skilled jobs that allow the economy to function.  Migrants bring immeasurable benefits to the economy and to society, enriching nations culturally as well as providing a valuable source of labour supply.

(Featured Image: © Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed)