Europe needs to look across the Atlantic for lessons on successfully absorbing immigrants
Published 19/01/2016 | 02:30
The heated debate over immigration in Europe would benefit from a basic chemistry lesson: You can pour salt into water and produce the semblance of unity. But as chemists know, you have created nothing new that can't separate again. All you did was stir.
Successful integration of immigrants (whether refugees or economic migrants) also requires more than stirring. The two ingredients must form a new chemical compound. Ideally within a single generation, it should be difficult to differentiate between the experiences newcomers and natives have in terms of their employment rates, education and other measures.
Three simple gauges of integration suggest that while Europe keeps pouring in migrants, America still seems to be better at the real chemistry, allowing itself to be changed by immigration.
In July, the OECD published the first broad international comparison of how immigrants are faring across the OECD and the EU in five areas: employment, education and skills, social inclusion, civic engagement, and social cohesion. In the US, adjusting for socio-economic background, offspring of foreign-born parents do 26pc better at aged 15 than those of second-generation (or longer) Americans. In the EU as a whole, also adjusting for socio-economic background, children of foreign-born parents do 17pc worse than their counterparts without a migration background - and 32pc worse if they themselves are foreign born.
Clearly time is a factor. School performance tends to improve the longer students reside in the host country, and many of Europe's new immigrants have not had the time to benefit.
In the average EU country, one-third of working-age citizens who came from outside the EU are not in employment, education or training (so-called NEETs). The highest proportion of NEETs is largely in countries with the most rigid labour markets - Belgium, France, Germany and Spain - with the Nordics doing much better. Women are more marginalised than men among the foreign-born.
NEETs represent a problem for host countries as they are a burden on social services, a wasted resource, and a potential source of long-term unemployment and other ills. Among EU countries surveyed by the OECD, 19.1pc of native-born offspring of foreign parents are NEETs, 4.2 percentage points higher than among native offspring of native parents.
In the US, there is only a 0.3 percentage point difference between NEETs with foreign-born parents and NEETs with native parents. In France, it is 9.1 percentage points and in Belgium 18.2. Germany and Sweden are better - 3.3 and 3.5.
The difference in engagement with employment, education or training is striking when you look at foreign-born migrants who arrived as adults. In the US, the difference with native-born Americans whose parents were also born in the US is 6.5 percentage points. In Sweden the difference is 17.1 points, in the Netherlands 22.9, in France 24.5 and in Germany 19.3.
In the EU, young people with migrant parents have a 50pc greater youth unemployment rate than those with native-born parents.
That is not true in the US, where the employment outcomes are similar.
Data shows that in the US and Canada, native-born residents with two foreign-born parents are much less likely to report being discriminated against than their counterparts in the EU are.
It suggests that in the EU, those with immigrant backgrounds, even if they were born in the country, do not feel integrated.
If recent declining support for immigrants in European countries translated into more discrimination that could slow integration, with damaging effects not just for immigrants but also the host society.
Even a nation that succeeds at integration does so imperfectly.
Some populations take longer to settle. In the US, more than half of refugees from Burma, Iraq, Liberia and Somalia had income levels below twice the poverty level in 2009 to 2011, while the attainment (educational and income) of Russians, Iranians and Vietnamese was on a par with, or higher than, those who were US-born.
It's tempting to conclude that the problem in Europe is one of numbers - too many, too fast. But studies have found no causal link between the proportion of immigrants in the population and how well they integrate.
If greater control over the number of immigrants has now become a political necessity, even in Germany and Sweden, understanding the route to more effective integration is all the more imperative. (Bloomberg View)