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Saturday, 8 August 2015

Migrants and refugees

The EU is facing a massive migrant and refugee problem along many of its borders and seems to be out of breath when it comes to solutions. The difference between migrants and refugees also becomes more and more opaque: are economic migrants rescued from a sinking ship refugees? The influx of new migrants and refugees will not stop as long as the current regulations remain the same. How about changing the rules of the game?

From a demographic angle, the influx of an additional labour force is not unwelcome. Other considerations seem to outweigh them, at least until now. These considerations are mostly of a financial nature (e.g., food and housing) and also of a nationalistic nature (e.g., naturalisation, voting rights). Other countries don't face this dilemma (e.g., Middle East). They attract cheap labour and offer these migrants an income to support their family at home. What's wrong with that? Seriously.

The USA also has a huge migrant issue. At times, they treat it as a (political) problem but mostly they tolerate it as the benefits clearly outweigh the disadvantages. The American migrant issue is basically a copy of the European one, albeit that drowning at sea is replaced by not surviving a journey from Mid to North America. Most of these migrants are working illegally in companies or at family's homes. They fulfil a vital role in American society. Other countries still accept foreign migrants provided that they have a (substantial) minimum wealth which allows them NOT to appeal to and use domestic welfare for a certain minimum period during their stay. What's wrong with these concepts?

Like in the USA, there's a lot of demand in Europe for “unskilled” labour: gardening, housekeeping, nursing, shop attendant, etc. However, most of us cannot afford this as European labour is expensive, in general too expensive. The only goal of most migrants is to earn money, to support their family and kids back home, and to return home “someday”. They don't need our passports, just our work permits. And to be entirely clear: there will be no access to shelter or domestic welfare.

Obviously, a huge influx of an additional labour force would put serious pressure on lower wages. Dutch household helps asking for 15 euro an hour (excluding travel expenses) without declaring this to the Dutch revenue, will indeed suffer. Frankly, they are only able to get this (undeclared) pay as the labour market is totally out of sync in that segment. Having several clients a week, this pay easily adds up to some 2,000 euro undeclared monthly net income.

The lowering of wages would stop at a point where the help would no longer be interested to work given his/her personal expenses for food, housing and financial support back home. I'm confident that this break-even point is higher than we may now assume. I expect that this lowering of European wages would - sooner rather than later - stop the additional influx of labour.

The solution for Europe’s migrant and refugee issues is a rather simple political issue: are we prepared to give work permits – or tolerate an illegal workforce, like in the USA – to migrants and refugees without giving them any prospect of a passport, voting rights or welfare? 

I'm quite confident that the migrants and refugees would accept this proposal but would European politicians ???