Integration of migrants– it will not be easy or cheap

According to the most modest calculations, the German budget will have to spend 10 billion euros this year on the temporary housing and care of the at least one million of new applicants. Caring for the families of refugees also puts additional financial burden on Germany – says the newest study of the Munich-based IFO. Despite all of this, the author, the Italian scientist, Michele Battisti is more optimistic about the situation. Examples from history, her experiences from earlier migrations to Western countries, and  the distressing demographic situation in Germany, and the rest of Europe also call for the admittance of higher number of refugees.  The chance of the success of the integration is increased by the fact that most of the current migrants are young adults and children.
Hence, these mostly Syrian and Afghan people are easier to educate and train and will be more likely to be admitted to Germany.
The developments, constructions and filling up the unexploited capacities required for this also create new jobs; migrants are important for invigorating the German industrial production too. After all, these developments strengthen the conjuncture, rather than weaken it.
This is the long-term plan, however, its short-term consequences, and the kind of social and political risks it poses are unknown – admits the interviewee.

Péter Zentai: Is there a current study that is able to calculate the economic consequences of this extraordinary migration to Europe? Is there a genuine answer to whether it is ‘good or bad for us’?
Michele Battisti
: Our study found that on the long-term, migration is advantageous to Europe, and most of its countries will benefit from it. Our research took into account the history of seemingly inclusive countries. Furthermore, we also processed the social, political and economic patterns of the last decades from the twenty member countries of OECD, which groups together the most advanced countries.
However  – in short-term –, we have to be extremely cautious because there many uncertainties and unique features around the developments of the most recent migration wave.

Which are the most serious issue regarding the economic and social integration?
We do not really know the education, and adequacy for work and further education of migrants…

So, do you agree – at least, in short-term – that it is nearly impossible to integrate hundreds of thousands of a different culture into the working life of the West, and Europe is almost impossible?
I agree that its process is not without complications. However, I cannot say that it is impossible – even in the shot-term too.
As for Germany, it is clear that economic participants are facing dramatic labour shortage in many fields, and the number of bottleneck positions is increasing at an alarming rate. The situation is the same in more and more Western European countries too. The economic recovery and the shrinking demography are behind this. This downward trend cannot and will not be able to change in the majority of European countries; the population is decreasing everywhere at a critical rate. However, it is a proved fact, that a sudden appearance of a new labour force does not threaten existing jobs. On the contrary, new immigration waves – both in Europe and America – have always stimulated the economy and generated new jobs.

However, the demographic structure of migrants does matter. Their age, education, the number of illiterates, not to mention the work-culture they are used to…
This is not a precise approach. Though, we do not have a scientifically processed data on the significance of qualifications, we do have quite accurate information on their age. It is safe to say: the majority is young adult and there is also surprisingly high number of children! Most of the young adults are males.
This knowledge is essential and also supports what we saw during earlier and successful migration waves. The education, training and integration of young people, and especially children are far less challenging for the admitting country and its economy than any other age group.
However, we have no idea of the migrant’s basic knowledge, and for example, how many of them are illiterate. (Though, based on the experiences of those who work with the newly arrived, there are not so many.) So, the publications of OECD and UN that says, for example, only 46% of the people in Afghanistan are literate, can be misleading. This number is definitely better among the recently arrived young people.
As for the Syrians – who make up most of the refugees -, international statistics show a more positive picture of the general knowledge of Syrian students: according to a UN report, only four percent of the Syrian population is illiterate. Regardless of this, we still have no exact knowledge. Our biggest problem is that we do not know how many of them studied at university or got a degree.

It seems that the ‘migrant side’ on its own could be ‘manageable’. However, there are numerous factors, which make their admittance and integration complicated – at least in short-term.
It is a rather unique challenge: never before had there been so many immigrants at the same time, within such a short period in the post-war Europe. Furthermore, this unprecedented mass is concentrated in a few countries only.

Mostly in Germany. How many immigrants could the German economy absorb actually?
According to our research, an annual ‘net’ of 500-600 thousand people, if we assume the economy stays the same.

But they are expecting at least 800 thousand migrants…
The data is correct, but in the end, the number of real immigrant-workers will not exceed 400 thousand! From the already submitted and future applications – a total of one million requests – a couple of hundred thousand will be refused by the authorities because only the people coming from war-zones, mainly refugees from Syria, will get a green light to Germany. We can be quite sure that one or two hundred thousand people want to move on, or will be transferred to other inclusive countries. So, it is safe to say that this year, Germany has to grant admission to another 400 thousand new migrants.
This is not an impossible challenge. Regions, the federal state, major economic operators, and potential employers are constantly and systematically building up the institution network required for education, language and professional training, and employment.

So, according to this, every step made for the sake of integration stimulates economic recovery? New jobs are created for creating new jobs?
That is right. Pedagogue shortage has become more critical… Demand for child care professionals, such as kindergarten teachers, and kindergartens is significantly higher.
Construction sector has to face new challenges: empty buildings have to be made habitable again, barracks have to be reconstructed, and the infrastructure of healthcare has to be developed and partially remodelled.

How big is this burden to the German budget?
According to the most conservative calculations, just this year’s migration wave – 800 thousand applications – will cost ten billion euros to the German state. And this sum does not even include caring for family members and educating the children.
So, this ten billion euros financial burden is the result of a very modest calculation, which includes that everyone arriving and registering at the German refugee centres gets 143 euros from the state at the moment they arrive – every month, for three months. After the quarter and leaving the refugee centre with a residence status, they receive 359 euros a month.
However, political decision-makers are soon going to decrease this amount, but they will broaden the range of in-kind transfers.
Besides, we think the 8.50 euros minimum wage can no longer be maintained because the productivity of the newly integrated will certainly be lower than those who were brought up here originally. Leaving minimum wage unchanged would only lead to further unemployment…

The political power surely wants to prevent further social tensions since the earlier enthusiasm starts fading away, and a certain political dissent is slowly taking over Germany, not to mention other Western Europeans…
I am sure you know that Germans do care about where these migrants are coming from, in what culture they grew up, and which religion they follow.
Of course, I know that. Regardless of this, we must know that the greatest opposition against immigrants is coming from the scarcely inhabited and dramatically aging East Germany – where there is far more room and economic need for migrants than anywhere else in West Germany. The ‘indigenous populations’ of the densely populated settlements of West Germany, for example the Ruhr district and the major cities are particularly open to new immigrants.
Muslims have never lived in East Germany; while 7-8 or more percent of the population of the Ruhr district, or Hamburg, Munich, or Frankfurt is Turkish, Arabian, and Middle Eastern.

Those people fear the Islam and its followers, who do not know them, and those welcome them who have been living with them for decades and have experiences with them. Is it a paradox?
It is, and it is not. Ethnic and religious intolerance have always been stronger where people are more frustrated and live in lower living standards compared to other places.
For example, the living standards of the people of Saxony (East Germany) is absolutely better than it has ever been before, it is still lower compared to the neighbouring Bavaria and numerous other West German regions. Another concern for the people of East Germany is that their children, relatives, and friends leave the region for West Germany, Austria, or Switzerland.
The people in GDR were not brought up to become such optimists as those in FRG. This typical East German feeling of ‘exclusion’ evolved into that some people tend to believe that granting admission to migrants is just another way of the West to triumph over the East. This is the reason why the expansion of extremists, xenophobic and populist political powers is more successful in East than in West Germany.
This tension and difference in attitude – and other factors that I mentioned – are present in Western and Eastern European scale too. It also helps to understand the recent West-East opposition.

Original date of Hungarian publication: September 28, 2015