The discussion on restricting immigration had a strong impact on political debates concerning migration in Europe, especially during periods with substantial increases in the number of refugees and asylum seekers, as was the case in the 1990s. These days, however, EU countries are talking more about immigration’s contribution in coping with demographic change. An UN analysis of migration policies shows that in 2011 only a few countries in Europe explicitly claim that the level of immigration is too high and needs to be reduced. This is the case in Denmark, Great Britain, Croatia, France, and the Netherlands. Other countries – especially in Eastern Europe – favor an increase in immigration. An important role is played by highly qualified migrants; most countries would like to increase this immigration. This even applies to the above mentioned countries which generally aim to reduce immigration, with the exception of Great Britain. One needs to consider, however, that the countries of origin out of which most highly qualified migrants come, are usually the same countries that are interested in such immigrants.
The young populations in many threshold and developing countries are facing decreased fertility levels too, which will lead to declining population growth and demographic aging in the future. The competition for highly qualified immigrants reflects the demographic future in Europe: aging and future birth deficits in almost all countries will result in the increased importance of immigration for labor markets and social security systems.
Immigration and Population Development
In the context of demographic change, the question arises regarding the actual effects of immigration upon population development. To answer this question, one can compare migration balances and natural population balances of births and deaths per 1,000 residents (see Chart 6). Since the natural balances diminish in all selected countries between 1950/55 and 2060/65, the proportion of the migration balance increases relative to the entire population balance. With the exception of those countries with a relatively high fertility rate (Ireland, France, the Netherlands), in all these countries migration balance contributes more to population development than the natural balance between births and deaths does. For those countries with low fertility and a negative natural balance (Poland and Slovenia), these losses are still being compensated by immigration. One exception is Germany; UN estimates suggest that between 2010 and 2015 immigration to Germany will be lower than Germany’s negative natural balance. By 2060/65 this will also apply to Poland, Slovenia, Spain, and the Netherlands.
In a model calculation from 2001 the UN analyzed how high immigration levels have to be in order to compensate for specific demographic changes in the population ("replacement migration"). For Germany (with a strong birth deficit) and France (with a fertility rate almost at the replacement fertility rate) these model calculations show that immigration can indeed compensate the decline, e.g. of the population size, under certain conditions; however this is not a long-term solution to cope with the aging of the population. Due to a diminishing mother generation caused by low fertility in combination with the decreasing fertility of migrants the longer they reside in the destination country, along with the fact that also immigrants get older, population losses can only be compensated if net immigration constantly increases.
For Germany the necessary migration balance to maintain a constant population size would have to reach 430,000 by 2050. In order to maintain a constant size in the labor population, there would have to be at maximum of 900,000 new immigrants per year by 2025/30. For a constant ratio between the working population and retired persons, the migration balance would have to be four million per year by 2050 with a maximum in 2025/2030 of over five million. For France the necessary migration balance is lower; by 2015/20 the immigration would have to reach 90,000 to maintain the size of the general population and 210,000 to maintain the size of the labor population. However, even in France the migration balance would have to increase dramatically in order to maintain a constant ratio between the labor population and retired persons: by 2050 it would have to reach over three million per year. The entire immigration between 1995 and 2050 would constitute more than 180 million in Germany and 90 million in France in order to maintain a constant ratio between the labor population and the retired population. Since the necessary migration balance to achieve this balance is so high, it is clear that these countries cannot only look to immigration to counteract the aging trend in their societies.
This text is part of the policy brief on