Immigration issue hits EU, too

Monday, June 4, 2007 | 12:40 a.m. CDT; updated 9:49 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Scott: Today’s discussion is about immigration, migration and even remigration. These issues are a great part of the current debate about immigration reform in the U.S. Congress. We’d like to put some perspective on that debate. The too often unwelcome movement of people is a worldwide problem that most nations are wrestling with in some form or other. Migration patterns are a part of history and those patterns always seem to be controversial and complex. We wonder whether the verse at the Statue of Liberty may have to be altered after these current debates to read, “Give me your tired, your credit worthy and those who can contribute to the American economy.” Perhaps the debate in the U.S. can be informed by what is going on in the rest of the world. Are there things the U.S. can learn from other nations?

Dianne Solis, immigration writer, Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas: There are. When the European communities formed, they had immigration not only of commerce and culture but also of labor. When the U.S. began its discussions for the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Mexico, there was talk of doing something similar, but it was quickly squashed because it was too controversial.

Scott: What is the European Union’s current policy regarding the labor force and immigration?

Renata Goldirova, reporter, EU Observer, Brussels, Belgium: Europe is trying to tackle a core dilemma, how to fulfill the economic need for workers caused by an aging population while decreasing the pressure of illegal immigration. The situation has been changing as the EU grows. Spain, Italy and Malta, the southernmost points of the EU and a gateway to Europe, bring the measure to the highest political level in the EU by saying that they cannot cope with the issue alone.

Scott: There is also migration from east to west within the EU, isn’t there?

Goldirova: Yes. New member states still don’t have equal access to all member states. For example, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland don’t have access to France, Germany or Austria’s labor markets. Those countries prefer to protect their labor markets because they feel they would be overwhelmed by the numbers of people coming to their markets. At the same time, they also feel labor shortages. So, it’s really finding a way to make the public ready to accept immigrants when the labor market really needs those people.

Scott: India is experiencing an improving economy and has a lot of remigration, or Indians coming back to India, doesn’t it?

Narayani Ganesh, senior assistant editor, The Times of India, New Delhi, India: The overseas Indian population is around 30 million, and there was a lot of debate about brain drain from India, but India is regaining some of that brain drain because a lot of migrants are coming back to set up their own businesses, especially in the information technology and the biomedical industries. India is getting paid back, but there is another huge segment, largely a labor and care-giving sector, which is still going out of India.

Scott: Is the driving force in most migration patterns an economic one, a question of finding a more profitable place to live?

Ganesh: India also has a bit of a historical reason behind its migrant population. When the British abolished slavery, a lot of staff was compensated by taking indentured labor from India. Semi-skilled and skilled people went to the colonies because of their proficiency in the English language. Today, India’s skilled laborers have a huge advantage of being proficient in English and having extensive IT backgrounds.

Scott: How is an aging European population affecting immigration to the EU?

Goldirova: Labor shortages in the EU are expected to peak in about 20 years’ time when 25 million Europeans are expected to retire from work. Therefore, the EU is trying to establish some common policies to attract legal migration while it combats illegal immigration. A few examples are already in place. In the African state of Mali, the EU is establishing a job center. The move is expected to bring seasonal farm, construction and tourist workers to Europe. In September, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, is planning to propose a simplification of the current administrative system for immigrants. They are thinking of issuing EU blue cards, similar to U.S. green cards.

Scott: President Bush has proposed a guest worker program several times, but it has not been met with a great deal of support in Congress. Could a guest worker program work in the U.S.?

Solis: The proposal now in the Senate is the most contentious aspect of the three-pronged approach. Under the system, an immigrant would get a Y visa for three, two-year periods but between each period the worker would have to go back to his home country for one year. Business thinks that giving two-year visas and then asking an immigrant to go home disrupts the work force and breaks the training that a business has given that worker.

Scott: Is there still a guest worker program in the EU such as existed after World War II?

Goldirova: In May, the European Commission started a legislative process which would see workers go back and forth between EU and non-EU countries depending on job ability. The plan is compared to a guest worker plan, but the Commission calls it circular migration. The idea is that people would come and work in the EU for a couple of months, then return home and later come again. Basically, Europe is hoping to provide some incentive for people to return to their native countries. In practice, the commission would pool offers from individual member states and then conduct talks with a third country, which could provide an adequate labor force. EU nations would provide professional, labor and language training and grant visas.

Scott: Dislocation of families is also a big part of the immigration debate. If the U.S. brings a valued worker in, what happens to that worker’s spouse and children? Does the current legislation adequately treat the problem of keeping families together?

Solis: Since the 1960s, U.S. immigration policy has had family reunification as part of its mission. Under the Senate proposal that would begin to change because the U.S. would institute the points and merit system. Many immigrants would find that they were blocked (from) getting their parents and adult siblings into the U.S. That is a terrible worry for the Asian-immigrant community because so many Asian immigrants use the current legal system to bring their relatives to the U.S. That was always called family unification, but now it is being damned as “chain migration.”

Scott: There are new terms to add to our vocabulary all the time. Z-visas, chain migration or circular migration, it’s still all about the movement of people, and it is based on a very human issue as well as an economic, legal one.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students John Amick, Devin Benton, Hyun-jin Seo and Catherine Wolf.

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