EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Migrants are often an unexploited asset that national governments should be using to help lift their economies out of crisis, EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstom has said.
“Many member states have failed in migrant integration. There is so much competence around us, trained physicists, engineers cleaning our stairs, doing jobs they are clearly overqualified for,” Malmstrom told reporters when presenting the results of an EU-wide survey on the integration of migrants.
Noting that integration is firstly a matter of local and then national authorities, with the EU able only to facilitate the sharing of good practices, she recalled how the region of western Sweden recruited 65 doctors among existing migrants who were working as bus drivers and in other jobs for which they were over-qualified.
“With one year of language training and a little updating of their skills, these people were able to be hired as doctors. In the end it was much cheaper than educating for six-seven years someone, giving him or her training and waiting to have enough experience to be hired,” she said.
But Malmstrom admitted that things have changed in the past ten years and that xenophobia is on the rise even in the traditionally migrant-friendly Scandinavian countries.
“We can see out of the analysis that there is a fear of migrants. The scepticism towards migration is there and big,” she said about the results of the first Eurobarometer on migrant integration.
Some of these negative feelings are related to bad integration, the feeling that migrants don’t make enough effort to learn the national language, the study shows.
“But it’s also because people knew very few migrants. They live parallel lives, they have no Swedish friends, their kids have no Swedish classmates.”
Malmstrom invoked economic and demographic arguments – that migrants are needed to fill the gap of a national working force going abroad, as is often the case in eastern European countries, and that of an ageing population in western Europe.
With migrants having contributed, for instance, to 30 percent of Spain’s economic growth before the crisis hit, the commissioner insisted that migrants continue to be needed even as the crisis forced many Spaniards into unemployment.
“Why should people pay for the collapse of the boom? Many businesses still say we can’t find people to do jobs such as picking strawberries,” she noted.
Amid budget cuts all over Europe, social programmes for migrant integration are often a preferred target.
“Here is where EU money could help. I’ve proposed to the European Parliament for only two funds to be set up in the big home affairs area – security and migration – to replace the existing six funds with six different legal bases,” the commissioner said.