An international survey of 23 countries by Ipsos has found opposition to immigration in numerous countries across the world, with majorities often considering its effects to be negative and its scale excessive. European nations were typical of this trend.
Majorities in countries as diverse as Germany, South Africa, Russia, Turkey and the United States were found to consider immigration to have a "very or fairly negative impact".
Anti-immigration sentiment was particularly strong in Europe, with over 65% of Spaniards, Italians and British polled strongly or partly agreeing that "there are too many immigrants in our country".
Sweden and Poland were the only European countries surveyed that did not have majorities who considered immigration to have a negative impact. In no country did a majority consider immigration to have been beneficial.
Majorities in most EU countries surveyed agreed that immigration had made it more difficult for citizens to find employment and "placed too much pressure on public services," such as health care and education.
Anti-immigrant sentiment has put significant strain on freedom of movement within the EU. On 11 August, the European Commission approved Spain's measures to exclude Romanian workers from its labour market. The Spanish unemployment rate is by far the highest in the EU at 21%. Bulgaria and Romania recently saw their accession to the Schengen border-free area postponed.
The Dutch and Danish governments, whose parliamentary majorities are dependent on the support of far-right anti-immigrant parties, have pushed particularly hard to limit immigration. In the case of Denmark, the unilateral imposition of new border controls was harshly criticised by the European Commission and Germany.
Immigration in Europe: Declining and uneven
The number of migrants in the world has increased dramatically over the past decade, according to the International Organisation for Migration, soaring from 150 million in 2000 to 214 million today. Immigration to the European Union, however, has dropped somewhat in recent years due to the economic recession.
A major study published last month by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that immigration to most European nations declined in 2009, including in France (7%), Germany (13%), Spain (18%) and Italy (25%). Immigration rates to Ireland and the Czech Republic virtually halved over the course of that year.
Similarly the EU's own statistical service, Eurostat, found that immigration to EU member states dropped by 6% in 2008, while emigration increased by 13%. But Eurostat also indicates that the number of foreign residents in various EU countries has nonetheless been on the rise, increasing from approximately 28,913,000 in 2007 to 32,493,000 today (including EU citizens residing in another member state).
While anti-immigration sentiment, according to the poll, is broadly shared across Europe, there are significant national differences. The number of foreigners in some countries, particularly Belgium, France and Germany, has grown relatively slowly over the past decade or has even declined.
Other countries, often traditionally lands of emigration, have seen spectacular increases in foreign residents. According to Eurostat, between 1999 and 2010 their numbers increased from 1.2 million to 4.2 million in Italy, from less than 120,000 to 420,000 in Ireland, and from 650,000 to 5.7 million in Spain.
In recent months, EU governments have agreed a series of measures to strengthen the bloc's external borders and prevent illegal migrants from North Africa from reaching European shores and seeking jobs.
The European Commission in July ruled that Italy and France did not breach EU rules by adopting their own measures to deal with an influx of migrants from Tunisia earlier this year, but failed to respect the "spirit" of the Schengen agreement.
Britain, where riots in recent days have exposed a deepening gap between rich and poor, has capped the number of workers it allows in from outside the EU to 21,700 a year, down from around 28,000 in 2009.
Earlier in August, Spain, where unemployment rates have soared above 20%, was given the green light to restrict the number of Romanian workers seeking employment in the country in order to protect its labour market.
- Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development:2011 International Migration Outlook