Recession causes drop in EU immigration: OECD

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Immigration within and to the European Union dropped significantly due to the economic recession, according to a recently published report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The 450-page report states that immigration to certain countries virtually halved in 2009, falling by 46% in the Czech Republic and 42% in Ireland. Smaller decreases were observed in Italy, Germany and France. Immigration between EU member states also declined by some 22%.

Similar declines in immigration took place in other developed countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. The United Kingdom was a significant exception to this trend, with immigration actually increasing by 14% in 2009, the most of any OECD country.

"Given the severity of the crisis, migration has fallen less than might have been expected," the OECD said in a statement. It goes on to say that immigration would most likely pick up again with the economic recovery.

EU statistical office Eurostat has estimated that 43% of the immigrants came from other member states (1.4 million) while 57% came from outside the 27-member bloc (1.8 million).

Immigration: Controversial but beneficial?

The report was keen to underline potential benefits that immigrants bring as well as policy prescriptions to ensure successful integration.

It highlights the fact that foreigners resident in most EU countries are on average more likely to be self-employed or employers themselves than citizens of the host country. This trend was especially strong in Poland, the Czech Republic and France.

The report recommends strengthening integration efforts, arguing that these "should be seen as a long-term investment, not a short-term cost".

"Too often, excessive geographical concentrations of disadvantaged and low-educated immigrants have been allowed to build up, with devastating effects on school environments and results," it adds, referring to immigrant 'ghettos' that have emerged in some countries.

To encourage integration, the report recommends easing naturalisation and fighting discrimination against the children of immigrants.

Anti-immigrant and xenophobic parties have been increasingly successful across Europe in recent years. Facing prospects of losing votes to Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National, the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy has seized upon the immigration issue, last year expelling ethnic Roma EU citizens from French soil and recently forcing a revision of the Schengen Treaty due to migration from North Africa.

Similarly, the Netherlands and Denmark, whose governments depend on the support of the Geert Wilders' Freedom Party and the Danish People's Party respectively, have also put pressure on the freedom of movement within the EU.

The population of the European Union surpassed the 500 million mark at the beginning of 2010, with migration accounting for the majority of growth, according to Eurostat estimates.

Italy saw the largest total number of immigrants of any EU country, at 318,000. Britain was second with 182,000.

Turks and Moroccans topped the list of new EU citizens in 2008, according to Eurostat. 

The EU remains a popular destination for migrants and many of them, particularly from Turkey, North Africa and Latin America, are keen to stay long enough to become citizens of countries in the bloc.

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