Nowadays, international immigration has become a key public policy issue globally. According to the GCIM report of 2005, the number of people residing outside their countries of origin comprised 200 million in 2005, which was twice the number of immigrants in 1985. Moreover, statistics for Europe depicted even the larger growth in the number of immigrants from 23 million in 1985 to over 56 million in 2000, representing a 7.7 percent growth (IOM, 2003).
As data indicate, Europe is gradually becoming a preferred destination for immigrants. However, the figures do not show the intricate and diverse nature of dynamics and impacts of immigration(Bommes, 2006).
The migration and settlement models adopted by different immigrant groups in Europe are varied and have developed irregularly over time, as well as geographically. Several countries in Europe, including Italy, Spain, and Portugal, were mostly emigration nations up to the 1980s. Since that time, these countries have faced robust immigration inflow (Bommes, 2006). Further, other nations mainly the new EU member countries have started to encounter concurrent emigration, fleeting migration, and immigration. The historical and geographical distinction in immigration across Europe is manifested in the size and constitution of immigrant groups.
The irregularity of the immigration phenomenon in Europe is conspicuous in the member countries themselves. The tendency for new immigrants has been to settle mainly in urban areas. Therefore, big cities across Europe have developed into symbols of cosmopolitanism with this significance increasing rapidly over time. Inside the cities, the spread of immigrants is uneven among districts and other divisions (Castles, 2007).
Until the 1980s, migrants to Europe could be placed in three key groups. The first group was composed of immigrants with a colonial background linking some European nations to their past colonies. The second group was made up of labor immigrants who were brought to Europe by recruiting countries. The final group, on the other hand, consisted of refugee immigrants mainly from Eastern European countries (GCIM, 2005).
Nowadays, the patterns of immigration to Europe are various in terms of the groups involved as well as the paths followed. People now immigrate to Europe from around the globe (European Commission, 2007). Among immigrants are expatriates employed by multinational firms and other international institutions, skilled laborers such as nurses and doctors, refugees and asylum seekers, foreign students, and irregular immigrants primarily from African countries.
One of the impacts of globalization was the change in the models of human mobility. Specifically, globalization has led to rise in transit stays such as those for business travelers, students, and tourists, and more permanent stays for workers of both international and multinational organizations (Castles, 2007). Still, immigrants who go to Europe in search of better economic opportunities or political refuge have continued to be less welcome even though they also form a part of the globalization process. As a matter of fact, countries in Europe and other parts of the world have tended to create barriers to political and “greener pastures” immigration.
A key characteristic of international movement has particularly emerged in the European Union. The EU member countries have given their citizens basic rights to transit and settle anywhere within the EU region. In contrast, the countries have established limitations and restrictive immigration policies to bar “unsolicited” immigrants from moving into their countries (Bommes, 2005). Thus, there is a liberal mobility for those within the EU, and barriers for those outside with the view to limit “undesirable” immigration.
Europe Immigration Push and Pull Factors
Immigration is driven by a mixture of economic, social and political factors in the migrants’ home countries or their country of destination. When these factors are in power of the migrants’ home countries, they are known as “push factors”. In contrast, when the factors are based on the migrants’ country of destination, they are termed as “pull factors”. Usually, the level of economic welfare and political stability is higher in the countries of destination than those of origin (IOM, 2003). For the countries of destination, it has been argued that immigration may help to eliminate shortages in labor supply.
There are several reasons why immigrants decide to emigrate from their countries of origin to Europe. To start with, economic factors account for the largest percentage of this immigration (Bommes, 2006). Many immigrants move to Europe partly due to difference in wage rates between their home countries and European countries, what is known as wage rate differential. When the wage rates in a foreign country exceed those of one’s country, a person may decide to emigrate, if the costs are not prohibitive. Another economic reason that has influenced immigration in the EU countries is employment contracts for international institutions and transnational corporations (Castles, 2007). Employees of these organizations are subjected to transfers to different countries where organizations have operations, and such transfers are usually compulsory.
The second push factor behind immigration in Europe is political instability in the countries of origin. Many developing countries, especially those in Africa are characterized by protracted political instability, ethnic, and civil wars which force their citizens to relocate to more peaceful countries in Europe (GCIM, 2005). Other significant non-economic push factors include search for political asylum and fleeing from oppression in the home countries.
There are also various pull factors that encourage emigration in Europe. First, the standard of education in many European countries is higher compared to many countries in Asia and Africa where many countries of origin of immigrants are located (Castles, 2007). As a matter of fact, education is the main pull factor of immigration in Europe. Despite this situation, foreign students are not considered as immigrants in many European countries.
Another pull factor for the immigration pertains to personal reasons including family reunification for those families where one of the spouses has gone to work in Europe, transnational marriages, or running away from justice (Bommes, 2006). Some culprits of war crimes, for instance, have sought refuge in European countries with the hope that they will be able to oppose any efforts to extradite them to their home countries.
The majority of immigrants to Europe member countries come from Africa, China, and other countries in Asia. Just like their countries of origin, the motives behind the emigration from the three regions are also different (European Commission, 2007).
The number of people migrating from African countries to nations in Europe has continued to rise over the years. Most emigrating Africans usually go to countries that were their former colonies with the need to avoid language barrier, being the key consideration in this emigration. Poverty, civil wars, and political instability, human rights violations, and mismanagement of natural resources have been so far the major push factors fuelling the emigration of African citizens to countries in Europe (GCIM, 2005). Moreover, European countries are partly blamed for the problems afflicting African countries today because of their role during colonialism which promoted corrupt and dictatorial governance. European colonialists are also guilty of exploiting natural resources from African countries at the expense of the local populations, during and even after the colonial period.
Emigration from Africa exhibits the socio-economic forces that have affected the continent over time. Notably, the number of refugees moving to Europe from the continent has increased tremendously in the past few decades due to increased conflicts in the region (Castles, 2007). Between 1993 and 2002, for example, 27 countries in the continent had experienced civil conflicts. Many of the refugee immigrants are usually undocumented, and consist of vulnerable groups, mainly women and children.
Most of African immigrants to Europe come from West African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, and Mali. Their countries of destination are chiefly France, Italy, German, and the UK according to the colonial ties between the European and the African countries (Bommes, 2006).
Since the majority of African immigrants are in search of either ‘‘greener pastures’’ or refugee status, their reception in Europe has not been very favorable (Bommes, 2006). In fact, many countries in Europe faced by the threat of increasing immigrants from Africa have passed legislations, requiring deportation of all irregular immigrants from the continent. Thus, it has been difficult for the immigrants to integrate within the European society.
Emigration of Asians to Europe, especially from South Asia, has been very extensive in the recent years. Most of the immigrants come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka and their key country of destination is the UK. In the year 2001, for instance, the UK had documented 154,000 immigrants from Bangladesh, 466,000 from India, 321,000 from Pakistan, and 68,000 from Sri Lanka (GCIM, 2005). Many Asian immigrants move to Europe to reunite with their family members working there or to offer skilled labor, particularly in healthcare and technology sectors (Castles, 2007). Asian immigrants find it easy to integrate with the local community primarily because of the existence of Asian communities in most European countries.
The migration of Chinese citizens to Europe became more significant in the 1980s and 1990s. The increase in immigration has been credited to the low-cost of Chinese labor compared to other parts of the world (GCIM, 2005). Also, the number of Chinese students seeking education in Europe has been increasing steadily in the past few decades. Key European destinations for Chinese immigrants are the UK, Italy, and Hungary. Moreover, majority of the immigrants are employed in retail and catering industries (IOM, 2003). Integration of Chinese immigrants within local European communities is not a major issue owing to the presence of Chinese community groups in many European countries.
Immigration in Europe vs. the U.S.
Comparing the immigrants’ conditions in the U.S. and Europe, European countries seem to offer better environment for immigrants, especially legal immigrants, than the U.S. First, immigrants in the U.S. are offered fewer opportunities for education compared to immigrants in Europe. Second, it is very difficult to obtain secure jobs in the U.S. as an immigrant (Castles, 2007). The case is very different in European countries which are always in search of skilled immigrants to solve their labor supply shortfalls. Finally, immigrants in the U.S. are sometimes subjected to isolation in immigrants and refugee communities, and they also face discrimination from the local society (Castles, 2007). Overall, I would prefer migrating to Europe than to the U.S. if I were to make such a choice.