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December 18, 2014

What David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama need to understand

Migration policies are facing scrutiny around the world, from Europe to the US—but we must ask whether media hype is overshadowing the facts. What do policymakers such as David Cameron, Angela Merkel or Barack Obama need to understand?

The global recession in recent years hit economies hard and, with migrant flows seemingly on the rise, the impact on both sending and receiving countries is becoming very noticeable. The subsequent “protectionist” mentality that spread is not surprising—but as a growing trend, it is worrying.

The prevailing anxieties from native residents are clear: do immigrants take the jobs of native-born workers? Do immigrants depress wages by competing with native workers? Do immigrants abuse social welfare systems?

However, evidence-based research tells us quite a different story. Amelie F. Constant compiles evidence to show that migrant workers boost employment effects in the long-term, often by accepting jobs that natives don’t take. Giovanni Peri finds that immigrant workers can boost productivity and wages for native workers.

Furthermore, Corrado Giulietti finds that welfare benefits are not a key determinant of migration; in fact, he finds that restricting migrant access to welfare can worsen their economic standing and increase their need for welfare claims.

This is aside from the huge benefits that migration has been shown to have on international trade, skills shortages, and business innovation.

The factors that influence a person’s decision to migrate must also be taken into account. Research by Artjoms Ivlevs shows that happiness appears to be an important determinant of emigration decisions. Happy and life-satisfied migrants are healthier and more productive and sociable, implying a potentially lower burden on the state. Thus, policymakers may want to pay more attention to the emotional needs of migrants.

It is clear that policymakers need to listen to research instead of hype if they are to properly understand migration and the issues that it presents.

Today marks International Migration Day when policymakers are invited to discuss the fundamental freedoms and human rights of migrants around the world. Our aim, ultimately, should be to separate fact from fiction to try and encourage debate informed by evidence, and dampen fears held by policymakers and the general public.

Hopefully, we can then shape policies to promote the best outcomes for society.

This blog was originally published by Klaus F. Zimmermann on LinkedIn with the title: What David Cameron, Angela Merkal, and Barack Obama need to understand

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We recognize that IZA World of Labor articles may prompt discussion and possibly controversy. Opinion pieces, such as the one above, capture ideas and debates concisely, and anchor them with real-world examples. Opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of the IZA.