France has always been attractive to immigrants. In 2008, the INSEE estimated that 5.3 million foreign-born residents and 6.5 million of their descendants (French-born of at least one immigrant parent) lived in France, for a total of 11.8 million, which was 19% of the total population in metropolitan France – 62.1 million at the time. These numbers included roughly 5.5 million of European origin, 4 million of Maghrebi origin, 1 million of Sub-Saharan African origin and 400,000 of Turkish origin. In 2010, 27.3% of the 802,000 newborns in metropolitan France had at least one foreign-born parent. In 2012, 229,000 foreigners arrived in the country.
The 19th and 20th century saw wave upon wave of immigrants to France due to the Industrial Revolution, and the need for workers at the end of World War I. From the mid-forties to the mid-seventies, France needed laborers after World War II, and they came from places such as Europe and Latin America. There were also lots of migrants from Vietnam and Algeria.
During this time period, France became an asylum for refugees. Per Wikipedia, the Geneva convention noted that refugee status was granted to four out of five immigrant applicants. Many of these refugees came from countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America because they feared the dictatorship in their home countries.
The seventies saw France in economic crisis, and allowed immigrants, along with their families at that time, to become French citizens. France relinquished its policy of assimilation and pursued integration as an alternative. There has been tension and civil unrest between citizens and some immigrants, leading to riots from time to time as everyone strives to adjust.
When it comes to a country’s stability, many factors are always in play, including a healthy infrastructure, taxation, healthcare, job availability, and the size of the GDP. Immigrants are often seen as a catalyst for the economy, for better or worse.
For some nations, a low birth rate and an aging population mean it’s likely that foreigners will be welcomed with open arms for the skills they bring, despite fears to the contrary; and potential families bringing future workers to boost the economy and build the pool of talent cannot be ignored.
Of course, there are other viewpoints, where immigrants are seen as taking jobs from the locals or taking away benefits from needy citizens, bringing crime and otherwise burdening the system.
There are arguments on both sides, and with the recent upheavals in France, discussions abound, pro and con. But let us look at some data-backed facts.
Taking a look at a study done in 2005, economists gathered data on immigrants from the point of view of what they contributed to, and took from, the French economy, and whether or not it was to the detriment of the wider population.
While some immigrants dipped more into unemployment insurance than the French (19% instead of 11.7%) to start with—they’ve just arrived and are trying to find their feet; or partake of more housing benefits (34% instead of 13.7%), or family allowances (35% instead of 24.3%); they tended to receive less health-related benefits. And, they paid social contributions and income taxes, taxes on consumption (VAT) and local taxes just like everyone else. According to the numbers used in the study, immigrants actually contributed a net of 3.9 billion euros overall, or 0.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).
How is this possible?
For immigrants, 55% were between 25 and 55 years of age, versus 40% for the entire French population. The age range that tends to be the largest users of social spending (pensions, health, education) is either the very young or those over 60. And that age range is a lot smaller among immigrants than the rest of the country. So, on average, that offset the cost to social security.
Would this apply to other years than 2005?
According Xavier Chojnicki, one of the authors of this 2005 study, the year wouldn’t matter regarding the findings. The data is relatively neutral, with slight ups and downs. It is his opinion that stopping immigration wouldn’t solve the debt crisis in France. Another study blames immigrants for prostitution (1.4 billion euros) and counterfeiting, but Chojnicki believes it also overstates health spending. If you take the average age range of immigrants at 25 to 55, this is a young and active group, and typically would consume less than natives.
The other studies forget that someone 60 years or older costs the health system twice as much as someone who’s much younger.
It’s the definition that affects the data.
Another report cited immigrants costing millions of dollars to taxpayers, but it could be that the difference in accounting for expatriates and their effect on the economy has to do with criteria. For the study done in 2005 by Chojnicki, it was based only on immigrants born in a foreign country. It did not include second-generation immigrants, which other studies have done. When the second generation is added, then it would include minors and public spending through education, for example, and not focus on the contributions they will make as tax-paying adults and contributors to society.
When looking over the long-term for the needs of an immigrant population, Chojnicki analyzed two scenarios for 2050: one, maintaining the flow of migrants as it is currently - about 100,000; and the other with no migration. In the first case, the overall needs of social protection account for 3% of GDP. In the second, 4.3%.
Should immigration be stopped?
According to Chojnicki, it’s all about age. The vast majority of immigrants arriving in France are under 30 and therefore are net contributors to public finances. They help the economy, not drain it. If this flow is halted, the local population will age faster and pension and health expenditure will increase faster as well.
Some studies only focus on one side of things: how migration affects unemployment and housing; perhaps the cultural differences being too great; a fear of the unknown. But if you stop looking at only the short-term and focus on the years ahead, immigration strengthens an economy and infuses it with much needed skills and fresh blood. Immigrants to France tend to be healthy, intelligent and hard workers who contribute a lot to the system and give more than they take away, based on the statistics above.
Take it one step further, and you can look at the immigrants who have done well and added much to the status and image of France: Manuel Valls, Nicolas Sárközy, Anne Hidalgo, Jacques Saadé, Samir Nasri, Zinedine Zidane, these are just a few of the greats who have made their mark on the country.
A fear of the unknown has always been the enemy of change. It can be hard to get used to, and welcome, something new, whether you are the person doing it, or experiencing it. What is needed now is conversation; dialog as to the realities of the needs on both sides of the issues, and an understanding that we are all in this together.
Over to you.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this article. Is there anything you agree or disagree in this article? I’d like to know your thoughts. Please leave them below in the comments section.
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