The economic malaise in the debt-scarred southern countries of Europe has dramatically increased the number of people from Mediterranean states migrating to wealthier countries of the north in search of work.
According to a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, between 2009 and 2011, the number of migrants from southern Europe -- those most hurt by the impact of the brutal recession and severe government spending cutbacks – moving to other EU states jumped by some 45 percent. These migrants principally moved to Germany and Britain.
For example, the number of Greeks and Spaniards migrating to other EU countries has doubled since 2007 -- to 39,000 and 72,000, respectively. Indeed, Germany witnessed a 73 percent surge of Greek immigrants from 2011 to 2012, nearly a 50 percent increase for Spanish and Portuguese and a 35 percent jump for Italians.
"This is remarkable," OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said at a news conference in Brussels. "Now we are talking about migrants from other OECD countries leaving home for a better life."
For the 12 months ended September 2012, Germany took in about 116,000 people from crisis-torn EU nations. Germany, which has a low jobless rate of 5.4 percent, has a need for skilled workers in areas like engineering or information technology as its native population ages. Another popular destination is non-EU member Switzerland, with nearly 31,000 foreign workers moving north from Italy, Spain and Portugal in 2011.
While the euro zone as a whole is suffering from high unemployment (12.2 percent), the situation is distinctly worse in the southern tier. In April, the jobless rate reached 28 percent in Greece, 27 percent in Spain and 17 percent in Portugal.
As people move from one country to another within Europe seeking work, the overall jobless figures have particularly worsened for immigrants (including those from outside the EU) – unemployment for immigrants has risen by almost 5 percent between 2008 and 2012, versus a 3 percent jump for the native-born.
“Governments must do everything they can to improve immigrants’ job prospects,” said Gurría. “Tackling high and long-term unemployment now is essential. Continuing to help immigrants integrate will also ensure they can play their part in driving growth as the global economy recovers.”
The OECD report also asserted that immigrants do not impose an unwieldy burden on host nations, partly since new arrivals pay their share of taxes, resulting in “close to zero on average” costs arising from immigration across the OECD.
"If the results described … tell us anything, they tell us that more immigration does not necessarily mean more public debt," the OECD stated.
“The report rebuts the myth that migrants constitute a burden for the welfare states – they are not more recipients of benefits than natives,” said László Andor, the European Union commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, at a news conference.
Nonetheless, during a period of high unemployment and high debt, anti-immigration parties, notably the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain and the National Front in France, are growing in popularity.
“What you cannot do is welcome the migrants in the good times and announce them as a burden in the bad times,” Gurría told the Wall Street Journal.