New Literature Study: Links between migration, integration and return

Today I present you a new literature study on the links between migration, integration, and return we (SFM, ICMPD) have carried out for the State Secretariat for Migration SEM.

The literature review is available as a report in German and in a French translation, with a summary by the government also available. The literature examines the interdependencies of migration, integration, and return with a focus on Switzerland.

We  cite research highlighting that waiting periods and unemployment in the asylum system in the long term lead to higher costs for the host society if asylum seekers will eventually stay — as is often the case for applicants from some countries of origin. Early language acquisition and learning job-related skills make sense in two respects: they open up greater prospects for asylum seekers if they remain in Switzerland, but also if they return to their country of origin.

We show that migrants leave their country of origin for many different reasons. Nowhere in the literature did we find clear indications that offering integration measures such as language courses or qualification measures would have a discernible influence on the decision to migrate to a particular country. While policies more generally may play a role, such specific active integration policies do not seem to affect work migration, asylum migration, or family reunification.

The reseearch literture is clear that early and intensive promotion of integration leads to long-term cost savings for those people who remain in Switzerland. The economy benefits from domestic workers who, thanks to good preparation, gain a foothold in working life more quickly and can pay for themselves. In addition, successful professional integration and economic independence in Switzerland can also help migrants to become involved in development in their country of origin. The decision to return, however, seems to depend on various factors, and in the case of asylum migration depends primarily on the situation in the country of origin.

Ruedin, Didier, Denise Efionayi-Mäder, Sanda Üllen, Veronika Bilger, and Martin Hofmann. 2019. ‘Wirkungszusammenhänge Migration, Integration und Rückkehr’. Eine Literaturanalyse im Auftrag des SEM in Erfüllung des Postulats 16.3790 «Migration. Langfristige Folgen der Integration». Bern: Staatssekretariat für Migration (SEM).

Taxing immigrants is likely to deter them: some data

In Switzerland, there’s currently a discussion on taxing immigrants (well make them pay a fee, not really a tax: “Zuwandererabgabe”) as a means to reduce regulate immigration. The intuition is straightforward: immigrants cause costs to the country of destination (infrastructure, environment), and we can recover at least some of the expenses from them. Reiner Eichenberger suggests to tax immigrants (refugees excluded) between CHF 12 and 15 every day (he likens this to a visitor’s tax tourists pay) for the first 3 to 5 years — that’s around CHF 5000 a year. This does not affect the freedom to move, but introduces costs which he argues would reduce immigration.

George Sheldon highlights that such an immigrant tax would most likely be covered by employers, not the immigrants. Immigrant workers can choose between many countries (of destination), while the employers need a worker in a particular location: this gives the immigrant worker more power in negotiating who covers a potential immigrant tax. An immigrant tax is also an opportunity cost, so immigrants are likely to stay longer — which actually increases the share of immigrants in Switzerland.

Data

In this debate, alternative payments are also discussed, such as deposits. What lacks, however, is any empirical data on how immigrants are likely to react. Well, here I present data from a non-representative survey I conducted in April 2011 — when this idea of taxing immigrants was discussed last time (I wrote some of the text below in 2011, too) . The survey covers university students in Germany (Osnabrück) and Albania (Tirana), and asks about plans to emigrate. It also asks whether the prospect of paying a deposit or a non-refundable fee would deter them. Let’s be clear that these are survey questions, so we can only capture what they say, not actual behaviour; and university students may be a particular group. There are 122 responses from German students, and 41 from Albanian students in the data, studying many different degrees.

The intuition behind the case selection was to capture two different immigrant population — taking the perspective of Switzerland. On the one hand, there are the typically highly-skilled immigrants from Western Europe. They constitute a group of immigrants often considered benevolently, although not unreservedly so. On the other hand, Albanians are often regarded with suspicion in Switzerland, regardless of their qualification. Cultural differences tend to be highlighted in popular discourse. The expectation is that both in Germany and Albania, university graduates are a population of potential emigrants, although it would be wrong to expect everyone considering emigration.

The survey included a series of question asking respondents what is important in life (family, friends, politics, money, religion), and a number of attitudinal items. These attitudinal items capture whether men should be privileged over women if jobs are scarce, and if the native population should be privileged in the same situation. Further items asked whether immigrants should integrate better, if immigrants should keep their traditions or whether they should adjust to local customs.

Expectations

In the absence of data, what could we expect? On the one hand, from a purely economic perspective, it can be expected that migration fees and deposits are a deterrent to migration. Other things being equal, a rational profit-maximizing individual will choose a different country of destination, where no such migration fee is levied. At the same time, the presence of a migration fee or a deposit could act as an important signal to potential migrants: that they are not welcome, or only welcome under specific circumstances. The migration fee in this case acts as a symbolic rather than economic disincentive. In either case, the expectation is that the presence of migration fees and deposits would influence migration decisions.

In economic terms, there is a difference between a migration fee and a deposit. A migration fee is non-refundable, and can be regarded as an (artificial) opportunity cost. A deposit, in contrast, is refundable under certain circumstances. It can act as insurance against costs to the country of destination — particularly in relation to crime and efforts to extradite unwanted immigrants. Given its potentially refundable nature, economic incentives may differ. The willingness to pay a small deposit is expected to be higher than the willingness to pay a migration fee and a high deposit.

Results

58% of respondents have thought about emigrating after their studies. Of these, however, 63% have no concrete plans, and only 16% have gathered information. 25% have considered moving to Switzerland, 75% have only considered different countries.

In Germany, 61% of respondents have thought about emigrating after their studies, of which 69% have no concrete plans, and 11% have gathered information. 30% have considered Switzerland.

In Albania, 51% of respondents have thought about emigrating after their studies, of which 43% have no concrete plans, and 33% have gathered information. 10% have considered Switzerland.

What’s important to choose a country of destination? 73% mentioned job opportunities, 36% career opportunities, 28% friends, 16% the salary, 36% living costs, and 16% migration costs. For 57% language is an important criterion. 38% think they need a concrete job offer, and for 36% their partner is a deciding factor.

How important are migration costs? None of them thought that costs were irrelevant, but fewer than half (47%) consider these costs central or rather central.

Would an immigration fee affect your choice of country? Let’s look at the percentage of respondents stating that such a fee would affect their choice of country, beginning with refundable deposits:

€1,000: 18% think this affects their choice
€5,000: 43% think this affects their choice
€10,000: 78% think this affects their choice
€20,000: 84% think this affects their choice

So yes, migration fees seem to affect the choice of country, but only the larger amounts can deter the majority — and for 16% paying €20k is not enough to change their minds…

How about non-refundable fees?

€1,000, non-refundable: 42% think this affects their choice
€5,000, non-refundable: 73% think this affects their choice
€10,000, non-refundable: 89% think this affects their choice
€20,000, non-refundable: 94% think this affects their choice

Unsurprisingly, non-refundable fees have a stronger ‘effect’, with lower amounts already having a significant impact. Given the general opportunity costs of moving to another country, the many respondents deterred by an additional €1,000 suggests that the symbolic component of such migration fees can be substantial — and migration fees are not only part of an economic cost-benefits analysis.

There appear to be no gender differences in the willingness to pay a migration fee, and differences in stated job prospects are not associated with differences in the willingness to pay a migration fee. Young individuals, however, seem more willing (or less reluctant) to pay. For this, I have simply added the responses to the different questions on migration fees (thus a higher value means more of the questions were answered with having an impact on country choice = more reluctance to pay). The correlation between age and the sum of the fee questions is 0.25 (p=0.016). Young individuals are generally more risk-taking, so this is not a surprise.

You can download the data from my Dataverse.