New project: The long-term impact of refugees on the local population

Today, we’re starting a new project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Working with Natalia Malancu, Bruno Lanz, Marco Pecoraro, and Philippe Wanner, we will assess the long-term impact of refugees on the labour market, health, reproductive behaviour, well-being, and attitudinal outcomes of the resident population. By looking at past refugee flows, we hope to better understand the likely impact of the rapid arrival of many refugees.

From a purely economic point of view, migration is an efficient means to allocate workers to employers. Indeed, for centuries migration was not only sought by individuals seeking to improve their lives, but also actively encouraged by employers and countries: guest-worker programmes, recruitment drives abroad, or the purported ‘war for talents’ all demonstrate that migration can be encouraged for economic reasons.

By contrast, refugees are driven away from their countries and do not primarily migrate for economic reasons. Fleeing desolate situations and conflict in the country of origin, refugees do not necessarily have the skills and experience to meet economic demands, unlike voluntary migration for economic reasons. Because refugees tend to leave their countries with comparatively little preparation – they flee in reaction to an immediate threat – their economic and social integration (e.g. lack of language) may constitute a further challenge. In the country of destination, some may resist the arrival of refugees — worried about wage dumping, costs of social benefits, tax increases, overpopulation, or a threat to local culture and traditions.

Whilst we know about the potential impact of immigrants and refugees theoretically, and despite an important literature on the economic and attitudinal effects of immigration on the mainstream society, we do not understand well how forced migration and refugees affect the resident population, particularly in Europe. We lack good evidence of the likely long-term impact and how to best handle the integration of immigrants and refugees. In the project, we will focus on three major areas: labour market effects of refugees, effects of refugee arrival on the health, reproductive behaviour and well-being of the resident population, and the implications of refugees on attitudes to immigration. The big bet of the project is that by studying past patterns of rapid arrival of refugees (from former Yugoslavia), we’re in a better position to understand the impact of more recent refugee flows.