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Europe Should See Refugees as a Boon, Not a Burden

Tuesday 22 September 2015

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD

SEPT. 18, 2015

Many European leaders have described the refugees who are risking their lives to get to the Continent as a burden. But there is good reason to believe that these immigrants will contribute more to Europe economically than they will take from it.

Numerous studies have found that immigrants bolster growth by increasing the labor force and consumer demand. Rather than being a drain, immigrants generally pay more in taxes than they claim in government benefits. Even a large influx of immigrants does not mean fewer jobs for the existing population, since economies do not have a finite number of jobs. Immigrants often bring skills with them, and some start new businesses, creating jobs for others. The less skilled often take jobs that are hard to fill, like in child care, for example, which allows more parents to work.

A working paper published last year by four economists found that immigration benefited local populations in 19 of the 20 industrialized countries they studied. Another study found that an influx of refugees into Denmark in the 1990s led native workers to switch to more skilled jobs and away from jobs that were mostly manual labor. As a result, some local workers earned higher wages.

Immigrants can be particularly important for countries like Germany that have low birthrates and aging populations. Germany already relies on workers from other European Union nations to fill many jobs. But as the populations of all European nations grow older, Germany will have to look beyond the Continent for workers. That’s partly why it has been more willing to accept refugees from Syria than have nations like France and Britain, which have higher birthrates. German unemployment is also low, at 4.6 percent, which means Germany should be able to get immigrants into jobs sooner.

Some officials in Europe, particularly in Britain, have raised another objection to immigration: “benefits tourism,” the idea that immigrants will move simply to take advantage of generous government benefits. But there is little evidence to support this claim. In Britain, for example, immigrants from the rest of Europe pay more in taxes than they receive in government benefits, according to an analysis by two economists. Another study found that reducing immigration to Britain by 50 percent, along the lines of what Prime Minister David Cameron has advocated, would actually reduce the country’s gross domestic product and force the government to raise tax rates to keep its budget balanced. In 2010, Mr. Cameron said he would reduce net migration into the country “from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.”

Of course, European leaders are hardly alone in fearing immigrants. Republican lawmakers in the United States have thwarted efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, despite the obvious economic benefits. A Congressional Budget Office report in 2013 estimated that giving undocumented workers a path to citizenship and making more employment-based visas available to foreigners would raise G.D.P. by 5.4 percent and lower the federal budget deficit by $897 billion over 20 years.

Advocating a pro-immigration position has become politically difficult in the West, in large part because opponents have successfully cast newcomers as economic and social burdens. Their false arguments damage economies and the lives of millions of people trying to escape war and poverty.

A version of this editorial appears in print on September 19, 2015, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Immigrants Are a Boon, Not a Burden .

See online: Europe Should See Refugees as a Boon, Not a Burden