Immigration As a Remedy for Population Decline? An Overview of the European Countries

3.3 An Estimate of the Replacement Level of Migration in Order to Achieve Lisbon’s Target

After the UN report there have been several others efforts to estimate the levels of required immigration to face the ageing process, especially with regard to the labour market rather than to the population itself. Among the others I shall briefly present a Feld’s application7 (2006), for the countries belonging to the EU15 which is based on a simple, although effective, methodology. Firstly, the author proposed some estimates of the labour force trends, combining the Eurostat baseline demographic hypothesis with the median scenario with a small rise appearing in the labour-market participation proposed by Eurostat8 (Feld, 2005). After that the author provided an evaluation of the employment levels in the examined countries, by considering the total employment rates and their absolute deviation from the Lisbon target (which requires a total employment rate equal to 70% for 2010). He also estimated the annual increases rate of the total employment necessary to meet the Lisbon requirements.
Secondly, he calculated the migrant labour force flow in 2010, reaching an estimate of the number of migrants needed to meet the 70% employment rate. In the following table 4, I report the main results of Feld’s application. As the author himself declared, the figures obtained through his application are impressive (p. 25): for the whole EU15 the number of migrants required to achieve the Lisbon target is over 43 millions, which correspond to a total employment increase of 26.1% compared with the number of working-age adults actually at work in 2010. The proportion of additional input of working immigrants is extremely variable from one country to the other, varying from a minimum of 2% in Sweden and 4% in Germany to a maximum of 82% in Italy.
From Feld’s estimates it appears that two groups of countries (Feld, 2006, p. 28) clearly exist: those that will have no difficulty in achieving the objective of a 70% employment rate (Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom) and those for which the achievement of the Lisbon target seems to be impossible (all the others). For the first group of countries there is no need to increase immigration flows, while for the second even huge additional migrant flows will not be a solution for the decline, since, as the estimates showed, they will not be able to achieve the objective anyway9.

Table 4: An estimate of migrants needed to meet the Lisbon target in 2010 (70% total employment rate)

Source: calculations based on Feld, 2006, p. 17 and p. 24.

4. Concluding Remarks: A Few Reasons Why Immigration Alone Is not Sufficient

The UN Report on replacement migration briefly described in the previous pages focuses only on the size of the immigration flow required to avoid population decline, without taking into any account the composition of the population. Niessen and Schiebel (2002) noticed that: “[…] While now there is a greater acknowledgement of the need for immigration, numbers are still a sensitive issue”, (p. 14). An important matter to take into account is that of the composition of migration flows, which implicitly refers to the degree of selectivity which is possible or advantageous to have when handling immigration. In order to have the highest profit from immigration we should think of selecting only working-age immigrants and also select them on the basis of the specific skills that are lacking in the labour market. Such a kind of fine-tuning policy is impossible to implement (Punch and Pearce, 2000, p. 107). Regarding this aspect a wide variety in migrant flow nature, composition and level of qualifications can be noticed for Europe10, according to the receiving country (Feld, 2005).
Some others also noticed that immigration cannot solve all the difficulties connected to the crisis of the social system because if it is true that it reduces the percentage of the retired over the entire population (since the migrants have an average age much younger than the receiving population), it is also true that it raises the percentage of children11. So the net effect of immigration on the percentage of potential contributors to the social system could be very little (Steinmann, 1991).
Another question to be considered is that immigration can be valid for a short period, but when considering its effect in slowing the ageing process, it must be taken into account that immigrants also age. So the effect of the young presence is strictly temporary. Existing immigrant populations in Europe have a relatively young age structure, with a the median age of new immigrants on average about 30 years, while the median age for the overall OECD population is almost six years higher, around 36 (Niessen and Schiebel, 2002, p. 14). Furthermore, while it is proved that the fertility rates of the immigrant women are usually higher than those of the receiving country, many studies also stress that their fertility tends to converge more or less rapidly on the levels of the host country (Gauthier, 1988, 1989; Ram and George, 1990; Krishnan and Krotki, 1989; McNicoll, 1995; Legros, 2003).
McNicoll talked about the convergence that in the long run occurs between the demographic characteristics (mortality and fertility) of the immigrant population with those of the natives, but also emphasised that the convergence in the distribution of the economic status and in the mobility models, where both the cultural factors and the discrimination can play an important role, could be much slower (McNicoll, 1986, p. 229). McIntosh noticed that reopen the doors to mass immigration is widely rejected on the base of the fact that the social and political costs are higher than the relative advantages of an enlargement of the labour force and a more substantial contributive base (McIntosh, 1991, p. 318).
Some other authors are, finally, worried about the effect that immigration may have on the cultural, racial, linguistic and ethnic composition of the receiving countries (for example, Teitelbaum and Winter, 1985). According to those scholars, if the proportion of aliens exceeds a certain level, in fact, there can be serious social risks for the hosting population. To increase the fertility, therefore, the only course to take seems to be to try and stop, slow down, the decline of the European populations. twenty years ago espenshade (1987, p. 258) already noted that many scholars seriously doubted that an immigrative solution could prove to be politically acceptable in order to alleviate the fears of the decline of the population.
So it appears from the few figures reported here and the bibliographical review conducted that immigration cannot be the only remedy for population decline. To count only on immigration to solve the demographic problems of Europe is not possible, and it is seriously dangerous for its populations. Although it is clear that an immigration policy is necessary, even if the UN Report brought to unbelievable and unrealistic levels of immigration, the scenarios12 should be considered as purely hypothetical, but still useful to clarify and quantify the demographic situation in the different countries (Feld, 2005). Many simulations (among others see Moretti, 2002 for Italy) showed that even with consistent migratory flows, the population would decrease if the Total Fertility Rate is not above a certain level. Hence, fertility remains the key factor to the process population ageing, and consequently, the factor on which political efforts should also concentrate.

7 This is actually not the first application of the author about immigration flows and labour market. Among the others, interesting is that contained in Feld (2005).
8 The author himself tries to prepare to possible critiques to his theoretical assumptions by saying that: “[…] The choice of these two median combinations may be debatable but it allows the presentation of a range of sufficiently reliable probabilities thanks to which alternative hypotheses can be formulated”, (Feld, 2006, p. 15).
9 “[…] It has been shown that even with 100% of the migrant flow actually employed, the size of the flows needed is too great for them to be economically and socially absorbed”, (Feld, 2006, p. 28).
10 The author noticed that there are great differences among the European countries about migrants labour force participation, unemployment and education levels which can be explained by historical factors and specific admission procedures. Particularly, he mentions the case of education levels: in certain countries, the proportion of university-trained foreigners is very small (4% in Portugal, 9% in Italy and in Austria), while it is much higher in other countries (20% in Finland, 21% in the United Kingdom and 29% in Sweden). These disparities obviously influence integration policy priorities and procedures. (Feld, 2005).
11 It should be noticed that if pensions for old people represent only a cost for society, the expenses connected to the children must be considered as an investment in human capital.
12 These scenarios should not be confused with variants of the ‘global population forecasts’, which are considered to be realistic (Grinblat, 2003, p.97).

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