Economic theory suggests that countries gain most from importing factors of production that are relatively scarce. Like other developed regions, the EU has a far higher share of skilled workers in its labour force than does the world as a whole. That simple fact suggests that Europe should be tilting its immigration policies towards the unskilled, rather than towards the highly skilled. So why are we seeing a trend in the opposite direction?
This is interesting given that the influx of unskilled workers is generally presented as the problem in, say, a Danish context. Hatton’s explanation isn’t that surprising to someone acquainted with Danish academic discussions on the subject – given the institutions of West European welfare states and labour markets, unskilled immigrants will have a lower rate of employment than unskilled natives. (You might want to look compare the data for the U.S. with the data for the EU-countries – the difference with regard to people with no more than lower secondary education is noticeable!)
In a Danish perspective, I’m less convinced by Hatton’s supplementary explanation – that resistance to immigration is a post-September 11 phenomenon. The negative perception of immigrants really started to emerge in the mid-1980s, long before anybody outside of Saudi Arabia had heard of Osama bin Laden.
What happened in Denmark was that a) the opposition had forced a very liberal refugee act on the government (a very complicated story), b) the Iran-Iraq war (remember that – a certain Saddam Hussein was “our” ally back then) led to a surge in refugees from the two countries and c) the then Justice Minister used the following chaos in the refugee administration to force the Social Democrats into retreat on the issue. Hence, immigration was politicised between the Conservatives and the Social Democrats in Denmark while the Swedish Social Democrats generally has opted for consensus with the Conservatives on this issue.
On the other hand, I think his prediction that governments will try to “compensate” for the migration of unskilled Bulgarians and Romanians by introducing more selective immigration policies is realistic.
Update: i had hardly managed to post this before DR Nyheder published a story about the Danish Conservatives and Social Liberals calling for changes in the immigration laws allowing foreigners with high qualifications to apply for jobs in Denmark. It is also worth noting that the Conservative and the Social Liberal Party used to be opponents in Danish immigration and refugee policy.