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Immigration: How the UK Compares to Other EU Countries

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 26 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Immigration Eu Uk Asylum Seekers

It sometimes sounds as if the UK is uniquely blighted by the costs and burdens of immigration. Some believe that the UK is especially attractive to immigrants for a number of reasons. If a certain type of tabloid newspaper is to be believed, the principal reasons are the NHS and state benefits.

It is true that a relatively small but populous island state, such as the UK, may feel the effects of an influx of people particularly sharply. However, figures released by the EU’s statistics department suggest that immigration is just as big an issue for many other countries in the EU as it is for the UK

The United Kingdom and Immigration

European statistics recently released show that, in 2009, the UK had just over 4 million foreign-born citizens. This figure is said to represent 6.6% of the UK’s total population. Foreign-born citizens who come from outside of the EU constitute 3.9% of the UK’s population. According to the USA’s CIA the UK currently ranks 40th in the world for net migration – the difference between the number of people coming to a country and the number of people leaving that country. Several European countries rank more highly than the UK in this chart including: Cyprus (6th); Ireland (22nd); Portugal (28th); Denmark (32nd); the Netherlands (33rd); and, Germany (39th).

As the UK adjusts to a new government and struggles to recover from the global recession, immigration has continued to make headlines. It may be easy to blame recent immigrants for dwindling resources and an apparent deterioration in public services. The UK’s attempt to create a multicultural society is deemed by some to have failed. Immigration rules are being modified to require a greater level of integration by new immigrants than was previously necessary. Whether net migration will continue at recent levels may well depend as much on the UK’s ability to climb out of recession as the warmth of the welcome given to new immigrants.

Germany – A Failure of Multiculturalism?

By contrast to the UK’s 4 million, Germany had over 7 million foreign-born citizens in 2009. This figure is the equivalent of 8.8% of the population. People who come from outside of the EU make up 5.7% of Germany’s population.

In October 2010 the German Chancellor said in a speech to members of her party that Germany’s attempt to create a multicultural country had failed. She said that immigrants should become better integrated into German society - and learn to speak German. Research suggests that a substantial minority of Germans believe that their country is overrun by foreigners who go there to exploit the state welfare system. Germany treads carefully on the subject of immigration given its troubled history of brutally persecuting Jews and other groups deemed alien to the state. However, it is clear that there is a widespread feeling that immigrants have not always made – or been encouraged to make – enough effort to become part of German society.

France – Banning Burqas to Encourage Integration

According to European figures France had 3.74 million foreign born citizens in 2009, representing 5.8% of the total population. 3.8% of the French population comes from outside of the EU.

The French government has taken a robust approach to problems believed to derive from uncontrolled immigration. The French President has been particularly uncompromising – expelling gypsies and calling for a ban on burqas. The legality of these moves has been questioned. However, they have met with approval from some French people who believe that it is time to redress a perceived imbalance between the rights of immigrants and the rest of society. In a country where the disenfranchised – and often immigrant – youth regularly riot, set fire to cars and throw missiles, the President has even said that immigrants who attack the police may have their citizenship removed.

Immigration and the Resurgence of the Right Wing

Many EU states which have traditionally had a liberal approach towards immigration have been experiencing a right-wing backlash. This has led to a tightening of immigration policies in countries including the Netherlands (3.9% of the population is foreign born) and Denmark (5.8% of the population is foreign born and ranks 32nd in the world for net migration). Sweden, which is said to have one of Europe’s most liberal asylum policies - and ranks 46th in the world for net migration with 5.9% of the population being foreign born - has been the scene of a substantial shift in public opinion on the subject of immigration.

In countries throughout the EU the complaints are very similar – immigrants and asylum seekers come to a country to exploit its generous welfare system and make little or no effort to integrate into society. Immigrants are also widely blamed for increased levels of crime and anti-social behaviour.

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