Fact-checking popular claims about immigrants

Many of the most widely held views on immigration are false

Former Foreign Minister and Former Minister for International Trade and European Affairs of Italy

This article was originally written for the Italian newspaper, La Reppublica. It is based on research by Radicali Italiani.

The numbers of immigrants are spiralling out of control

False. The European Union is made up of approximately 510 million residents. Of these, only 35 million are immigrants, meaning natives constitute 93% of the population.

The proportion of foreigners varies widely between European countries: 10% in Spain, 9% in Germany, 8% in the UK and Italy, 7% in France. It is notable that, in general, the countries most hostile towards immigration are those who have the fewest immigrants: in Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary, for example, immigrants make up less than 1% of the population.

Across the European Union, work permits issued to non-EU citizens have decreased by 8% since 2008. In Italy the number of permits issued roughly halved in that time period, with the only significant increases occurring in Germany and France.

There is not enough work for Italians even without the influx of migrants

False. Between 2015 and 2025 the Italian population will decline by 1.8 million. This means that approximately 1.6 million working age immigrants will be needed to maintain the current working age population. Maintaining the working population is critical to safeguarding the productive capacity of the country and ensuring the sustainability of the pension system.

Immigrants steal jobs from natives

False. In Italy, immigrants have mostly filled positions which have been abandoned by the native population. These jobs are largely in the care-giving, construction and agriculture sectors, where work is generally harder, less well paid and less secure.

Unskilled jobs that are mostly rejected by Italians are reserved to the immigrants: immigrants don’t reduce the employment of Italians, they gradually occupy the least skilled positions abandoned by the native population, particularly in the personal services (personal caregivers), construction and agriculture: sectors where work is mainly manual, heavier, with modest payments and unstable work contracts.

2015 data reveals that only 7% of immigrants are employed in high-skill jobs, as opposed to 37% of native Italians. Salaries for immigrants are generally lower and decreasing over time: 48% of Italian immigrants are at risk of poverty.  

We cannot afford the burden of immigration on the welfare state

False. The total cost of immigration to the Italian economy, including welfare and social security payments, is less than 2% of public expenditure.  Immigrants generally pay more in taxes and social security contributions than they receive in benefits. In 2014 their social security contributions reached €11 billion, which paid for 640,000 pensions, and their income tax revenues neared €7 billion. By contrast, foreign retirees number only 100,000 out of a total of over 16 million total pensioners.

The work contribution of foreigners is critical to the health of the economy. From 1998 to 2007, Italian GDP rose by 14.4% in real terms. Estimates suggest that without foreigners it would have risen by only 10.5%. In the seven years following the financial crisis (2008-2015) GDP fell by 7.3%, but estimates suggest that it would have fallen even more – by 10.3% – without immigrant workers.

Europe is too small to manage current levels of immigration

False.  Out of 16 million refugees under UNHCR mandate, only 1.3 million (8%) are hosted in the 28 European Union countries. Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan together host nearly 5.9 million refugees in an area less than half the size of the European Union. Italy is host to 118,000 – less than 1% of the total.

We pamper refugees by putting them up in hotels

False. Hotels have been used as extraordinary reception centres (CAS) only as a last resort due to the lack of other available facilities. The scandal is not that hotels are being used, but that existing facilities for reception are so inadequate.

Italy spends a fortune on handouts for migrants for doing nothing

False. According to 2015 data, the country that spends the most on welfare payments for refugees is The Netherlands (€24,000), followed by Belgium (€19,000), Finland (€14,000) and only then Italy (€13,000). The country that spends the least is the United Kingdom (€2,500).

In Italy, approximately €1 billion was spent on refugee reception in 2015. The average cost for the reception of an asylum applicant or a refugee is €35 per day (€45 for children). This is paid to the bodies managing the centres to cover salaries and maintenance. Only €2.50 per day on average is given directly to refugees for their daily expenses.

Immigration is turning Europe into a hotbed of Islamist terrorism

False. The five countries with the highest proportion of casualties from Islamist terrorism are Afghanistan (25%), Iraq (24%), Nigeria (23%), Syria (12%) and Niger (4%). By contrast, Western Europe accounts for less than 1% of the global total.

Emma Bonino is co-chair of ECFR’s Council, former Foreign Minister of Italy and former European Commissioner.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

Author

Former Foreign Minister and Former Minister for International Trade and European Affairs of Italy