Three Ways Europe can Promote Immigrant Participation

Immigrants add value to the country where they settle and EU countries have untapped potential among immigrants.

europe-immigrantMigration refers to change of residence, it is a more or less a permanent movement across space.

People “emigrate” from one country and became “immigrants” in the new place of residence. With migration being a reality rather than a fiction, it is of paramount importance that EU Member States commit themselves to enable immigrants thrive.

The need to design policies promote active participation of immigrants in European societies has never been greater. Of special importance in this respect will be the policies that target education, employment and active citizenship.

1.  Education

Immigrants attend schools and academic institutions in the EU in significant numbers. EU data suggest that 8.3 million young people in the EU were born abroad. Of this, 3.1 million are under 15-years-old and 5.2 million are between the ages of 15 and 24. Unfortunately the Eurostat’s 2011 statistical report on Migrations in Europe indicates that young people of migration backgrounds are twice as likely to leave school early than native born youngsters.

Consequently, the intervention in the education of young people with migrant background is crucial if the Europe Union aims to fulfill its 10 year EU growth and competitiveness strategy, EU 2020. This strategy aims to reduce the drop-out rates to below 10 percent, and to make sure that a minimum of 40 percent of adults between 30 to 34 years old have completed tertiary education (O’Dowd, 2014a).

Focusing on improving educational outcomes for migrant youth will ultimately help the EU to achieve the targets of inclusive economic growth and reduction of unemployment. Data suggests that reducing the school leaving rates for foreign-born learners will bring Europe 30 percent closer to its goal. Experts suggest that migrant education is the most crucial challenge facing education in Europe in the coming years. Migrant children have continually (C., 2014) been overlooked in national policy making. If the EU is to meet its ambitions goals it is of paramount importance that education policies target immigrant students (O’Dowd, 2014b).

2. Employment

In order to truly understand the impact that immigrants have in the economy of a country one should look closer in three areas; namely the labor market, the public purse and economic growth. In regards to the labor market, immigrants accounted for over 70 percent of the increase in the labor force over the past ten years in Europe.

The impact of immigrants is seen in fast-growing sectors as well as in those that are facing steady decline. In terms of public revenues, data suggests that immigrants contribute far more in taxes and social contributions in comparison to the benefits they receive. Consequently, their impact is highly positive. Last but not least, immigrants contribute to economic development by boosting the working-age of population (Dumont & Liebig, 2014).

Since 2001 migrants have represented a 14 percent increase in the highly educated labor force in Europe. Furthermore immigrants are slowing becoming key players in growing occupations in Europe where they represent 15 percent of the total workforce. These occupations include but are not limited to health-care occupations and STEM occupations (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

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In the mean time, immigrants are also influencing positively the occupations that are currently declining in the EU, where they represent 24 percent of the work force. These occupations include craft, machine operators and assemblers (Liebig and Mo, 2013).

Dumont and Liebig (2014) argue that the waves of migration that arrived during the last five decades in OECD countries has had an impact value close to zero, rarely exceeded 0.5 percent in positive or negative terms. This data shows that immigrants are not a financial burden to residence countries. What is more, immigrants contribute more in taxes and social contributions in comparison to what they receive in social benefits. Immigrants contribute to financing public infrastructure, a contribution that is always lower than that of native born residents. Consequently, if EU member countries were to increase employment rates among immigrants, their financial contribution would increase as well.

3.  Active citizenship

The majority of EU migrants in Western Europe are not naturalized which makes them unable to vote in national elections, regional elections and finally the European elections. In every election in Europe 51 million people or 14 percent of the EU population do not vote because they are not allowed to vote. Unfortunately it is in these elections that most policies for immigration, employment and social policies are decided.

This practice in Europe will have long-term negative impact in EU politics. One of the most damaging effects of this practice relates to the increase of the far-right. The democratic deficit in EU member states will continue to increase if something is not done rapidity. Every vote that is cast for the far-right will tighten the immigration policies, the more immigrants are excluded from political involvement the more powerful will the far-right become in EU member states.

All member states should rapidly promote active citizenship and citizenship reform the society at large should be made aware of the invaluable benefit of active citizenship for immigrants and the society in general. Research suggests that electoral participation of immigrants promotes socioeconomic integration, fights discrimination and courts the far right (Migration Policy Group, 2014).

Over time, regardless of whether they arrived legally or illegally, by living and working in a society, immigrants became members of that society. A large number of research data suggest that immigrants add value to the country where they settle. EU countries have an untapped potential among immigrants. Utilizing this potential will ultimately improve the economic standing of EU, its political structures and its innovation potential.

Arif Shala is a a doctoral student at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany and executive director at the Institute for Economic Development Studies in Prishtine, Kosovo. Read other articles by Arif.


Dumont, J. C. (2014). OECD. Retrieved November 20, 2014, from OECD:

Group, M. P. (2014). Migration Policy Group. Retrieved November 20, 2014, from

Liebig, T. &. (2013). OECD. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from OECD:

O’Dowd, S. C. (2014). Investing in Education: a sine qua non condition to reach 2020 targets. Brussels, Belgium.

O’Dowd, S. C. (2014). Migrant education policies across Europe: “The most important issue facing European education over the next decade.” Brussels, Belgium.