European citizens tend to favour more restrictive migration policies when migrants have similar skills and are likely to compete for the same jobs. In those circumstances, they also prefer higher level of welfare and social protection. But when migrants are mostly low-skilled, European citizens typically favour lower levels of redistribution.
These are among the findings of research by Elie Murard, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society”s annual conference in Brighton in March 2016. His study analyses responses to the European Social Survey combined with immigrant inflows data over the period 2002-12 in a hundred different regions across 18 European countries,
He finds that when immigrants tend to compete with natives for jobs (due to having similar skills), locals prefer policies that support welfare and putting restrictions on migration. But the opposite happens when migrants have different or higher skills, as locals want to encourage people who will contribute to the economy without competing with them or relying on welfare. Murard comments:
”Native workers seem to understand that migrants with similar skills can harm their wages, but that migrants with different skills can increase them.”
In public debate about immigration and redistribution issues, populist arguments tend to raise concerns about cultural and social homogeneity. Yet labour market and welfare concerns play a crucial role in shaping the native population”s opinions, and how they are affected over time by immigrant inflows.
Using the European Social Survey (ESS) combined with immigrant inflows data over the period 2002-12 in a hundred different regions across 18 European countries, Murard”s study shows that:
• Immigrant inflows cause European citizens to favour lower levels of redistribution when migrants are mostly low-skilled. Natives support higher levels of redistribution when migrants are mostly high-skilled.
Estimates suggest than a 10% increase in the number of low-skilled immigrants (relative to the low-skilled native population) reduces the average support for income redistribution by 4%. In contrast, a 10% increase in the inflow of high-skilled migrants raises the average support for redistribution by 2% among natives.
These findings suggest that native taxpayers perceive low-skilled migrants as a net fiscal burden and are reluctant to pay for their welfare benefits. But high-skilled migrants seem to be perceived as net contributors to the welfare system.
• Native workers who are the most exposed to labour market competition with immigrant workers prefer higher level of welfare and social protection.
Natives working in occupations in which the proportion of immigrant workers have increased the most over the period – such as the construction sector and low-skill personal services (for example, housekeeping or caring) – express higher demand for redistribution and social protection by fear of tighter labour market competition.
• Natives favour more restrictive migration policy when migrants have similar skills and are likely to compete for the same jobs. Natives do not oppose higher immigration when migrants have different skills that can complement natives” skills in the labour market.
A 10% rise in the immigration rate (foreign-born population relative to native population) increases by 5% the anti-immigration attitudes of natives with the same educational level as migrants. But natives do not seem to oppose the immigration of workers with different education and skills. Native workers seem to perceive that the inflow of migrants with similar education puts downward pressure on their wages, but that migrants with different educational levels can contribute to increasing their wages.
European countries experienced different patterns of immigration between 2002 and 2012. For example, the immigration rate was less than 3% for France and Portugal and more than 8% for the UK and Spain. New migrants to the UK were twice more educated than natives. The opposite is true in Spain where migrants were twice less educated than natives. The diverse patterns of immigration can partly explain the different evolution of opinions across Europe.