“We should stop being hypocrites”
Jan van de Beek on good and bad immigration and the dictates of Brussels
Being a mathematician and an anthropologist what is the peculiarity of your approach regarding the current migratory trends?
I started with my work for several reasons. One reason I started working on demography is a forecast I found on the internet that stated that the percentage of Muslims in the Netherlands in 2050 would be as high as 50%. I thought this to be rather exaggerated, and I couldn’t find a really good forecast. So I built my own demographic model for the Netherlands, based on existing data of Statistics Netherlands (CBS).that certain groups of immigrants have a negative impact on the economy in terms of fiscal costs and benefits. I’m working on to make my own computations regarding the economic and demographic consequences. One of the things I currently work on is the lifetime fiscal contribution of immigrants with consideration to their background – the region where they come from and the reasons why they come, whether it be work, study, family or asylum. Furthermore, I study the demographic composition of the Dutch society in the future under different scenarios.
Let’s start with the numbers. What can they tell us?
Numbers substantiate that immigration is not good or bad in itself. It depends much on the type of immigrant. A very important factor is level of educational attainment. Another factor is the reason for migration. You have to consider where immigrants are coming from, and for what reason, and how they perform, and then you see marked differences.
What does the available data reveal regarding the differences among the various groups?
It’s very revealing to look at the number of people on benefits for every 100 people working. I used a dataset on the economic performance of immigrants arriving in the Netherlands between 1999 and 2010, then aged between 20 and 40, during the 5th to 10th year of their stay in the Netherlands. This shows that immigrants from countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and India or immigrants from Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries all perform very well. Moreover, the children of western immigrants have better educational attainment than native children. So mass immigration from any of these countries would likely support the Dutch economy. More in general, immigrants from many countries in South-East Asia and most Western countries perform well, though people from some countries in South and Eastern Europe show a somewhat higher use of benefits.
At the other end of the spectrum are immigrants from Latin-America (29 immigrants on welfare per 100 working), Africa (64 per 100) and Asia ex South-East Asia (90 per 100), with substantial differences for countries within each region. The high numbers for Africa and Asia ex South-East Asia are partly caused by the relatively high influx of asylum seekers. For Asian countries with a relatively high share of asylum seekers (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria) on average 133 immigrants are on benefits for every 100 working. For typical African asylum countries (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan) this number is even 262.
This makes clear that motives for immigration matter a lot.
When you look at the situation after ten years in the Netherlands, you still see marked differences between those who come with the aim to study or work – on average 100 persons working for 15 on benefits – and those who settle by joining their family members 100 persons working for 30 on benefits. Among asylum seekers – even after ten years in the Netherlands – the ratio is still 100: 100. It is worth to note that there are differences even in the same ethnic group. For example Chinese perform very well with the exception of Chinese asylum seekers. Also, people from former Yugoslavia perform much worse that people from the rest of Europe. Asylum seems to be a very bad way of migration. People are put in camps in which they tend to get hospitalized, live in uncertainties and get exhausted physically and emotionally, all this makes a negative impact on their attitude.
So the key word is selection? How can this idea put in harmony with the dominant understanding of human rights? Also, would it not generate further inequalities?
The dominant narrative is that helping other people is a Christian value. The ideal of international solidarity is supported by public figures, intellectuals and the media. This perception made its way to the education system. It is not bad in itself but when it becomes a demand for unlimited solidarity it becomes a false notion, since resources are limited. There are many low income people among the Dutch. So when immigrants become dependent on social benefits this affects heavily those who already live on the margins, among them many immigrants who arrived earlier. This is another moral dilemma. We cannot put international solidarity first. If immigration continues in the same way as we witness it today, we will have a large influx of low skilled people, of which many will become dependent on benefits. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that you need many working people to support one person on benefits. These ratios predict a gloomy future for the welfare state. Mass migration works only with well selected people. This on the other hand can of course have heavy and negative impact on the source countries. Especially for source countries with few highly educated people – as is the case for many countries in e.g. Sub-Sahara Africa – large scale brain drain might be disastrous. This is another dilemma which could further increase the push factors on the longer run. To ease this negative side effect, probably one of the best ways is to offer educational opportunity for young people on condition of return to their home countries, instead of staying or moving on to, for example, the USA.
Besides, immigration laws have changed even in Western Europe, and those who come now will not get the same as they did even 3 years ago.
I agree. I made a proposition paper about the hypocrisy of our system that I presented in the Dutch parliament. On the one hand, we promise people that they have the right to stay once they put their feet on the shores of Europe and we will treat them well. On the other hand, we try to keep them out, so many would-be immigrants end up in very bad situations on their way to Europe. We cannot stick to our self -image as a community based on the exaltation of human rights as its core value, while in depth we want to protect our welfare states. Immigration is a natural phenomenon in an ever shrinking world, but it should be controlled and balanced – in terms of productivity and social cohesion. So we need a new story in which the humanitarian responsibility of Europe is more limited than is the case now. For example, we could make asylum a right for people on the European continent and a favour for people outside Europe, aiming for a worldwide system of regional asylum areas with primary responsibility for the regions. That is also in line with the original 1951 UN-treaty in which countries had a choice to opt for Europe or for the entire world.
I believe that all migration should be in the interest of the receiving country. If it is beneficial the receiving country, it is also in the interest of the immigrants because it means that their economic performance is good and their socio-cultural integration is going smoothly, and hence they will be respected, and valued members of the host countries society.
As you have just said, bad immigration policies make social polarisation more intense. You also mentioned the economic importance of cultural differences. How does integration and performance relate to each other? Which comes first?
Selection has to be based on the chances of both socio-cultural and socio-economic integration. For socio-economic integration, it is probably best to select on human capital. For socio-cultural integration, I focus on the speed of assimilation. Immigrants are not neutral agents. They are bearers of a culture and a value system. When value systems are conflicting like in the case of some orthodox Muslims it is still not a problem if the immigrant group is small. However, when an immigrant group becomes a dominant factor, conflicting value systems may threaten the liberal democracy. Our political culture presupposes that there is a common playing field with basic rules and values which are often taken for granted.
From survey data we know that for example support for democracy is lower than average for certain immigrant groups. Also, there are marked differences between regions in the world when it comes to values related to democracy, trust in other people and institutions, tolerance, relation between parent and child, group and individual, and so on. Some politicians think a course in Western thinking may help integrate immigrants. I doubt it, norms and values tend to be difficult to change, as people grow older. I think it is better to select before immigration on the chances for socio-cultural integration.
Another related problem is a limited degree of identification with the Netherlands. The Dutch Bureau of Statistics (CBS) has data for several groups regarding their self-identification with the Netherlands. In certain communities there is an obvious progress, while for other groups, self-identification with the Netherlands is limited, even for the second generation.
What is the criteria or definition of self-identification?
The CBS posed a general question asking if they feel more Dutch than belonging to the country of their origin. If they say ‘yes’ , I count them as ‘assimilated’. The important thing is how they perceive themselves. Even in this you can see marked differences. For example in the case of people from Surinam – a former colony of the Netherlands – half of the second generation self-identifies with the Netherlands. For the Antilles – some islands of which are still under the rule of the Dutch kingdom-, even two-thirds of the second generation identifies with the Netherlands. While the level of identification for second generation members of two other large communities Turks and Moroccans is very low and moreover, halved from one-fifth to one-tenth based on two surveys, the first conducted in 2006 and the second in 2011.
Is there a holistic model that considers all the mentioned aspects of migration?
To create holistic model we need many sub-models, a very complex task which necessitates cooperation between hosts of specialists. My aim is to set up an analytical model. Some years ago, I was invited to a ministerial expert meeting on the costs and benefits of immigration and I proposed such a monitoring tool to a high ranking civil servant, which was quick to point out that ruling politicians wouldn’t be interested in it.
In general, the majority of Western politicians show no interest in a factual approach. The solutions designed by Brussels are rather ideological and farfetched from the reality on the ground. As we see with the proposition of the quota system.
It is a very bad idea to force immigration policies from above on countries which have very different history, political and social system. If the EU had been governed by a set of truly democratic institutions which is respectful of differences, I would accept that immigration is decided on the EU level, but even in that case we should start with the control of external borders. But the problem is that the EU institutions are not functioning well, they are absolutely not democratic. One of the signs of its failure was the way it dealt with the refugee crisis. When the Hungarian government built the fence in full accordance with what is set in the Schengen treaty, it was heavily criticised. Circumscribing a common area without prescribing how to protect it physically, was a big mistake. Similarly, introducing the Euro as the common currency whereas there has never been a monetary union without a political union was not a wise thing. The solution to a non-functioning Europe is not more Europe, since support for such development is lacking among the peoples of the Union. The more power we hand out to Brussels the more undemocratic we will be. The current framework does not allow for further integration or for common asylum policies. The world is divided into sovereign states, we have to respect this and border control is essential.
How is your opinion received in the Netherlands?
The response is very mixed. Those who consider themselves as belonging to the “social justice warrior” side are calling me names, but there is a much larger group of people who are happy with the things I do. They appreciate that someone is working on the facts and figures and the statistical aspect of immigration. Also the media is changing. Shortly after I finished my PhD thesis in 2010, I sometimes met with hostility and now what I find is a much more balanced approach. Those people whom are in favour of the nation state model are absolutely open to my opinion. However, when it comes to the question of redistribution of income and social justice the so called left oriented people get also interested.
Jan van De Beek studied cultural anthropology at the University of Amsterdam after studying mathematics and computer science at Utrecht University. His PhD dissertation was about the production of scientific knowledge regarding the economic consequences of immigration to the Netherlands. He is actively participating in the public debate about immigration in the Netherlands. He created a twitter account (@demo_demo_nl) and a website (www.demo-demo.nl) and in a recent interview to a Dutch paper said that “Belgium and the Netherlands must support Hungary”.