Fundació Catalunya Europa RE-CITY

Marta Foresti

The economical balance of migrations



"Border control policies are doomed to failure," is one of the messages Marta Foresti, director of Human Mobility Initiative of the Overseas Development Institute, has launched at the conference "The economic balance of migration". Held at Palau Macaya of Barcelona, it is the second session of the cycle “The future is intercultural”, of the Re-City platform, organized by the Catalunya Europa Foundation together with La Caixa, the Roma Club and the support of the Barcelona City Council, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona and the Generalitat of Catalonia.

Josep Oliver, Professor of Applied Economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and co-director of Europe G, participated as a moderator, reviewing the migratory movements of recent years in Spain and Catalonia. "We experienced an important migration process in the late 1990s due to the lack of labor and youth in the labor market and, probably, now we are facing another process that seems inevitable." Oliver has emphasized that immigration is necessary for demographic reasons and for its positive contribution to the labor market.

According to data from the Bank of Spain, 40% of the GDP growth between 1997 and 2007 must be attributed to immigration. "His contribution to economic growth is undoubtedly true," says Oliver, but "the problem is that it was a growth, without control or planning, fueled by the construction boom, that it failed and generated a low-skilled occupation and low added value". Thus, during the 1997-2007 decade, housing construction multiplied by five and went from building 150 thousand to 800 thousand homes a year. Immigration came to represent 40% of the new occupation that was created, and in a decade the population in Spain grew by 6 million inhabitants, reaching 45 million, thus increasing the demand for public consumption but also of occupation. For this reason, the economics professor warns that "these growth processes must be regulated in order not to distort the labor market and not to repeat the mistakes of the past, as many workers, both migrants and autochthonous people, ended unemployed. We must be able to achieve a reasonable integration, as we have already seen what has happened in other countries when there has been an explosion without control. The absence of immigration policies causes the creation of unrealistic artificial structures".

Immigration and development have always gone hand in hand.

In another sense, Marta Foresti, as an expert in migratory movements, has stressed that immigration "is a phenomenon that has happened throughout history and that will continue to exist, as it is a natural and necessary process for the development of countries. There has always been great mobility from poor countries to rich countries". Thus, Foresti agrees with Oliver on the fact that the economic balance and the contribution to GDP are very positive, but regrets that we put too much attention to social costs rather than on the needs and capacities of migrants. "We should try to understand how they are and not let ourselves be led by stereotyped visions that unables us from seeing the reality. We tend to separate between economic immigrants and refugees, based on clichés, and we forget other groups such as women or the young people".

Because of this, Forest has asked to avoid falling into polarized debates about immigration as well as addressing the phenomenon only with "border control policies, which are doomed to failure. The question is not between opening or closing the borders. We must address the issue as a whole, by tackling the problems that we have as a society: the future of work, the sustainability of basic social services, mobility or climate change. We have to look at solutions from a more pragmatic and less political or ideological point of view".

Currently, the phenomenon of migration tends towards temporality and shorter displacements, a changing reality which, according to Foresti, should be taken into consideration by the states when implementing new measures, regarding the labor market, the demographic trends, the profiles of those who want to come and the needs of each country, city, territory and those of their neighbors "

Cities, the key actor in the reception of migrants.

The director of the European think tank, Urban Mobility Initiative, has recalled that "mobility and immigration have always been linked, sometimes as a result of a decision and sometimes as a necessity. The difference, when talking about immigration, is the existence of a border, which neither is good nor bad, it simply forms part of human nature, and its impact can be more positive or negative depending on the economic and political context of each moment". 

Foresti has also talked about young people and cities: "it is necessary to understand that traditionally young people have always moved to the cities to look for new job opportunities, studies, lifestyles, to be close to the family or to flee from poverty". In this sense, "cities have always worked as a hub of economic and social development for immigration," explained the expert, born in Italy and working in London. "In cities, the majority of those who live there are naturally immigrants that come from all over the world." Therefore, "cities need to cooperate, to work collectively and less politicized than the states".

More investment in education in order to combat prejudices.

On the prejudices against migrants, Forest notes that the percentage of immigration at the global level is not as high as it seems. In addition, most of the trips take place at the local and regional level, although the trend is people increasingly moving to more distant countries for economic reasons.

Whatever the case, "we must not fall into the speeches of panic in the face of an alleged invasion as propagated by some politicians or the media, which unfortunately exploit the fear of the citizens to take away electoral rewards." Against this, Forest considers it is important to invest in education for the benefit of all, whether immigrants or indigenous people. She also believes that "it is necessary to provide legal paths so that no one can live their lives hiding in trucks, ships or trains to cross a border. If Europeans can travel from one country to another, this should be reciprocal".

For Foresti, changing this depends on governments but also on citizens who reproduce false beliefs about immigration. A negative view that feeds the extreme right, whose rise, according to Foresti, has nothing to do with immigration but rather with a problem related to the inequalities created by globalization, to which politicians have added the question of migration to make us believe that if we block the way to immigration, our problems will be solved. And that is a lie".

Precisely, Jaume Lanaspa, president of the Club Roma in Barcelona, at the beginning of the conference has highlighted that immigration can become a positive fact to overcome myths against migrants. Indeed, in order to avoid the establishment of prejudices amongst the population, he has asked the administration "to act with more transparency and coordination with regards to the budget allocation of social benefits". Also, Josep Maria Vallès, vice president of the Fundació Catalunya Europa, in his intervention has stressed the important role that cities can play in managing global challenges such as immigration, diversity, and interculturality

In fact, cities participate in the cycle "For an intercultural future" through the Metropolis network, that groups 132 major cities around the world, and especially with the collaboration of the councils of Gavà, Santa Coloma de Gramenet, and Sant Boi de Llobregat.