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Immigration truths and myths

I WAS inadvertently sent a video clip of Johannesburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba, where in an interview with Radio 702 alleges that “as many as 80 percent of the inner-city residents are undocumented foreigners.” The real figure is actually 26.2 percent. I have also had the unfortunate experience of watching violent attacks and killings of foreign migrants on the pretext that they are illegal and taking over from the locals. “These criminals come to our country and take our jobs and women”.
It is common to hear such sentiments from indigenous populations, and usually deliberately within ear shot of perceived foreigner(s). If you excuse the lack of vocabulary etiquette, you will realise that this is a sentiment shared by many locals whose community composition and outlook has been greatly changed by immigration. Apart from politicians, not many people will openly discuss issues around immigration as the subject comes with an almost ominous label of being called racist and xenophobic. The issue of immigrations is so complex that any polarisation in discussion has inadvertently led to claims of racism and fear mongering. There are also many types of immigrants that an umbrella discussion on immigration may not be an accurate reflection of the status quo.
However, regardless of the aforementioned concerns, as the world becomes more of a global village with the ‘right to free movement,’ more and more people are travelling to foreign countries for various reasons which range from education, tourism, work, peace to mention but a few. This is beginning to raise hostilities and resentment against immigrants in many host counties. To pin point the reasons of this hostility is a bit of a quagmire simply because immigration presents a very variant spectrum of effects that are specific to a country or even community, therefore the measurement or discussion of these effects can only be meaningfully done using yards sticks specific to a particular country or community. Generally however, discussions on immigration and the resentment directed against immigrants mainly focus around access to Employment, Social Services (education, medical care, and housing) and Cultural Integration.
Arguably, most migrants that come to any country are of working age and mainly do so in search of a better life. Generally they tend to also have higher education levels, on average, than the indigenous population. The general consensus is that such migrants are usually highly skilled and are vital to innovation of industries and in helping boost local economies. The net effect of such immigration is additional revenue, the creation of jobs, all factors that contribute significantly to the economy. Such an assessment may appear as a win – win situation for both the migrants and indigenous populations. A stratification of the benefits of skilled migrants with regard to employment, however, reveals otherwise.
Despite the high levels of education and skills, migrants are overwhelmingly concentrated in low-skilled job sectors, and arguably jobs that the native population would not normally strive for. But this still puts the emigrants in direct competition with natives who for example after unemployment might have filled these low skill jobs. Younger workers who might want to apply for low skilled jobs as a starting point to a career find greater barriers to entering the labour market created by being in direct competition with a highly educated and skilled emigrant workforce. Although there is very limited evidence, there may also be a correlation between declining training opportunities and apprenticeships offered to indigenous workers, and the availability of a skilled migrant workforce.
Whilst acknowledging that there are costs to particular groups, most empirical research carried out on the labour market effects of immigration finds very little evidence of overall adverse effects on both wages and employment for the natives. This has been most government’s dilemma, acknowledging the need for migrant labour and at the same time safeguarding the interest of those groups that may be vulnerable from the effects of immigration.
Another significant area of concern is the area of cultural integration of immigrants in the communities they are assimilated into. The focus being mainly on the direct impact on both economic and social structures within society. The common presumption by those that have concerns on the cultural integration of immigrants is that they reject the dominant majority or natives behavioural norms or culture, choosing to form their own ‘little countries’ within the communities they have settled. This is argued affects the sense of community and social solidarity which constitute the founding pillars of any community.
However, to the contrary, majority of the immigrants that settle into native communities try as much as possible to ‘blend in.’ They add to the diversity of the community through inter-marriages, and in some cases, boosting local economies by creating demand for goods and services that would traditionally not be available in the community. Immigrant compliance to the law is also high, as the repercussion of the breaking the law might sometimes mean immediate deportation or complete exclusion from the community.
As aforementioned, there are also many types of immigrants that an umbrella discussion on immigration may not be an accurate reflection of the status quo. What is clear, however, is that there seems to be more myths surrounding immigration than facts, beliefs that have largely led to resentment and xenophobic attacks on immigrants.
The author is a Corporate Affairs Specialist for Stimuli PR.