Will other countries learn from Austria's experience of labour migration?

30-01-2004

As Austria looks back on forty years of labour migration some of its neighbours, the EU candidate countries are beginning to see increased labour migration. The Czech Republic, for example, is actively trying to attract more qualified foreign workers - to counteract the problems of an aging population and a declining birth rate. Is central Europe going to see a new wave of labour migration after May? Dr Herbert Brücker, is a researcher at the German Institute of Economic Research

Photo: European CommissionPhoto: European Commission "It's a difficult question. I think they will receive workers at the medium skill level, and they can benefit from those, for example car factories and things like that where you need medium skilled workers and there you can benefit from an influx of migrants from, yes, Ukraine, Russia and countries like that."

In Austria and other Western European countries there has been, in recent election campaigns, a lot of resentment against the presence of migrant labour in the country and an influx of migrant labour. Is that likely to also happen in the candidate countries of Central Europe as this phenomenon increases?

"Yes. You can see in all these countries very strong national movements. A lot of these movements have resentments against foreigners, foreign workers. I do not see an explicit political force, which will try to take advantage of these resentments, but it can easily happen in election campaigns and it depends on the scale of migration I guess. I think the scale will not be that large."

But large enough to cause tensions in these societies?

"Yes in particular in the border regions, the Eastern borders, in Poland perhaps as well as the Czech Republic."

What are some of the strategies that could be adopted to avoid those tensions and some of the problems that have arisen with labour migration to Austria for instance? What could be learned from the Austrian experience?

"The basic mistake which we made in Austria and German and many other European countries is that, in contrast to the US and Canada, we did not look at human capital endowment. And we said, after the first oil price shock in 1973 that we have no labour migration when in fact we had a lot of labour migration and that labour has been of only medium and low skills. So the first thing is to look at the skill level of migrants. The second lesson which you can learn is that integration is very important, you have to offer language courses, language is crucial for integration, that's the first thing. And then of course a lot of other things like mutual acknowledgement of education degrees and things like that may help to integrate the people and assimilate in the labour market. They should not be afraid that migrants take away jobs from natives. They should try to integrate the migrants from the beginning in the labour market and that will create fewer burdens on the welfare state than we have in the present EU member states."

30-01-2004

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