Imagine Anya, a Ukrainian immigrant who arrived in Berlin, Germany in the spring of 2022 with her teenage son. Currently, the Temporary Protection Directive of 2001 provides them with the security that they can stay for a year. However, if Ania stays in the long run, her career and economic success will depend on the choices she had to make in that first year – choices that were based on how long she expected to stay.
When the chances of staying in the host country are uncertain, why spend time and money learning a language? Why integrate? Why start building a new life? Will Anya so vigorously insist that her son complete his homework in a foreign language and the school system when he is not sure how long he will be in the EU?
However, if Anya and her son stay, the effects of the decisions made during the first months and years after their arrival could resonate for decades. Ania may have been a certified architect in Ukraine, but additional qualifications will be required to be recognized and work as an architect in the host country. She may decide to accept a lower paid job instead of investing in additional training if there is uncertainty about how long she can stay.
The ability to provide security of opportunity is often an important factor for both refugees and other migrants when it comes to settling and advancing in a new country in the long run. Immigration policy should reflect this need for security.
Looking beyond the one-year permit
EU leaders launched the Temporary Protection Directive for the first time this year, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. It provides a non-bureaucratic one-year permit for refugees arriving in EU countries. It is designed as a means for member states to respond quickly to large-scale crises, preventing the collapse of regular asylum systems.
But many of the refugees who have since arrived in the EU may have to stay longer than a year. Although the directive can be extended, the prospects for long-term settlement remain uncertain for these refugees. This can have profound consequences for both immigrants and their new countries.
My recent research with Jerome Ada of Bocconi University and Christian Dustman of University College London shows that reassuring migrants about being able to stay at an earlier stage could improve their integration, shape their economic contribution and ultimately strengthen their acceptance in host societies. We used data on Turkish immigrants in Germany, where large-scale research has been collecting information on the expected length of stay of immigrants for decades. Many migrants interviewed for this research arrived in Germany in accordance with guest worker agreements with southern European countries in the 1960s and 1970s.
Immigrants who expected to stay in Germany integrated faster, acquired new language skills faster, and saw greater economic progress. In particular, we found that short, temporary permits with an uncertain chance of renewal make people behave quite differently from those who expect to stay permanently. The latter spend more of their income locally and have a greater incentive to integrate, learn the local language and acquire other country-specific skills that increase their chances of employment. This enhances career advancement, productivity and earnings in the host country. Thus, individual elections will have macroeconomic implications in terms of immigrants’ tax contributions to their host country’s fiscal budget. Understanding this behavior is important for creating an optimal migration and naturalization policy.
Long-term migrants are often more demanding in terms of the type of job they are willing to accept. And, while contributing more through income taxes, they are also likely to use public services and health care longer, especially as they age and their contribution to these services fades. Long-term migrants are often joined by their families. This increases the demand for the host country’s education system, but also encourages further integration.
For many migrants who intend to return to their home country, it is more common to send money home to their families than to spend it locally. And, knowing that their stay in the host country is limited, they may decide to give up investing specific to the host country in areas such as language learning and new skills that will meet local economic needs, which can be costly.
Governments often delay deciding whether to allow permanent migrant status for several years, based on employment, earnings, or other goals such as language learning. Our research shows that this affects not only the number and types of people who have decided to migrate to a particular country, but also their career profiles and long-term contributions to their new home country. The idea that long-term security encourages integration and supports economic contributions applies to migrants in many contexts, including those of economic migrants and political refugees, as well as documented and undocumented immigrants.
New refugees from the EU from Ukraine, who initially received one year of protection, have a limited incentive to invest in local skills. This certainly includes the language of the host country, but also extends to the acquisition of qualifications and certificates that are of limited value at home but are valuable to the host country.
Clear legal procedures that inform immigrants early on about their chances of staying in host countries are key to decision-making and can greatly affect the lives of these people. It will also affect the costs and benefits for the countries in which they work, consume and receive support or pay taxes. If immigration policy takes this into account, it could do a lot to help immigrants like Ania and her son feel at home, while increasing their economic contribution to host countries.