Join 3,428 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


I'm guessing the answer isn't "practice".
July 21, 2010 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand what seems like a contradiction: News stories I read seem to depict there being quite a lot of immigration into EU countries, and attendant unrest over cultural factors. But while a lot of people I know say they would love to move to Europe, the few who've actually done research into it seem to indicate that it's nearly impossible to get in unless you're wealthy or in a select few professions. How do middle and lower class people actually immigrate to Europe?

See also here for an example.

This isn't really a personal thing, it's just something that's been niggling at me for a long while. The comments in that thread are pretty typical fare for what I've heard about the general difficulties of an American moving to the EU. So how do all the people who do immigrate but aren't doctors/executives/etc get there?

I'm aware that the reason there's unrest about it is tied heavily into race and religious intolerance issues, and that's not the question, just to be clear. I just am curious about the actual legalities of how such an immigrant population has built up if the immigration laws are such that they're regarded by Americans as nearly impenetrable to the middle/lower classes.
posted by gracedissolved to Law & Government (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, there are a lot of illegal immigrants in Europe, especially from North Africa. Or are you referring solely to legal immigrants?
posted by dfriedman at 7:27 AM on July 21, 2010


The American non-execs I knew who moved to Europe ended up working in consulting or finance and got transferred there. There's also marriage. I'm pretty sure a lot of illegal immigrants go over on a tourist or study visa and then just disappear into the population or overstay their limited visa.
posted by anniecat at 7:32 AM on July 21, 2010


A lot of it has to do with the now (mostly) defunct empires, as far as I know-- that's why you see a lot of Caribbean immigration to the UK and a lot of North African immigration to France. I believe the immigration rules are somewhat looser for people born into countries that used to be colonized.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:35 AM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Many European countries have special relationships with certain countries, often ex-colonies. For example, anyone born in territory that was ever under the dominion of France— including, theoretically, much of the American Midwest (?)— can move to France and apply for citizenship, so lots of Algerians take advantage of this. (I assume the irony of this is not lost on the former pied-noirs who moved back to the metropole when offered "suitcase or coffin.")

Germany, for whatever reason, has a program that permits Turks to live in Germany and work there. They don't get citizenship, nor do their children.

The UK has a program similar to France's for its former colonies, although in this case it is limited to those countries which are members of the Commonwealth, so e.g. sub-continentals and many Africans have the right to move to the UK.

Spain is a popular destination for legal Latin American immigrants, although I don't know if there's a special program there.

You get the idea. As an American, you're screwed unless the government loses its mind and joins the Commonwealth.
posted by Electrius at 7:36 AM on July 21, 2010


(With the exception of the US, obviously-- we skipped out of the colonial racket on the early side)
posted by oinopaponton at 7:37 AM on July 21, 2010


For example, anyone born in territory that was ever under the dominion of France— including, theoretically, much of the American Midwest (?)— can move to France and apply for citizenship, so lots of Algerians take advantage of this

I'm pretty sure this isn't true anymore.
posted by JPD at 7:47 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The immigration 'problems' that you see in the news are related to fear of illegal immigration along with a tinge of nativist fears that the country will be changed by immigrants who 'don't fit in'.

The immigration fear stories are also often to do with internal EU migration, so poor migrants from Eastern Europe move to the Western states that are more wealthy.
posted by knapah at 7:48 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


As others have said, the bulk of this immigration seems to be either special relationships--e.g. Germany had guest worker programs for Turks from the 1960s to 1980s and permits family reunification--or illegal immigration.

Unlike Latin American illegal immigration into the US, the bulk of which is straight-up border jumping, it seems that a lot of EU illegal immigration involves people who enter the continent legally and somehow never get around to going home.
posted by valkyryn at 7:48 AM on July 21, 2010


A lot of the bitching in the UK is about immigrants from Euro countries like Poland. Who have a fairly easy route to working there.
posted by smackfu at 7:49 AM on July 21, 2010


A lot of european immigrants (see the Turks in Germany and North Africans in the Benelux countries) came in as guest workers during the 1970's and have remained outside of local society partially because they lack a route to citizenship (or did - this may have changed, ate least for their children) so they never assimilated the way they would have in the US.

Also immigration into Europe is about half what it is into the US (maybe even less if you factor in illegal immigration which I believe is a larger proportion in the US)

Also next time some muppet starts shilling a Guest Worker program as a solution to illegal immigration suggest he learn about how that worked out in Europe.
posted by JPD at 7:51 AM on July 21, 2010


Many European countries have special relationships with certain countries, often ex-colonies.

This. I was quite jealous of a girl I met who was free to move back and forth for school and work between her home (West Indies) and Amsterdam, courtesy of the colonial relationship. You'll find Indonesians who can do the same as well, etc.

A much less glamorous version of this happened with the former Soviet Union and its communist allies--as homogeneous (and racist) as the native population can be there, there were exchange programs for students from allied African and Latin American nations.
posted by availablelight at 7:52 AM on July 21, 2010


(West Indies) and Amsterdam

for some of those islands this is roughly the equivalent of moving between a state.
posted by JPD at 7:53 AM on July 21, 2010


In Spain, residents from former Spanish colonies can technically get citizenship after two years of residence; one year if your parents or grandparents were Spanish.

Also, you could get into Europe as a pro soccer player. They have plenty of clubs.
posted by Theloupgarou at 7:53 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The UK has a program similar to France's for its former colonies, although in this case it is limited to those countries which are members of the Commonwealth, so e.g. sub-continentals and many Africans have the right to move to the UK.

Sort of. There isn't a carte-blanche for citizens of Commonwealth member states or former colonies (many countries are both) to move to the UK. India, Pakistan, Bangledesh, Jamaica and a few other countries contributed to a wave of post war invited immigration to the UK - indeed, until 1962, any Commonwealth citizen could move to the UK without restriction. This created large immigrant communities in and around London and in the North of England. Nearly all British cities have an immigrant population of some kind these days, often into their third and fourth generation. These communities vary in their integration with UK culture and social mores, but have mostly maintained strong familial ties with their origin countries. Particularly in the case of South East Asian immigrant communities where arranged marriages are still relatively common, this means there is an established route for new spouses (most of whom are not British-born) to emigrate to the UK. Love and marriage is pretty much the only truly unregulated immigration route into any European country, in that anybody can do it if they can prove their relationship is genuine.

A lot of the immigration press in the UK is also handwringing about influxes of (often temporary) workers from the former Warsaw Pact countries that have recently joined the EU. It seems a large percentage of the UK public don't really understand what a common labour market entails and see no cognitive dissonance between their own harping on 'them bloody Poles, coming here taking our jobs' and their own plans to buy a bar in the South of Spain.

To answer your question:
the few who've actually done research into it seem to indicate that it's nearly impossible to get in unless you're wealthy or in a select few professions. How do middle and lower class people actually immigrate to Europe?

It's pretty much impossible, now for anyone without independent wealth or genuinely scarce skills or an employer who will transfer them to move to many European countries, regardless of class. Indeed, being middle or lower class and/or having basic skills will make it far harder. Most new immigrants are either a) using an established, non-employment route like the spousal one or b) entering the country as part of free labour movement within the EU.

tl:dr, don't feel like you're being hard done by, the walls are up for everyone.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:55 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I had this question too. What hasn't been mentioned is cultural affinity and guest worker programs.

Many Brazilians come in through Portugal for example. This may happen because a Portuguese firm, looking for cheap labor and outsourcing may hire Brazilians. They speak the same language. Easy. Once brought to Portugal, they can more easily investigate other options for other work, applying for residency etc. Then they can apply to bring over their family, and so on...

The easiest way to get into the EU? Find a legal reason to be here. Any reason. Once here, there are a lot of options for staying, legally. For poorer countries this means the willingness to do cheap labor. For Americans, the best route is probably to pay to study in the EU. After you graduate, you are given a certain period to find work here and stay.
posted by vacapinta at 7:56 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Joe Sacco: Not in my country is an interesting look at a wee part of it.
posted by kmennie at 7:59 AM on July 21, 2010


Well, there are a lot of illegal immigrants in Europe, especially from North Africa.
Compared to what? The number of legal immigrants (about 70 million)? The number granted asylum (around 70,000 per year)? The number of illegal immigrants in the United States (maybe 12 million)? This is the kind of statement that materially affects the debate, and not for the better, so which you mean matters. And as people upthread note, many North Africans have the legal right to reside in the EU.
As an American, you're screwed unless the government loses its mind and joins the Commonwealth.
One less outlandish possibility would be to enter some sort of reciprocity arrangement with, say Britain or Scandinavia. It's currently pretty much impossible to move from Europe to the US without a skilled job waiting or a spouse, and changing that might be a vote-winner (as it is internally in the EU).
posted by caek at 8:02 AM on July 21, 2010


You can't entirely trust the media. It really boils down to that. There are major things happening in the US that never get reported in Europe (and counter to popular thought in the US, it's usually negative things that aren't reported; neutral and positive events are far more likely to get neutral and positive press coverage in France, where I live). And then, a couple of days ago, I read Yet Another NYTimes Article on How French Women Stay Hawt (yes, that's my own paraphrase, and for info I'm a woman). It mentioned one French woman... from Paris... and mainly concluded that it's because "French women are constantly dieting, use a lot of facial creams, don't wear much makeup, and never do sports." I've lived in France for 11 years. Nearly every single French woman I know does sports regularly, whether in a gym, as yoga, in team sports, and/or running and cycling. Most wear makeup, don't diet that often (but do eat an unholy amount of salad), and the heck if I know how many facial creams they use, because they never talk about it. Parisians are often an exception — for instance, in this case, because they so often have massive commutes (we're talking 3-5 hours a day) and so not much free time for sports. If a NYTimes contributor can't be bothered to consider something so basic, or look for other perspectives, on an article that casts the entire French population of women in a certain light, d'ya think they're going to do much more work on immigration articles?

Anyway. That was just for a recent concrete example I had in mind. As for immigration, just as in the US, it's a hot topic that's sure to get readers, especially if cast in an "omigod those freeloaders are stealing our jobs" light. So it's in the media's best interests to gloss over all the hoops that immigrants have to jump through.

I've never personally experienced immigrant unrest in my 11 years here. There's been grumbling about increasingly restrictive choices made by the Sarkozy administration, but even from French people, it's been favorable to immigrants for the most part. (There is indeed racism against North African immigrants, unfortunately.) I'm sure someone will cite "omg but all the burned cars!!!!11one" but that's precisely an example of single events being blown out of proportion. I couldn't believe how much worse it looked in US press than in European, plus I know people who live in the affected areas, who were saying that even the European press were making too much out of it.

As for immigrating here, well the truth of the matter is that non-degreed people have a hell of a time. They may manage to finagle some black market work, but even in those cases, many end up being deported, or giving up and returning to their home countries, plain and simple. Makes for a pretty boring news article, doesn't it?

As for non-PhD middle class immigrants, I can speak directly to that. I got my visas to live in Finland and France originally because I was then the long-term partner of an EU citizen and could prove that I had a 4-year university diploma (it's the minimum) as well as a solid plan for freelance work (translating). One of those things alone wouldn't have swung it. After three years paying taxes in France, I gained permanent residency, which means my residency card is renewed automatically once every 10 years so long as the government doesn't decide otherwise. Other cases can include having a permanent job contract (you must always pay taxes dutifully, otherwise they can toss you out easily before getting permanent residency — probably still after getting it too, I imagine). Also, just after I gained permanent residency, Sarkozy changed its prereq from 3 years to 5.

I know a lot of Americans who've immigrated here by marrying a French citizen. Most do not have an easy time of it. In their cases, it's because they thought that being American, they'd find jobs easily, despite not speaking French. Nope. Doesn't work like that. (How many non-English speakers are able to find decent work in the US?) Then immigration itself is often a pain, since, by law, they have to show as much proof as possible that their marriage is valid. (Just as in the US.) I know people from the US and Australia who have in fact been visited by the police in the middle of the night in order to verify that the spouses had been using the same bed. No joke.

As you can see, it's pretty complex — I've not mentioned many, many other possible cases. The media don't like complexity that ends up making things hard to follow. They like simplistic and eye-catching.
posted by fraula at 8:07 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I live in the Netherlands and there are heaps of people here from all over the world, including lots of USians. Most people who don't already have an EU passport come either on a working holiday visa, for work or for a partner (not necessarily spouse). To be frank, I'm not sure how most people in working-class professions would come over here purely for work purposes, but the place is full of middle-class USians in white-collar jobs. Lots of people in IT, management, accounting, insurance.

Just like, I assume, the US, plenty of people are able to enter the country for purposes of family reunification and the like.

During the 50s and 60s there were large numbers of Turkish and (don't quote me on this) I think Moroccan people who came in as 'guest workers', the idea being that they would come and work here for a time and then leave. Like most people (including myself), once many of these 'guest workers' had settled in to a new place and had kids here, they didn't really feel inclined to go anywhere else. So that was one way that the non-native-Dutch immigrant population increased rapidly. There was also a great influx of migrants from Suriname in the '70s when it became independent from the Netherlands.

Forgive my extremely heavy-handed and quite possibly slightly inaccurate outline, it just seems like the easiest way to explain some of the immigration waves to this country in one paragraph.

The latest waves of cultural unrest are tending to be directed at immigrants from other EU countries, specifically the most recent members.

I must admit, though, I always groan when I read the AskMe threads on how to move to a particular European country and see answer after answer saying, forget it, it's just not possible. It's true that it's harder than it used to be ten years ago, but honestly, people are arriving here all the time. While I suppose I do have a lot of friends in fairly lofty positions in international companies, there are plenty who come for not-top-level jobs. After three years of being sponsored by an employer, you no longer need a work permit (just need to prove that you are employed and not a drain on public funds) and after another two years you can apply to remain indefinitely.

Hopefully that answers at least part of your question?
posted by rubbish bin night at 8:08 AM on July 21, 2010


For example, anyone born in territory that was ever under the dominion of France— including, theoretically, much of the American Midwest (?)— can move to France and apply for citizenship, so lots of Algerians take advantage of this

I'm pretty sure this isn't true anymore.


As I understand it, the deal is that if you are in France via a legal visa route (eg you came for work or for a partner), you can then apply for citizenship right away. But you need another sort of visa first, you can't just rock up and expect to become French.

In theory this applies to anyone born in the territory of the Louisiana Purchase, but in practice I don't believe that it has ever been tested.

(I read this somewhere a few years ago, take it with as much salt as necessary.)
posted by rubbish bin night at 8:12 AM on July 21, 2010


My informal sense is that, more than in the US, "immigrant" gets used for anyone from another ethnic background even if they born there and did not in fact immigrate. To be sure, it's also used that way in the US too, just not as much.

Nearly all British cities have an immigrant population of some kind these days, often into their third and fourth generation.

Like that.

A lot of the discussion of immigrants in the UK or France or Germany is about people born there who are still seen as foreign.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:15 AM on July 21, 2010


A lot of answers have already been given above. For the Netherlands, there are several factors that I know of:
- guest workers, as Valkyryn noted, that have stayed permanently. Family reunification - in several ways: families as they existed before the immigration, but also brides (and grooms, I suppose) that are 'imported' by second and third generations from their country of origin.
- economical and political refugees: for 2009 that accounted for about 16.000 requests, about half of which was or will be granted. Most of those are from Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
- as knapah mentioned, internal EU migration (mainly Eastern Europe).

(on preview: and yeah, what rubbish bin night said in the third paragraph)
posted by Ms. Next at 8:16 AM on July 21, 2010


And what ROU_Xenophobe said is very true for The Netherlands as well. We invented a word for it: allochtoon.
posted by Ms. Next at 8:20 AM on July 21, 2010


Nearly all British cities have an immigrant population of some kind these days, often into their third and fourth generation.

Like that.

A lot of the discussion of immigrants in the UK or France or Germany is about people born there who are still seen as foreign.


Oh, agreed, and it's often done maliciously. Especially when you will often have, these days, a family whose grandparents were actually immigrants, whose children were British-born but widely seen as foreign and whose grandchildren are diverging massively from cultural expectations and integrating in all sorts of interesting ways with the wider society. The Daily Mail will call this an 'immigrant community' with the nasty subtext that 'all them brown people don't belong' while I meant to imply only that several generations often live closely and that new immigrants use existing communities as support networks.

It's loaded terminology for sure - my wife is an actual, not-born-here immigrant, but she's white and American, which means she neatly sidesteps a lot of the bullshit administrative and mental buckets that everyone else fighting their way through the immigration system gets put into. Even then it's been a long, invasive and expensive process.

Agree with what people have said upthread however - emigrating to the UK and other EU countries isn't impossible, just complex. Spousal visas are the most straightforward way, but there are other ways, notably students. But yeah, the seeming dissonance between 'it's impossible if you're not a brain surgeon' and 'look at all the Poles and Bangladeshis' is merely common-or-garden media distortion, often for political gain.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:23 AM on July 21, 2010


I got to the UK on an inter-company transfer visa. My company bought a UK based company. If you get a company to sponsor you, it's usually straightforward as long as you don't have a criminal record. I've spoken to many other immigrants while here.
- One member of the US army station in Germany I spoke to said he was arranging with a woman friend, she'd get him a euro card and she'd get a US pass. He didn't mention marriage but I assume that's what he meant. Maybe a quick marriage and divorce? Not sure what happens after you divorce your foreign spouse. . .
- As mentioned, much of the angst is against eastern euro countries, in particular Poland. I saw anti-Polish racism billboards in N Ireland and spoke to quite a few Polish immigrants in Ireland. Becasue Poland is not on the Euro, Poles can work in the UK and Ireland and send money back to Poland to support families. One waiter I talked to said he could make more for his family waiting tables in Ireland than with any middle-class job in Poland.
- I have a US friend who moved to Amsterdam on a visitation visa in 2001. She worked for a long time as a bartender and maid getting paid cash (illegal immigrant). However she now makes quite a nice white-collar living as a marketing translator. She works for Dutch companies and I believe she got her visa under some sort of amnesty.
posted by patrad at 9:02 AM on July 21, 2010


Italy and Spain have had a lot of trouble with "boat people". It's very similar to the American problem with Haitians.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:12 AM on July 21, 2010


quite a lot of immigration into EU countries ... love to move to Europe.

These are different things. There's a lot of migration within Europe; for example, the recent huge migration of Poles into the UK caused a huge fuss in the UK papers. Of course, many of the recent Polish immigrants have now gone elsewhere or back home, thanks to the UK job market drying up. This is because an EU citizen basically has the right to live and work anywhere in the EU. Non-EU citizens, by comparison, have a much tougher time setting up in an EU country.

So very few new people are getting into Europe; instead, the people already here are just sloshing around a bit, albeit with a bias toward immigration to richer countries. So virtually every country's newspapers get to panic about an influx of forigners, while ignoring the efflux of their own citizens to other countries.
posted by metaBugs at 9:22 AM on July 21, 2010


It might also help to realise the same contradiction is pretty normal in the developed world - the USA for example is also "nearly impossible", yet is likewise depicted as a prime destination for immigrants. (You generally can't get in at all under your own steam, an American must apply on your behalf, and even then the paperwork and hoop-jumping, if you make it through, often drags on for over ten years just to get a crappy greencard. Citizenship might be another 7 years.)

The way regular people do it in the USA is simply to do the nearly impossible - find an immigration path that doesn't exclude them, and then follow it with dogged determination through years of BS.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:30 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tons of fantastic answers here and lots of interesting additional stuff to think about. Just a note, I'm really not wanting to do this myself, at least at this point in my life, but I've been trying to read more world news and be more aware of how the rest of the world works, and this kept coming up, and there's a lot of things here that I hadn't really thought of as possible related issues. (Like that these "immigrant communities" in some cases have been around for generations, or that people from certain places have an easier path.)

Thanks to everybody! And I'm still very much interested in additional reading material on the subject, so don't take this as a "and please shut up now" or anything.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:46 AM on July 21, 2010


The immigration laws are similar to those in the US and it isn't impossible for immigrants to come here, but it isn't quick and easy. It's a long process to apply for a green card/work permit. Most people who do it obviously know someone here who can help them with the process.

Americans going to the EU can go through the same process without being wealthy or in select job markets and there are many that do it. Of course being rich speeds up the process.
posted by JJ86 at 11:11 AM on July 21, 2010


One of the reasons that South Asian communities are sometimes described (unfairly) as 'immigrant communities' is that although the original members of those communities are now grandparents and great-grandparents, their children and grandchildren often married people from South Asia, who then emigrated to the UK. People born in the UK might be 4th generation British via their mother, and 2nd generation British via their father. This is more likely to be true in poorer communities. This kind of family immigration does put a slight strain on resources (immigrant spouses often don't speak English), and is essentially open door.

I guess its both harder, and easier than people think to move to the EU. Different countries have different requirements, but without any connection to an EU country it is very difficult to move here legally, even if you're from a prestigious developed country like the US. But on the other hand, more people have connections than you might think - it's probably easier to move to the EU than the US.
posted by plonkee at 11:16 AM on July 21, 2010


I lived in France for a couple of years and worked with a lot of refugees from North Africa (and asian countries to a lesser extent). Quite a lot of them were assigned to France via whatever refugee organization they were working with (UN, etc). Many of them didn't want to be in the country they were in, and would have preferred other European countries.

Have you thought about trying for citizenship in a country affiliated with a european country? (eg: become Algerian, move to France).
posted by blue_beetle at 11:30 AM on July 21, 2010


Regarding the American Midwest (former French Louisiana) and French citizenship, that policy was dropped in 1990s. It had also covered, for example, parts of Germany that had been annexed by Napoleon in the early 1800s.

I recommend Rogers Brubaker's Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany for an overview of citizenship law in these two countries (which are quite different, as noted above). French historian Patrick Weil wrote a fantastic text on French nationality law and its (shifting) philosophical underpinnings which has recently been translated into English as How to Be French: Nationality in the Making since 1789.
posted by dhens at 12:43 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would also add, I have talked to some blue collar workers who married Europeans. One of the reasons it's tough for them to find work is that trade unions and accreditation require almost a complete retraining to that countries standards. For instance I met an American electrician who married a Dane. In Denmark it was impossible for him to work as it would have required 4-5 years of new apprenticeship and training to Danish standards. . .


Just to clear up my previous comment . . . in N Ireland the have billboard condemning racism, and had a picture of a vandalized polish car as an example. . is most definitely was not a billboard promoting racism.
posted by patrad at 12:44 AM on July 22, 2010


« Older Another ipod question - awww y...   |  How can I use jQuery to show a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.