WILL the immigrants work too much, taking away jobs from the natives? Or they, cunningly, intend to laze around on welfare benefits, ultimately becoming a burden for taxpayers? The Central European politicians who like to keep the number of accepted strangers close to zero, disagree about which problem is caused by the immigrants.
Whereas Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, thinks that migrants decrease natives’ employment (see article), many Czech politicians say the refugees want to abuse social benefits. Andrej Babiš, a deputy prime minister, Milan Chovanec, a minister of interior, Tomáš Zdechovský, an MEP, and Václav Klaus, an economist who was the country‘s president between 2003 and 2013, have all portrayed refugees and migrants as freeloaders who headed to Germany because of the country‘s generous welfare offerings.1 Meanwhile, Miloš Zeman, the current president, reiterated for the last time in April that the group which is lured by social benefits is, simply, “Muslims”.2
Such contrasting portrayals have given birth to a popular meme of “Schrödinger’s immigrant“: in a play on a quantum physics paradox, in which a particle that exists simultaneously in two opposite states theoretically causes a cat in a sealed box to be both dead and alive at the same time.
Meanwhile, both ideas about the harmfulness of immigrants are misguiding. Economists continuously research the subtle shades of effects that the immigrants may have on the natives. But 20 recent empirical studies that Datalyrics has reviewed show clearly that nationalist politicians overstate the risk of job loss for citizens well beyond what is common in politics (see article).
There is something odd with the idea of the magnetic power of social benefits, too. The benefits for migrants are the highest in Germany and Sweden.3 If the simple spectre of high social benefits sufficiently explained migrants‘ decisions, we would see migrants from all countries flowing simply in the two destinations. But in 2016, for instance, Eritreans often chose Switzerland, many Afghanis applied for asylum in Hungary, and Syrians fled to Germany and Scandinavia (see graph).
how asylum seekers end up in destination countries
The economists who follow the tradition of so-called Revealed preference theory tend to view asylum seekers as analytical decision-makers. They suggest that migrants end up in countries like Germany because of its low unemployment rate.4 An array of researchers who have statistically checked these views with figures beyond economic performance or polled migrants cast doubt on such conclusions.5
Before arriving, asylum seekers typically have no knowledge of policies related to labour market access, nor about welfare benefits.
It turns out that asylum applicants typically have no knowledge of policies related to labour market access, nor about welfare benefits, before arriving.6 Their desires are often overruled by circumstances of the flight. If they consciously choose a country, they often aim for the states where their compatriots or relatives already live.7 In choices of some countries, like the UK, language and colonial ties matter.8 Invariably, the asylum seekers share a desire for safety.9 Scarcely, evidence suggests the speed and generosity of asylum procedure might play some role.10 But even if this is the case, asylum applicants do not learn about such indices from datasets but in vague outlines of reputation often passed on by increasingly influential smugglers.11 Researchers have repeatedly failed to find any meaningful correlation between welfare provision and destination choice.12
do immigrants generate a burden for taxpayers?