IN 50 years there will be almost 100 million fewer people living in Europe, according to a United Nations report.
The UN’s latest study on international migration released yesterday predicts that even if Europe gains an average of 600,000 immigrants a year, its population will fall by 96 million by 2050. Without the new arrivals, the decline would be even more spectacular: 139 million. Already immigration into Europe is partly helping to offset the impact of declining birth rates. The continent’s population would have shrunk by over four million in the final five years of the past century if it were not for the latest wave of immigrants.
In the late 1990s, immigration contributed to at least three-quarters of population growth in Austria, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Switzerland. During the past decade, the number of foreigners living in Finland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain has doubled. However, the UN reports that while immigration can offset many of the consequences of ageing populations and labour shortages, it will not provide salvation for struggling pension programmes.
It gives warning that immigration rates would have to expand “at virtually impossible rates” if there were to be enough people of working age able to finance childhood and retirement schemes. As an example, it points to France which is projected to receive 3.75 million migrants over the next 50 years, but would need to accept 90 million to achieve a satisfactory budgetary ratio between those in and out of work.
Recent years have seen North America overtake Europe as the preferred destination for people looking to start a new life outside their native country. Between 1960 and 2000, the foreign-born population in the US more than tripled from 10 million to 35 million, with a further 8 million in Canada. Whereas four decades ago, six out of every 100 people in North America was an international migrant, the figure has now climbed to 13 per cent.
Europe still had a significant increase in migrants during the same period, up from 14 million to 33 million, raising their proportion of the total population from 3.3 per cent to 6.4 per cent. For statistical purposes, the UN does not count Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine as part of Europe.
The report also highlights a change in the pattern of international migration. Whereas 40 years ago, 58 per cent of all migrants had moved to other developing countries as they fled from famine, drought and war, by the end of the century, they number just 37 per cent, while 46 per cent are rebuilding their lives in the developed world. The most recent figures reveal that 175 million people, equivalent to one in every 35 persons on Earth, are living outside the country of their birth.
Emigration can mean a brain drain for developing countries. Emigrants from Africa have triple the schooling of those staying at home. But this is partly offset by the funds that they send home. Remittances to developing countries now total at least $79 billion (£41 billion) and 70 per cent of foreign direct investment in China originates in the Chinese diaspora.