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Asylum Seekers Do Not Harm a Host Country's Economy

New research refutes a spurious argument made by anti-immigrant activists.
Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12th, 2018, near McAllen, Texas.

Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12th, 2018, near McAllen, Texas.

The attempt to stop immigrants from entering the United States and Europe has entered its overt-cruelty phase, as Italy turned away a shipload of refugees (which was eventually welcomed in Spain), while American authorities have been separating children from parents as they arrived at the U.S. border seeking sanctuary.

The justification for these actions is usually framed in economic terms. These unwanted newcomers, the argument goes, will be a burden on our citizens.

New research that tracks economic trends in 15 Western European nations finds that is absolutely not true. It reports "migration shocks"—unexpected inflows of large numbers of people—"have positive effects on European economies."

"The alleged migrant crisis currently experienced by Europe is not likely to provoke an economic crisis, but might rather be an economic opportunity," writes a research team led by Hippolyte d'Albis of the Paris School of Economics in France. Its study is published in the journal Science Advances.

The researchers analyzed three decades' worth of data—covering the years 1985 to 2015—from 15 Western European nations, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Those nations received 89 percent of the continent's asylum applications in 2015.

The researchers looked at two separate variables. One is the flow of asylum seekers, measured by the number of first applications for residency "made by people who state that they are unable to return to their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted." The other is "the net flow of migrants" into and out of nations—a figure that excludes asylum seekers.

The economic health of the nations was measured using per capita gross domestic project (GDP; the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders) and the unemployment rate. The researchers also analyzed rates of public spending and "net taxes," a measure of how much money the government is taking in minus how much it is giving out.

They report temporary spikes in the number of migrants to a country "significantly increase per capita GDP, reduce unemployment, and improve the balance of public finances."

"The additional public expenses (of temporarily caring for newcomers), which is usually referred to as the 'refugee burden,' is more than outweighed by the increase in tax revenues," they write.

A net increase in migrants who are not seeking asylum had immediate positive effects on a nation's economy, which remained significant for at least two years. In contrast, the researchers found "an inflow of asylum seekers takes longer to significantly affect the economy." But they had a positive effect on GDP three to seven years after the initial spike.

"We do not deny that large flows of asylum seekers into Europe pose political challenges, both within home countries and with respect to European coordination of national policies," the researchers conclude. "However, these political challenges may be more easily addressed if the cliché that international migration is associated with economic 'burden' can be dispelled."