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Evolving trends in migration and multiculturalism

This theme explores evolving trends across two distinct but interrelated areas of socio-cultural behaviour: migration (and the act of immigration this entails) and multiculturalism.  Migration and multiculturalism are key factors in social change and development especially in relation to the unique ‘laboratory’ a supranational institution such as the EU represents.

The University of Oxford’s International Migration Institute asked, in the course of a 2011 study, which factors are relatively certain when thinking about the long-term future of migration? Considered as both international migration and intra-EU migration, the diagram below illustrates their responses:

In an earlier briefing, the Institute also sought to investigate which factors are most uncertain when thinking about the long-term future of migration. They asked which of these ‘uncertainties’ is likely to have the greatest impact on migration? Their ideas were also accompanied by a visual representation:

The work of the Institute is instructive in helping us confront the complexity the themes of migration and multiculturalism pose for contemporary policy making. In addition, their work also highlights the clear interdependencies which exist, thus helping us better appreciate the range and combination of economic, political and social factors which need to be considered: either in a migrant’s country of origin (push factors) or in the country of destination (pull factors).

In addition, migration and economic policies exhibit wide variation at the state-level and so we seek to introduce ideas on more generalised trends which could impact each of the EU28 members in some way.

International migration

Since the 1990’s the EU has become a major destination for international migration flows.  For example, data from 2010 suggests that up to 23% of the world’s migrants chose Europe as a destination, leading to 9.5 per cent of the EU's population being considered ‘born abroad’.

Prior to the economic crisis the EU recorded net migration of 1.5 million people with 55% originating from outside the EU and 44% moving from one EU country to another. In 2009, net migration was estimated at 1.1 million. Figures for 2011 show there were 33.3 million foreign citizens living in the EU, of whom 20.5 million were third country nationals (i.e. nationals of non-EU countries). The number of foreign-born (which includes those who have naturalised or are dual nationals) was 48.9 million or 9.7 per cent of the total population, thus showing a recovering trend.

We should also note some changes in this period in the direction of certain global migration flows, that is, countries that were once source countries of migration become destination countries of migration, with Ireland and Turkey notable in this regard.

Intra-EU migration

Intra-EU mobility has undergone significant changes in its composition and dynamics since the economic crisis of 2009.

Firstly, between 2004 and 2008, the number of citizens of new Member States living in the EU-15 increased by more than 1 million, reflecting large movements of primarily Polish, Baltic, Romanian and Bulgarian workers in, what was then, an emergent East-West dynamic. However, this form of post-enlargement migration is regarded as having been primarily driven by labour market conditions and largely monetary motives so making it sensitive to local financial or employment circumstances as the crisis bit. Coupled, in the short term, with a limited further enlargement process (restricted to just Croatia) has led some commentators to suggest the large ‘flows’ experienced in the last ten years may be coming to an end.

As an extension to this, there is varied conjecture as to how migration involving Romanian and Bulgarian nationals will evolve once the current transitional arrangements are lifted on an EU-wide basis in 2014. Some propose they’ll maintain their demonstrated interest in moving mostly to Italy or Spain based on historic networks, existing expatriate communities and also the dynamics of ‘chain migration’. This would suggest a trend continuing along similar lines as today.

One further trend which has been observed is the number of people emigrating from crisis-hit countries, particularly Spain and Greece. Research from the Migration Policy Institute suggests there is evidence of higher numbers of citizens of southern countries now living in other EU Member States. This is substantiated by government statistics demonstrating such emigration represents relocation to other parts of the EU (rather than non-EU destination countries) and also data indicating Germany has received a boost in workers from southern Europe.

We are also seeing the emergence of increased migration for non-work reasons with “multifaceted life-plans and strategies of mobility” partially replacing just economically led migration. This could be an interesting area to watch in the future.  Another impetus for migration in the longer term may well be climate change:  coastal and riverine/flood plain populations may seek new homes as a result of extreme storms and sea-level rise, or their threat; agricultural business owners and workers may need to shift locales to keep cash crops alive (eg, French vintners moving to England); or the elderly seek respite from rising temperatures, for reasons of health.

These trends should be set against a backdrop of intra-EU immigration rebounding by 15% in 2011 after a decline of almost 40% during the economic crisis (2007-2010).

Multiculturalism trends

We interpret multiculturalism as being the process whereby immigrants belong in their host countries (are integrated and permanently settled) and thus policy is centrally concerned with constructing new relations of citizenship.

A key component of current EU immigration in its current form is promoting the integration of third country nationals, but as the DG Home Affairs states “… the EU is not responsible for integration, [but] it is supporting national and local policies with policy coordination, exchange of knowledge and financial support.”

A number of relevant trends in this area can be identified:
Changing public perceptions on the impact of immigration (on the host country) have, and remain, a evolving trend with a variety of issues being brought to bear as the focus of discussion (from the overall economic benefits of migration to local communities through to the propensity of migrant groups towards deliberate ‘welfare tourism’).  Indeed, a 2011 IPSOS global survey indicated that (across a range of questions) “nearly half (45%) of world citizens believe immigration has had a negative impact on their country”.

As noted by the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute “…from the 1970s to mid-1990s, there was a clear trend across Western democracies toward the increased recognition and accommodation of diversity through a range of multiculturalism policies (MCPs) and minority rights.” However, the idea of MCP become subject to political critique during the 1990’s.  Using the Multiculturalism Policy Index, research has ranked the strength of immigrant MCPs across 21 OECD countries at three points in time: 1980, 2000, and 2010.  Despite the political critique, the clear trend has been toward the expansion of MCPs over the past 30 years, including in the last ten. Accordingly, over this period the MPI suggests we are witnessing “an interesting trend: a modest strengthening of MCPs and a more dramatic increase in civic integration requirements”.

We are also seeing evidence of the emergence of a more stringent “rights versus duties” narrative in social policy with the UK coalition government’s ongoing dispute with the EU in relation to its measures to curb employment and family benefits to EU immigrants as illustrative.

Supporting evidence

The future of the EU migration policy, European Commission ($en)

Multiculturalism: Success, failure and the future, Will Kymlicka / Migration Policy Institute Europe 2012 (

International Migration Outlook 2013, OECD (

Global ‘Megatrends’ for Future International Migration, University of Oxford International Migration Institute, Policy Briefing 9#, 2011(

Exploring the future of migration in Europe: what we learn from uncertainty, University of Oxford International Migration Institute, Policy Briefing 8#, 2011 (

Facing 2020: developing a new European agenda for immigration and asylum policy, Elizabeth Collett / Migration Policy Institute, 2012 (

Migration and migrant population statistics, European Union / eurostat (

Focusing on new trends in migration, UN DESA, 2013 (

Migration levels and trends: Global assessment and policy implications, Sabine Henning / United Nations Population Division
Department of Economic and Social Affairs, February 2012 (

Migration and Mobility in Europe: Trends, Patterns and Control, Heinz Fassmann, Max Haller & David Stuart Lane, Edward Elgar Publishing 2009 (

EU enlargement: The next seven, BBC (

Migration Integration Policy Index (

How free is free movement?: Dynamics and drivers of mobility in the European Union, Migration Policy Institute, 2013 (

Migrating North: Crisis pushes European integration in unexpected ways, Monty Guild (

Chapter 2: Migration patterns and trends in Europe, UK Parliament Lord’s European Union Select Committee “The EU's Global Approach to Migration and Mobility” (

Do EU migration trends put Spain’s health and pensions system at risk?,  Edward Hugh (

Cultural Effects of Migration: The European Immigration Debate (

Migration and Innovation: Why Is Europe Failing to Attract The Best and Brightest?, Ruby Gropas (

Do migrants spur innovation?, European University Institute Migration Policy Centre (

Brussels takes Britain to EU court over immigrant benefits (

European Commission DG Home Affairs – Integration (

Community acquis, Wikipedia (

  • There is a perception Europe will always retain its attractiveness to large numbers of external migrants. Given the continued rise of emergent economies (and especially new South-to-South migration patterns) and emergent xenophobic and identity-based political trends (of various agendas, levels of popular support and longevity) might the EU become a less favoured destination in the future? What impacts might that have?
  • The economic crisis prompted a nascent trend of South-to-North intra-EU migration. Should recovery take longer how might such underlying regional economic disparities influence this trend over the longer term? What effect may this have on proposals for further EU enlargement in relation to either known candidate or potential candidate countries?
  • The ability of the EU to control immigration ‘flows’ has been described as an ‘illusion’. How does the EU need to adapt in order to address both existing and emergent challenges in this area? Will just the forthcoming revision of the Justice and Home Affairs Agenda be enough? Will the various initiatives of the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM) lead to desired outcomes?
  • Immigrants have long been regarded as a key catalyst group in creating and successfully commercialising new products and services with a concomitant longer term effect of new job creation and overall economic growth. Europe, mindful of the US example, is also beginning to consider how it can create the conditions necessary to both attract and then support non-EU citizen entrepreneurs.
How might migration add value to the European Union?


Underpinning policy ideas

Driving trends