This study provides the European Commission with:
an expert assessment of the main trends in the situation of migrants with regard to social assistance and access to social services,
an in-depth analysis of the main determinants of these trends, and
a comprehensive account of the mutual interaction of migration policies and broadly defined social assistance policies.
Based on the existing evidence we conclude that there is no a priori evidence that migration would pose a burden on welfare systems. In our empirical analysis we use European Union-wide comparable micro-data (EU-SILC), a purpose-made macro-level dataset, countryspecific studies and an own purpose-made Expert Opinion Survey.
Descriptive analysis of EU-SILC data shows that migrants are more likely to be in receipt of unemployment-related supports and family-related payments in a wide range of countries. However, they are less likely to receive old-age payments and sickness and disability payments. The most clear-cut result is the greater likelihood of migrants being in poverty. We then take account of migrant-native differences in characteristics such as age, education and family composition through the use of regression analysis. The regressions generate a general pattern of lower rates of receipt among migrants relative to comparable natives. Even for supports based on unemployment, sickness and disability, we find that out of the 19 countries examined, rates of receipt for non-EU migrants are statistically higher in just 7 and none if we consider only the unemployed.
Using macro-level data we then find that the causal effect from social welfare spending to immigration is very weak and statistically insignificant; i.e. we reject the “welfare magnet hypothesis”. The analysis of welfare trends over recent years in 12 country case studies reveals that welfare take-up rates are higher for migrants than for natives in some countries but lower in others. In several countries, social assistance is either inadequate or not present. Even when institutional barriers do not constitute a direct obstacle to welfare access, there is evidence of other practical constraints, such as discrimination.
The recent economic crisis creates concern for active inclusion of migrants. It is during averse economic conditions that the flexibility of the migrant labour force exhibits its important value, but a prerogative to this is the integration of migrants in the labour market. The 2010 IZA Expert Opinion Survey reveals that especially non-EU and irregular migrants face a severe and increasing risk of exclusion from the labour market and social assistance and services. The most desirable changes are those concerning paid employment, education, housing and attitudes.
Our work shows that the starting point for the debate about migrants and welfare take-up should be the relatively low use of welfare by migrants vis-à-vis comparable natives (in spite of higher poverty rates), and so the policy discussion should be about the social protection of migrants and the extension of social supports and enabling services to them. Immigration and active inclusion policies need to be implemented in a coordinated manner. There is a need for a battery of policies, including those aiming at improving antidiscrimination legislation, the educational attainment, training and language skills of migrants, improved migration policy, frictionless recognition of foreign qualifications, unrestricted access to public sector jobs, and effective dissemination of labour market information among migrants. Housing and access to credit are other important areas that deserve attention.
Finally, data collection, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are absolutely crucial to provide for learning and dissemination of good practices in active inclusion strategies.