The World

Attention, Europe: You’re Not Being Overwhelmed by Immigrants

A Bulgarian border policeman stands in front of a border checkpoint at the Kapitan Andreevo border crossing point between Bulgaria and Turkey on Feb. 11, 2011.

Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Far-right parties are poised to make major gains in European Parliament elections this week, many of them promising further restrictions on immigration. Given recent political developments on the continent and the ongoing asylum-seeker crisis in the Mediterranean, you might think that Europe is in the midst of being overwhelmed by an influx of immigrants. But that’s not the case, according to a new analysis released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development today:

Between 2007 and 2011, the European Union as a whole saw a decline of inflows from outside the Union of around 4% per year. In 2012, these flows dropped by 12%.

Migration among EU countries increased substantially in 2012, but it was concentrated in just a few countries, namely Germany. A number of Southern European countries, mostly Italy and Spain, saw major drops in inflows.  

Germany saw immigration increase by over a third in 2012, making it the second-most-popular destination country in the OECD, after the United States. (U.S. inflows fell by 3 percent, but it’s still the world’s most popular destination.)

As the Financial Times notes, “Germany, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe, needs migrants to counter its low fertility rate and a decline in its working age population. Fertility rates have been falling in much of Europe for three or more decades to levels too low to provide enough new workers to replace those reaching retirement age.”

Britain, where the nationalist U.K. Independence Party is poised to perform well this week, saw “inflows fall by 11% to under 300 000 persons, the lowest level recorded since 2003.”

Yes, these are 2012 numbers, but there’s not much evidence that things have changed dramatically. UKIP predicted a massive influx of Bulgarian and Romanian workers after British visa restrictions were lifted on them in January of this year, but new government statistics suggest their numbers have actually fallen.

European voters certainly have plenty of legitimate grievances as they head to the polls this week, and it’s not surprising that fringe parties are in a position to benefit, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that the continent is being flooded by immigrants.