Grégory Kudish: Why Marine Le Pen is wrong on immigration

France faces a lot of challenges integrating its immigrants. Marine Le Pen’s key solution is stopping immigration. This proposal underestimates the benefits of immigration, and will not solve France’s social problems.

On a World scale, a May 2014 OECD report highlighted some of immigration’s benefits for labour markets, economic growth and the public purse. Among others, immigration boosts the working-age population, and migrants accounted for 70% of the workforce increase in Europe over the past ten years.

Yet, France stands out of the big picture. An OECD 2013 study on the fiscal impact of immigration points out that France’s immigrants, unlike the majority of OECD countries, show a negative net contribution. In other words, they receive, on average, more in social benefits than they pay in taxes and social security contributions. Le Pen exploits this data to prove that immigration represents a cost for France, and that stopping it will generate many savings.

However, this simplistic argument overlooks the benefits of immigration. A May 2011 study conducted by Xavier Chojnicki and Lionel Ragot projects that without immigration, all other things being equal, the cost of social protection funding would increase by two points of GDP over the century. Le Pen, besides stopping immigration, also wants to apply a leftist economic agenda that would increase the fiscal burden even more: lower the retirement age and increase the pensions.

After the 1973 oil crisis, labour immigration went down while family and humanitarian immigration continued to rise. As noted by the OECD, outcomes “for recent arrivals in France have been among the least favourable in OECD countries”. France’s labour market structural feature and slow qualifications recognition procedures are responsible to a large extent for the difficult integration of immigrants. Furthermore, people of African origin face poorer labour market outcomes, partly due to low parental education and large families. For instance, unemployment rate of Algerian immigrants was 23% in 2009-2011, compared to 11.4% for Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian immigrants.

Despite its costs, immigration, if chosen and managed well, can bring a lot of good to a country. Immigrants often fill work positions rejected by the native born, increase the workforce and help balance the age pyramid. So, French leaders should reflect on the quantity of immigrants they welcome, their qualities and the country’s integration structures. The zero immigration option is a false solution. It does not address the integration issues, and is not viable on the long run.

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