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Immigration to Europe Drops, in Global Economic Downturn

A Spanish Guardia Civil boat (L) sails near a rapid deployment boat belonging to the French patrol boat Arago involved in a survey operation from Almeria harbor as part of the "Indalo" illegal immigrants drill operation organized by the European Union's b
A Spanish Guardia Civil boat (L) sails near a rapid deployment boat belonging to the French patrol boat Arago involved in a survey operation from Almeria harbor as part of the "Indalo" illegal immigrants drill operation organized by the European Union's b

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Lisa Bryant

Governments in France and Spain have recently announced drops in the numbers of illegal immigrants coming to their shores, partly due to tougher policies, but also because of the global economic downturn. 

Spain's government says the numbers of would-be immigrants from Africa fell almost half, from 13,000 in 2008 to just more than 7,000 last year.  The numbers of illegal immigrants arriving in France has also dropped, with Immigration Minister Eric Besson attributing the slowdown to the economic crisis and tougher immigration policies.

Immigration specialist Georges Lemaitre, of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is not surprised by these reports.

"The first thing that affects migration is the fact employers do not want as many workers," he said.  "They are not looking to hire as many immigrants.  So this is the first thing that reduces the level of migration.  The second is the fact immigrants themselves do not see many opportunities.  So they themselves tend to come less often."

Lemaitre says this trend is reflected elsewhere in Europe and in richer nations as a whole.  And it concerns legal and illegal immigrants.

"Two very significant labor migration countries, Ireland and the United Kingdom, they have seen very significant drops in labor migration," he added.

Lemaitre says Sweden is one of the few countries bucking the trend.  Sweden has opened immigration channels since the economic crisis and the numbers of immigrants have jumped 30 percent.

But he says even as France cracks down on family migration and sends illegal immigrants back home, it is making it easier for highly-skilled immigrants to come in.

And as Europe's labor force ages and fewer Europeans are born, Lemaitre predicts governments will be pressured into opening their doors to more immigrants.

"I think there are going to be hard choices governments are going to have to face, either to open up in areas where they actually need workers, and some do involve some lesser-skilled occupations, or probably have to face some strong pressures with respect to irregular migrations," he explained.

Those pressures are likely to grow as European economies recover and start to grow after the crisis.

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