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July 2023, Volume 29, Number 3

Europe, Asia

The number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe reached a six-year high of almost 100,000 in summer 2023, the most since 2015, when up to a million Syrians and others attempted the journey. Migrants from many countries assemble in Libya and Tunisia and pay smugglers to take them to southern Italian islands, from which they hope to move to northern European countries.

Rising flows of migrants unsettled several European countries. Over 8,000 migrants a month arrived by boat in Italy in 2022, when 4,000 migrants a month arrived by boat in the UK. European governments unwilling to change asylum laws or enforce tough border policies keep migrants out by making deals with semi-authoritarian leaders in Turkey or Libya to keep migrants there. The IMF and the EU have offered aid to Tunisia in a bid to slow the outflow of migrants. Tunisia’s president has blamed migrants waiting to go to Europe for crime in the country.

EU leaders in June 2023 agreed on to establish reception centers on the 27-member block’s external borders to assess the prospects of migrants for being recognized as refugees. Only 40 percent of asylum applicants were recognized as refugees in EU member states in 2022, but most of the foreigners who were rejected were not deported. Applicants from countries with asylum recognition rates of less than 20 percent such as Vietnam would be held in the centers until they were deported or agreed to return to their countries of origin.

Foreigners recognized as refugees in the centers would be spread among EU member countries. Those such as Hungary that refuse to accept refugees would lose E20,000 in EU funds for each refugee rejected.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 displaced 13 million people, including seven million who left the country for Poland, Germany, and other EU countries. By May 2023, about half of the displaced Ukrainians returned to their places of origin, even if the war was nearby.

Britain. Net immigration was 606,000 in 2022, a blow to the governing Conservative Party that promised to reduce net migration to less than 100,000 a year. The 2022 arrivals included 160,000 migrants from Ukraine and Hong Kong. EU citizens lost the right to work without visas in the UK in January 2021, but British employers have been hiring more workers from non-EU countries such as India.

Almost 1,500 migrants a month cross the English Channel in small boats to seek asylum in the UK, prompting the British government to propose that asylum seekers who arrive by boat be sent to Rwanda to apply for asylum, with the UK providing L170,000 in aid per migrant to cover Rwanda’s costs. In June 2023, a Court of Appeal ruled that Rwanda was unsafe for asylum seekers.

The UK food sector employs four million people or 13 percent of the labor force, including 430,000 or 11 percent in agriculture; 42 percent of food sector workers were in eating and drinking establishments. The UK is a net food importer, and especially of fruits and vegetables.

A Defra review in June 2023 called for a campaign to make food sector jobs more attractive, a revamped seasonal guest worker program, and more training of current food-sector workers. The review acknowledged the reality and perception that food-sector work is undesirable for reasons ranging from long hours to hard and outdoor work. The minimum National Living Wage has been L12.42 ($13.27) since April 1, 2023, too low to attract workers who must often drive to farm workplaces.

There are 50,000 to 70,000 seasonal workers employed in the UK food sector. Many food sector firms have a core staff and rely on temp or staffing agencies to provide seasonal workers, which reduces training and the productivity of workers who often work in multiple workplaces. Employers reported issues with workers sent by Job Centres whose incentive is to place more workers rather than take the time to find good worker-job-employer fits.

The UK is offering 45,000 six-month visas in 2023 for temporary foreign workers to fill seasonal jobs in horticulture, up from 30,000 in 2022. Farm employers must guarantee seasonal migrants at least 32 hours of work a week. Migrant advocates say that many of the seasonal workers from non-EU countries including Nepal and the Philippines arrive in the UK in debt, and some do not earn enough in the UK to repay their recruitment debts. UK farmers produced L1 billion worth of fruit in 2022, L1.8 billion worth of vegetables, and L1.5 billion worth of ornamentals.

Many British stores use Facewatch, a facial recognition program that stores photos of shoplifters and alerts stores when they enter for about $300 a month. Cameras and facial recognition technology is widespread in the UK, and Facewatch is now in hundreds of stores and its database is growing.

Brexit is shrinking the Irish fishing industry after the EU transferred some of the EU’s fishing rights to the UK. EU funds are buying out fishing boats that are then scrapped.

Denmark. The Danish government in 2023 called for no more asylum seekers, instead pledging to resettle only persons certified as refugees by UNHCR. Denmark welcomed Ukrainians, but houses rejected Afghan and Syrian asylum seekers in centers and prevents them from working to encourage them to leave.

Since 2015, asylum seekers in Denmark receive a form of TPS that can be withdrawn when conditions in their country of origin improve, which is what Denmark believe has happened in parts of Syria.

France. Protesters mounted marches and strikes against President Emmanuel Macron in 2023 after he used a decree rather than a Parliamentary vote to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030. The Constitutional Council upheld most of the new pension law in April 2023.

There was another round of protests that led to thousands of arrests in June 2023 after police killed a teen of North African descent who attempted to drive away during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb. Macron condemned the burning of cars and damage to schools and other buildings during the protests. The government does not collect data on the race of residents, arguing that all people are equal, so there are few studies of police discrimination by race.

There were riots in Clichy-sous-Bois in 2005 after two teens trying to escape police were electrocuted, prompting $670 million worth of redevelopment that included renovated housing, a cultural center, and improved public transit. However, 40 percent of residents are poor, and police-resident tensions remain high.

France is struggling with identity and inclusion. Beginning July 1, 2023, soccer players may not wear religious symbols, effectively banning female players wearing hijabs. France has promoted secularism since the 1789 revolution to keep the Catholic Church out of government affairs.

The world’s richest man and woman in 2023 were French: Bernard Arnault of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) is worth over $200 billion, and Françoise Bettencourt of L’Oréal over $80 billion. The richest 10 percent of French residents have 80 percent of the country’s wealth, and many made their fortunes in luxury goods. The richest Americans, Elon Musk worth $180 billion and Jeff Bezos $115 billion, made their fortunes in tech.

Germany. The government agreed with the 16 states in May 2011 to make it harder for foreigners to apply for asylum after 218,000 new applications were filed in 2022. The federal government will provide more financial aid to the states, which house and feed asylum seekers. In addition to “regular” asylum seekers, over a million Ukrainians arrived in 2022

SPD chancellor Olaf Scholz said that “controlling and limiting irregular migration” is a government priority. Germany wants EU front-line states to make more asylum decisions quickly and to deport rejected foreigners.

Over 15 million of the 84 million people living in Germany, almost 18 percent, were born outside the country, including six million who moved to Germany in the decade to 2023. The government in May 2023 proposed a law to shorten the time that a foreigner must live in Germany before naturalizing from eight to six years and to allow foreigners to retain their original citizenship when they become naturalized Germans.

Germany’s labor force of 47 million may decrease if labor force participation and immigration are unchanged. One estimate is that net immigration must average 400,000 a year to keep the German labor force at current levels.

Germany released a national security strategy in June 2023 meant to confront its vulnerability to new military and geopolitical threats, including migration. Germany’s budget of E446 billion for 2024 would reduce social spending to limit the growth in public debt to E17 billion, but keep its pledge to spend two percent of GDP on the military.

Greece. Migrants on an overcrowded ship near a Greek Coast Guard vessel in June 2023 rejected Greek assistance because they wanted to reach Italy. The ship sank and up to 700 migrants drowned, including over 100 Pakistanis, prompting criticism of the Greek Coast Guard for not intervening. Over 100 migrants were rescued, and nine crew members were arrested.

Greeks re-elected PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis in June 2023, the pro-EU leader of the conservative New Democracy Party credited with keeping migrants out of the country and presiding over an improved economy. His government reduced taxes and debt while increasing the minimum wage and pensions, and retains the support of the EU despite pushing some migrants headed for Greek islands in small dinghies back toward Turkey.

A debt crisis peaked in 2013 and left a third of Greeks unemployed as the economy shrank by a quarter. Despite rapid growth in the past few years, Greece still has the European Union’s highest national debt as a share of GDP.

Italy. The government plans to increase the number of work permits granted to non-EU citizens to cope with labor shortages. There are 82,700 non-EU workers with permits in mid-2023, and the government plans to issue another 40,000 in 2023, rising to 165,000 in 2025. Some of the work permits are reserved for citizens of countries that cooperate with Italy and accept the return of irregular migrants.

Netherlands. The Dutch coalition government of PM Mark Rutte collapsed in July 2023 when several parties in the four-party coalition refused to delay unification of refugee families. Immigration topped 400,000 in a country of 17 million in 2022, and 21,000 foreigners applied for asylum while 11,000 foreigners applied to join family members who were in the country.

Russia. Russia is short of workers. A callup of 300,000 soldiers and several waves of emigration to escape military service has employers complaining of too few engineers and welders. Russia’s population fell by a million in both 2021 and 2022 to less than 145 million, and the scarcity of workers is compounded by economic sanctions. Russia attracts migrants from ex-USSR countries, but most are low skilled.

Spain. Spain has 7.5 million foreign-born residents, making them 16 percent of the country’s 48 million residents. Most arrived after 2000; the foreign-born population tripled between 2000 and 2008 from two to six million and has remained above six million despite efforts to encourage some unemployed foreigners to leave during the 2008-09 recession.

Almost half of the foreign-born residents in Spain are from Latin America (Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador), followed by a third from Europe (Romania). The largest country of origin is Morocco, which accounts for an eighth of the foreign born.

Spain had six mass regularizations between 1986 and 2005 that saw progressively larger numbers of foreigners legalized, including 578,000 in 2005. Since then, governments used Organic Law 4/2000 to allow irregular foreigners who have established social or labor rights (arraigo or arraigo laboral) to legalize their status by registering at one of Spain’s 8,000 municipalities.

Employers have gained more freedom to recruit foreign workers. Decree 2393 (2004) established labor shortage lists: if the occupation that an employer wants to fill with a migrant is on the list, there are few barriers to recruiting and employing migrants. Successive rightist and leftist governments have allowed foreigners who obtained jobs to stay in Spain, including foreigners whose asylum applications were rejected but who cannot be deported, such as Venezuelans. Spain has historically had high unemployment rates, and foreign-born residents have higher unemployment rates than workers born in Spain.

Sweden. Sweden has more asylum seekers per capita than any other European country, and has become a place with 62 gun homicides in 2022 as rival gangs battle for control of the drug trade. Rawa Majid, the Kurdish Fox who was born in Sweden but now lives in Turkey, is considered the drug kingpin. Turkey says that Sweden harbors Kurdish terrorists and refuses to extradite Turkish citizens including dual national Majid to Sweden.

The Sweden Democrats, who blame migration for many Swedish problems, gained over 20 percent of the vote in 2022 elections. Academics say that many of migrant youth attracted to gangs are not well integrated into Swedish society.

Portugal. Drug use was decriminalized in Portugal in 2001; police register rather than arrest drug users, and soon reduced its prison population by a sixth. Two decades later, some are calling for a change in policy as drug use in public areas spreads, especially as some of the NGOs funded to assist drug users seem to affirm rather than change users’ lifestyles. Overdoses and crime are rising, and some want Portugal to end what has become a stable drug culture.

Turkey. Turks went to the polls May 28, 2023 and gave President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 52 percent of the vote and another five-year term in a run off with challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Erdogan appealed to voters by raising the minimum wage, allowing more people to receive government pensions sooner, and promising to make the country of 85 million a keystone between eastern and western powers.

Major election issues include lax building standards that led to the deaths of over 50,000 people after a 7.8 earthquake on February 6, 2023. Turkey has strict construction codes, but they are rarely enforced because contractors could choose their inspectors until 2019. Nine times between 2002 and 2018, the government had amnesties that allowed builders to pay fees to legitimize buildings that did not meet construction codes, and a 10th amnesty was being discussed just before the February 2023 earthquakes.

Erdogan took power in 2002 and promised to improve the lives of Turks who had been left behind in southern and eastern Turkey by encouraging the construction of new housing and infrastructure. Borrowing financed a building boom and increased inflation to 80 percent in 2022. Erdogan refuses to raise interest rates, which reduced the value of the lira.

Erdogan reminds Turkey of their Ottoman heritage, including the conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. The Hagia Sophia, the world’s largest building for hundreds of years, was converted to a mosque before it became a museum in the 1930s. Erdogan renamed it the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in 2020, attacked many cultural leaders who favor a more secular Turkey, and promised Turks a “Turkish Century” beginning in 2023, the 100 year anniversary of the founding of modern Turkey.

China. China’s wage and salary labor force is 400 million, including 295 million migrant workers who moved to cities; the total labor force is 734 million. The average age of China’s wage and salary workers is 38, and they have an average 14 years of schooling; 85 percent of industrial workers have a secondary school credentials and a third have college degrees.

Some 12 million young Chinese graduate each June from colleges. Many are having trouble finding jobs; the unemployment rate of workers 16 to 24 is over 20 percent. Marriages have fallen by half, from almost 14 million in 2013 to less than seven million in 2022 due to economic worries and covid lockdowns. Men say that they need a house and car before marriage, while women worry about putting children through China’s cutthroat education system.

Some Chinese graduates are dropping out of the corporate rat race, trading high salaries and prestige for more fulfilling manual labor jobs. Many dis-illusioned young people bemoan the intense competition to get into good colleges, to be recruited by large firms, and then to work long hours to please demanding managers, but most are unable to accept the sharp salary reductions that accompany leaving corporate jobs.

China has mountains of debt. The debts of households, companies and all levels of government are over 280 percent of GDP, more than the 260 percent in the US and other rich countries. China’s debt doubled as a share of GDP over the past 15 years despite rapid economic growth. Much of the debt was incurred by developers, local governments and households to buy condos, some of which may never be built.

India. India’s population surpassed China’s in April 2023; both countries have about 1.4 billion people. Fertility varies within India, and is much higher in northern and poorer states such as Bihar than in southern and richer states such as Tamil Nadu. One consequence is internal migration from the poorer north to the richer south of India.

India’s has the world’s fifth largest economy, after the US, China, Japan and Germany. India and China had about the same per capita income in 1990, but in 2023 China’s per capita income of $13,000 is five times the $2,500 of India, the result of China’s land reforms and market- and export-led growth. The “make in India” campaign is creating manufacturing jobs, but at a slower pace than in China due to India’s low levels of education and restrictive labor laws. Manufacturing accounts for 28 percent of China’s economy, double the 14 percent of India.

Can India create nonfarm jobs faster? India’s infrastructure lags those of other fast-growing Asian countries, and only 20 percent of Indian women are in the formal workforce. Indian incomes are low; an income of $300 a month or more puts an Indian among the top 10 percent of Indians by income. Many educated Indians prefer government to private sector jobs, as demonstrated by the fierce competition during entrance exams that see a 1,000 or more test takers compete for each government job.

China’s covid lockdowns and US tariffs have prompted many firms to develop China-plus-one supply chains. India is competing with Vietnam, Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia to be the plus one for many manufacturers. India is fourth in the value of manufactured exports, after China, Mexico and Vietnam.

PM’s Narendra Modi’s BJP Hindu nationalist party won elections in 2014 and 2019, and remains stronger than the opposition Congress Party, promising political stability after 2024 elections. India is often touted as the world’s largest democracy, but critics emphasize the BJP’s marginalization of the Muslim minority and the low share of women in wage and salary jobs as indicators of problems. Critics say that India’s political elite look out for themselves and their cronies rather than embrace a market-oriented economy and public goods for all citizens.

India pursued a government-led import-substitution economic model until 1991, when looming bankruptcy forced changes in economic policy. The question is whether current policies, which often involve subsidies to well-connected industrialists, can create the jobs needed for India’s youthful population. Many public goods are provided by state governments, where corruption and favoritism can favor selected businesses over the public good.

Japan. Japan’s population has fallen for over a decade, and is 125 million in 2023. The average Japanese woman has 1.3 children, well below the 2.1 fertility rate needed for a stable population; a quarter of 50-year old Japanese women have no children.

Since 2012, the labor force expanded by over four million even as the population declined. Reasons include government encouragement of firms that retain and hire older workers at least part-time, the creation of Silver Jinzai centers to help older workers return to work, and policies that help married women to work.

There were 1.8 million mostly professional foreign workers in Japan in October 2022. The government acknowledges that the technical trainee program is essentially a guest worker program that admits 320,000 foreigners to fill low wage jobs, and in June 2023 replaced the trainee program with a program that allows foreign workers to arrive in Japan with their families to fill semi-skilled jobs in 12 sectors indefinitely. A 2018 law opened doors to up to 345,000 less-skilled guest workers in 14 industries.

Thailand. The government was led by a general between a coup in 2014 and May 2023 elections. One election issue was the role of the monarchy in the country of 72 million that attracts migrants from poorer neighboring countries. The military supports King Maha Vajiralongkorn, trying to retain a law that punishes any criticism of the monarchy. Maha spends much of his time in Germany.

ANZ. Australia’s net overseas migration was -56,000 between September 2020 and September 2021 and 304,000 the following year. Most of the jump in net migration was due to the return of foreign students, WHMs, and guest workers after Australia reopened its borders. The government has been making it easier for foreigners in Australia to adjust their status and remain.

Australia’s minimum wage rose to A$22.70 ($15) an hour April 1, 2023 during a debate over how much to increase UI benefits or the jobseeker allowance, currently A$1,400 a month for single adults. Almost a million Australians receive jobseeker or youth allowances, compared with four million who receive age and disability pensions and payments for parenting and caring. Australia expects to spend A$145 billion on welfare payments in 2023-24.

Some 670,000 New Zealand citizens live in Australia, compared with 70,000 Australians in New Zealand. Beginning in July 2023, New Zealand citizens in Australia at least four years can become Australian citizens and retain their New Zealand citizenship.

President Biden cancelled plans to visit Papua New Guinea and Sydney in May 2023 to deal with the US debt limit. During the visit, Biden was to meet with leaders of Pacific Islands Forum countries and discuss climate change and migration.

New Zealand had 5.2 million residents in March 2023. Net migration to New Zealand was 65,400 in the year to March 2023, up from - 19,300 in the year to March 2022. House prices that rose 50 percent during covid have since fallen by 20 percent, and may fall further as interest rates rise. Median home prices in mid-2023 were NZ$780,000 ($480,000), higher than the $400,000 median in the US. New Zealand has no capital gains tax, which explains why over half of New Zealand household wealth is in land and housing.

New Zealand’s National Party in April 2023 proposed to double the number of RSE workers from the current maximum 19,000 to 38,000, to restrict foreign investment that often converts New Zealand farms to forests to reap carbon credits, and to reduce the regulation of an agricultural sector that generated two-thirds of New Zealand’s total exports in 2022. The governing Labor Party is offering to allow 3,000 PIC migrant workers to become immigrants each year.

New Zealand produced 175 million 30-piece trays of kiwi fruit in 2022, the largest fruit export, but only 140 million trays in 2023 due to cold and rainy weather.

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