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The Influence of Labour Market Laws on Migration Choices in Europe

Immigration within the borders of the European Union is driven by social and economic forces that are strongly linked to the legal framework of each state. As John Palmer and Mariola Pytliková found in their recent study, labour market laws influence migrants’ destination choices. In fact, the labour market restrictions imposed by some EU member states after the two enlargement rounds (2004 and 2007) have influenced both the magnitude and composition of intra-European migrant flows.

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The authors identify a positive association between immigration and the mitigation of labour market restrictions in destination countries. Furthermore, easy labour market access in one country can divert migrants from other potential destination countries.

Palmer and Pytliková also find that the strength of the influence of destination labour market access is weaker in countries in which there already larger co-national networks exist for immigrants, and also for migrants whose mother tongue is similar to the language of the destination country.

 

Opening labour markets to attract immigrants

In fact, immigrants tend to move to destinations that offer them greater possibilities to formally get access to the labour market. Palmer and Pytliková state that there are larger migrant flows in countries that opened their labour markets than in those where restrictions were still the rule, but the extent of these flows has been slowed down by the influence on migrant destination choices of other countries that also opened their markets. This is so because countries where labour restrictions are loosened become all potential destinations and compete to attract migrant flows.

But the destination choices of migrants also appear to depend on their own characteristics, even in countries with greater formal access to labour. Palmer and Pytliková suggest that the importance of formal labour market access is greater for migrants who do not have strong co-national social networks in the destination state and also for those with a lower ability to communicate in the language of the destination country. The authors argue that migrants facing these situations might encounter greater obstacles to fulfill work permit requirements and, consequently,  prefer to migrate to countries where labour markets are more open.

These results have important implications for policymakers interested in attracting international workers. They paint a picture of inter-state competition for migrants, with the influence of each destination state's policies dependent on the actions of all other potential destinations.

 

This Population Digest has been published with financial support from the Progress Programme of the European Union in the framework of the project “Supporting a Partnership for Enhancing Europe’s Capacity to Tackle Demo­graphic and Societal Change”.