The arrival of asylum seekers since 2015 has presented a serious challenge for EU countries. Receptivity varied a lot: while flows of asylum seekers have been welcomed by some countries, others have been more restrictive and concerned about the burden of hosting them. For example, only a few EU countries allow asylum seekers immediate access to the labour market, while most enforce a ban period that varies between 2 and 12 months, and others only grant access to the labour market once the asylum claim has been accepted. These policies seem to have a small effect though: asylum seekers are not deterred by the employment ban nor are they as attracted by the generosity of welfare states as they are by social networks.
In our latest report for the QuantMig project (Di Iasio and Wahba, 2022) we examined what drives first-time asylum seekers to apply for asylum in particular destinations within the EU by exploring EUROSTAT data on asylum applications to the EU between 2008-2020. The study shows that the strongest pull factor for asylum seekers to a destination is social networks, measured in terms of previous asylum applications and previous stocks of migrants from the same origin. This might be due to social networks transmitting information about routes and destinations or due to the help of friends and families to join.
Our results show that economic factors are not as influential as social networks, and asylum seekers are not as attracted by the generosity of the welfare state as they are by social networks. The findings also suggest that access to the labour market and employment rights have a modest role in attracting asylum seekers. More specifically, we found that the impact of the cumulative sum of previous asylum applications is four times larger than the impact of the employment ban and five times larger than social spending.
These findings are important for policymakers as some of the policies aiming to deter asylum seekers do not seem to be a real deterrence. For example, policies that restrict access to welfare systems or the labour market have a modest impact on decision-making and therefore are not very effective in reducing the number of asylum applicants. In particular, banning asylum seekers from employment leads asylum seekers to become more dependent on public spending in the short term, and could result in exploitation. This also leads to negative long-term effects with respect to integration. Hence, lifting the employment ban seems to be more cost-effective and better for the integration of refugees in the long term.