Leila Simona Talani

The large numbers of migrants traveling into the European Union has left policymakers struggling to come up with a humanitarian and practical solution. Leila Simona Talani, professor of international political economy at King’s College London and scholar-in-residence at Hamilton’s Levitt Center, spoke recently on the migration crisis.

 Given Talani’s background in economics, the focus of her talk was on economic migrants, not refugees seeking political asylum. However, as she explained, the divide between the two is largely theoretical, as in practice the lines get blurred.  

The lecture opened with a discussion of the paradox of European migration politics. The policies are very strict and yet migration is both inevitable and potentially beneficial to the economy of the EU. Migrants reduce the costs of production because they will work for less, which is a good thing for employers, but not for native workers. They also contribute to the stability of the European welfare state, which is currently suffering from an aging, top-heavy population. Talani cited political unrest, social conflict, cultural clashes, and religious struggles as the key reasons why European countries ignore the potential benefits and still remain largely opposed to opening their borders to migrants.

Talani also discussed the common misconceptions surrounding how migrants enter countries. A common idea, which we can see played out in President Trump’s border wall plan, is that most migrants enter illegally and stay illegally by crossing the borders. But the most common entry category is coming legally, through a visa or other temporary form of legal status, and then staying illegally once the legal status runs out.

 Another entry category that is a problem for the EU is how organized crime groups help migrants enter, both legally and illegally, and then leverage that to force the migrants to work for them. The informal/shadow economy is a major draw for migrants, according to Talani, because without legal status it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to attain a job in the formal economic sector.

The EU has tried to respond in a number of ways, from creating Frontex, an agency that collects data and controls migration, to establishing border guards, and even repatriation efforts. But all of these methods are expensive and ineffective. And, the means of entering and major entry points keep changing, which additionally complicates matters. Talani concluded that the migration crisis is a constantly evolving issue without a clear solution.

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