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Migration and Immigrants in Europe: A Historical and Demographic Perspective

Christof Van Mol and Helga de Valk


This chapter outlines the general developments of migration within and towards Europe as well as patterns of settlement of migrants since the 1950s. We take as our starting point the bilateral labour migration agreements signed by several European countries in the 1950s and 1960s. Three main periods can be distinguished from this point onwards. The first, up to the oil crisis in 1973–1974, was characterized by steady economic growth and development and deployment of guest worker schemes, (return) migration from former colonies to motherlands, and refugee migration, mainly dominated by movements from East to West. The second period started with the oil crisis and ended with the fall of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s. During this time North-Western European governments increasingly restricted migration, and migrants' main route of entrance became family reunification and family formation. Furthermore, asylum applications increased. By the end of this period, migration flows had started to divert towards former emigration countries in Southern Europe. The third period is from the fall of the Iron Curtain until today, with increasing European Union (EU) influence and control of migration from third countries into the EU and encouragement of intra-European mobility.

The historical overview presented here stems from a comprehensive literature study, complemented by an analysis of available statistical data for trends in the last decade. It should be noted, however, that statistical data on migration and mobility in Europe is mostly incomplete, as they are based mainly on reports and registrations of the individuals concerned. Besides, data on immigration and emigration are not always fully available and are not consistently measured across countries and time (see, e.g., EMN 2013). This means that the quality of migration data is often limited (Abel 2010; Kupiszewska and Nowok 2008; Nowok et al. 2006; Poulain et al. 2006). Several initiatives and projects have been launched to overcome these problems and promote comparable definitions, statistics, and estimations of missing data (Raymer et al. 2011). Most of the EU's current 28 member countries produce annual statistics on immigration and emigration. However, the information and level of detail is not yet comparable across countries (for an overview of databanks and limitations, see Raymer et al. 2011). The final section of this chapter presents figures on migration and migrants relying mainly on data from three research projects which aimed to create and improve harmonized and consistent migration data (Abel and Sander 2014; Raymer et al. 2011, see for more information on the MIMOSA and IMEM projects). The conclusion summarizes the main patterns and discusses some implications of our findings.

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