Influence of Western European Economy on Migration Since 1945

After the end of the second world war, many European countries suffered from the effects of the war and the future of the continent was in doubt. Most countries had a hard time rebuilding and recuperating their economies from the aftershocks of the war. The western part of Europe, after a torrid time of economic and political hardship, began to recover and rebuild their countries. In the years that came after the war, the countries in the western region had to enact cooperative measures with each other as opposed to competing with each other to ensure that they survived the torrid period together. This period was marked by complex processes with the rolling out economic programs that would reduce trade barriers among the countries and this kick started a period of significant economic development in the region. The migration history of Europe represents an unplanned development and unintended occurrence. It represented a combination of labor migrants, colonial migrants and asylum seekers (Schönwälder, 2003). This essay will establish the link between successful economic periods in western Europe and the levels of migration into these areas.

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The postwar migration can be categorized into two phases; a regime which involved colonial migration and that which involved the migration of guest workers. Those migrated came to look for work opportunities which were created by the ten recovering and booming economies in Western Europe. In the 1970’s, there was an interaction of economic deficiencies with colonial migration before the war. This also interacted with the existing citizenship regulations in countries such as France, Belgium, UK and the Netherlands while countries such as Austria , Denmark, Germany Sweden and Switzerland had implemented guest-workers policies that were a major attraction for foreign migrants. Germany enacted a currency reform in 1948 which instigated the recovery of its economy. In mid 1950’s, the country along with the others in the western region of Europe experienced high labor demand levels that could not be satisfied locally. A unanimous pattern in Western Europe at that time involved sourcing of labor from the eastern parts of Europe as they believed that migrants from those parts could be integrated easily into their systems. This expanded into the northern countries in Africa and countries near the periphery of middle east such as Turkey. The countries arranged guest-worker schemes among themselves and other interested countries out of their region.

Trade unions especially in Germany saw the guest-worker programs as a threat to existing wage rates as they feared that they would experience a downward spiral at the end. Governments in Western Europe particularly Germany’s incorporated measures that ensured that the guest workers enjoyed the equal work conditions as their European counterparts. The basic principle behind the scheme of guest-workers was that that the foreign workers would remain in the countries as long as they held their jobs and would leave back to their native countries once the economy started to perform badly. In Germany for example, many guests-workers left the country during the 1968 economic recession with the guarantee that they could return when the economy recovered and the labor demand went up again.

In the early 1970’s, the huge numbers of migrant workers in the European market were causing an economic slowdown and most of the countries responded to this by stopping the migration programs in 1973. This, however did not result into the intended result of migrants moving back to their countries. Many guests-workers remained in the countries where they received help from NGOs and charitable organizations in addition to favorable court judgements which permitted their stay. This case was most prevalent in Germany. Countries such as France, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Holland implemented varying forms of the guest-workers policies which sharply decreased the extent of migration related to labor from 1973 onwards.

In the other regime of labor migration touching on colonial background, bilateral and multilateral agreements in regard to guest-workers became the sole supply of migrant labor. UK, Netherlands, France and Belgium had the capability of drawing huge numbers of unskilled laborers. Policymakers were thought to have tapped at the opportunity colonial labor offered to satisfy the boom experienced after the war but this was not the case. The inability to secure domestic workers meant that the policymakers had to rely on colonial migrants to feed the labor demand. This was mostly practiced in France and UK with limited implementation in Belgium and the Netherlands (Schönwälder, 2003).

In the postwar period, UK put into trial its version of the migrant worker scheme by sourcing workers from the Eastern part of Europe. However, the local economy became sluggish and this reduced the pull factor that UK had on migrant workers. Countries such as Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland were more appealing and attractive to migrant workers from eastern Europe countries. The UK economy was not on the same level with the rest of western Europe but its situation with guest-workers were enhanced by its citizenship program which integrated over half a billion colonial subjects into the country’s fold.

In 1948, UK had in place legislation that confirmed all of its former colonial subjects as the country’s citizens with rights to enter and enjoy all social, economic and political rights within the country. The resulting occurrence was the inflow of migrants of Indian and Pakistan origin in the country. The economy of the country enjoyed a full employment rate at the time and there were labor shortages which the migrants helped to correct. By 1962, UK had over half a million non-white colonial migrants and this marked the start of restrictive measures that regulated the inflow of colonial migrants. The figure of non-white colonial migrants had risen to over a million by 1972, a period which saw UK cut on the privileges associated with UK nationality status at the time (Strayer, 2009).

France on the other hand concentrated on migrants from northern Africa particularly from Algeria though not a former French colony. The supply of the labor migrants was hampered by completion from Germany and Switzerland which were experiencing increased economic growth. This shortened the supply of labor in France and the interest of the European nations in colonial labor resulted to an increased migration of Algerians into the country as they had the right to enter France, a case similar to that of UK. French companies sourcing for cheap labor looked to Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco as credible sources of such labor. The system was tighter in Austria, Germany and Switzerland but the French took the opportunity to directly hire colonial migrants into their companies and confirm their nationality status afterwards through the National Immigration Office (Foley, 1998).

In recent decades from the 1980’s, the largest percentage of migrants into Europe have come from West Africa. This has been accentuated by extreme poverty levels, high rates of unemployment and political instability in some of the nations. This has been enhanced by the perception held by many people that Africa is a continent plagued by miseries of all kinds. Despite these challenges afflicting people in Africa, the promise of a better life and economic conditions in the dominant Western Europe countries offers a unique attraction to African migrants into the economically developed countries. The European economy is a major contributor to the success of the global economy and presents numerous lucrative and medium scale job opportunities for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled laborers from all walks of life. The prevailing excellent economic conditions act as the main pull factors for migration into the more popular countries in Europe such as Germany, France and UK. These countries offer a chance for many migrants who are driven by the sheer aspiration to live in a western country. After many African countries gained independence, the education systems were hugely improved and this resulted into the outlet of highly learned and qualified personnel . The demand for expatriates and skilled labor in the Western European economy presented a great chance for the ;learned people to move abroad and try their luck with corporate and technological jobs. Most colonial powers had projects that flew talented students in their countries to present better academic opportunities for Africans. In the current era, a significant number of migrants in the Western part of Europe are students who come to achieve advanced educational dreams. The European countries are well economically developed which translates into quality education structures which are among the best in the world. Many students of African, Indian and Asian descent migrate to these countries to tap into the great educational opportunities that are present in these countries (Schönwälder, 2003).

Migration patterns are created through network functionality. Which leads to the rise of migration systems that act as links to origin and destination countries through an established exchange of products, people, information and capital remittances. The systems may be legal or informal but all contribute to the continous cycle of family and labor migration . Currently,many countries in Western Europe pay more attention to migration of skilled laborers who are viewed as capable of bettering their economic growth. The UK and Germany have taken significant steps towards this priority by issuing work permits to the highly-skilled labor migrants. This attracts many professionals who believe they have a great chance of succeeding in those countries. In 2000, Germany introduced a ‘green card’ program aimed at attracting over 20000 highly qualified workers. This was in pursuit of further economic progress, a factor that acted well in raising the migration levels in the country and therefore into Europe. In a period spanning from 1999 to 2004, France has seen the number of foreign migrant rise from 376000 to more than 570000 which signifies a rise of 35000 migrants annually. These migrants were mostly of African descent who came to France for educational. Job and resettlement purposes. In Britain and the Netherlands, the levels are not too far apart from those in France with an annual inflow of more than 10000 migrants being reported. These migrants come into these countries either illegally or legally. The legal form of migration differs with the driving motive of the migrants (Foley,1998). This brings in the third aspect migration into Western Europe fuelled by the economic success enjoyed in this region.

Many countries in Western Europe enjoy unperturbed peace and economic stability. All of them are members of the United Nations and are bound by the regulations and principles that are core to the operations of the United nations. In recent years dating from the 1970’s into the new millennium some African countries have suffered from political instabilities which have resulted into civil unrests in those countries. The civil unrest acted as the push factor which caused many migrants to leave their war stricken countries. However, the choice of their destination country was mainly influenced by , the economic stability of that country. Many western European countries presented this option and represent viable choices where the migrants can be granted asylum and thrive under better humanitarian conditions as opposed to neighboring countries. The migrants go against all odds to reach the European mainland with the hope that once they are there, they will find ways of integrating into the local population and tap into the available opportunities of work and settlement. In the 1980’s, asylum applications had reached 320000 and more than doubled from 1992 in Germany. In Britain the numbers hit the 100000 mark. Most of these migrants are offered refugee status but their main aim of coming to these countries is to find a better a life away from their native countries. This notion is enhanced by the high economic performance levels identified with the European economy(Strayer, 2009).

In the European region, specifically the western part offers the second largest intra-regional migration of workforce behind America. Most of the migrants in this region have been attracted to this place by the prospect of successful lives in countries and regions experiencing economic booms. However, the uncontrolled number of illegal migrants poses a challenge to them and the same economy that attracted them to these countries. Most of these migrants are mostly concentrated in low-skill tertiary sectors of the various industries present in the region. With the recent economic crisis in the world and in the European region, most of the migrants were faced with various vulnerabilities associated with economic pressure as they depended on unsustainable resources and their status as migrants only made matters worse for them. In light of the economic problems that afflicted the region in 2008,. The countries in the region in conjunction the whole EU body started to enact immigration policies that would control the levels of migration during the hard economic conditions. These policies were proposed and enacted to shield the labor sector from increased worsening conditions and to protect the existing wage rates which had a significant effect of the economic downturn at the time (Kaelble, 2011).

In conclusion, it is clearly evident that many push and pull factors that have influenced migration into Western Europe. However, the economic success that the region has enjoyed in the years after the second world war in the current era of economic recessions and recoveries acted as a major influence in determining which part the migrants moved to. The economic conditions in this region provided numerous opportunities for the migrants to progress their lives and mould a successful future. With the demand for labor souring in the region at one time and the advent of excessive inflow of migrants through various economic periods shaped by both success and downturns, the main pull for migrants to the western part of Europe was the economic development that Europe was identified with.


Foley, B. J. (1998). European economies since the Second World War. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Kaelble, H. (2011). The social history of Europe, 1945-2000: recovery and transformation after two World Wars. New York: Berghahn Books.

Schönwälder, K., Ohliger, R., & Triadafilopoulos, T. (2003). European encounters: migrants, migration, and European societies since 1945. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate.

Strayer, R. W. (2009). Ways of the world: a brief global history. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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