In 2015, an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers took Europe by surprise. Since then, more than three million men, women, and children uprooted from their homes by violence have arrived from Syria and other nations. They hope to find safety and the chance for a better life.
The flow of asylum seekers has subsided since its peak in 2015 and 2016, but the debate has not. Europe’s intake of new arrivals and its management of asylum requests was the first point of contention. Now governments face the even bigger challenge of integration.
In 2016, the McKinsey Global Institute published People on the move: Global migration’s impact and opportunity, a comprehensive study of global migration and its economic impact as well as a companion report focused specifically on Europe’s unfolding refugee crisis, Europe’s new refugees: A road map for better integration outcomes. Both found that successful integration yields economic benefits. The companion report, in particular, emphasized the critical importance of making an active long-term commitment to helping new arrivals gain a foothold in their communities and the labor market.
More than a year later, indicators suggest that integration efforts in Europe are falling short. Many new arrivals continue to struggle with learning a new language, and their educational and professional credentials do not translate easily into the European context. Furthermore, many of them bear the scars of trauma. For European host countries, overcoming these obstacles is a humanitarian issue, an economic imperative, and an opportunity. Because only 17 percent of the new arrivals are over the age of 34, they can help address the demographic challenge in aging societies.
Immigration, if handled well, could provide dynamism that translates into a positive overall contribution to GDP. Successfully integrating only those refugees who have arrived in Europe since 2015 into the labor market could add roughly €70 billion to €80 billion to annual GDP by 2025.
Integration is not an easy concept to measure, particularly because no existing data set conclusively tracks and combines all its aspects. Collecting reliable, comprehensive data is critical for managing immigration more effectively. It can alert policy makers to areas that need attention and enable more evidence-based decision making. It facilitates planning, early intervention, and a faster integration process. Regardless of how much money individual governments allocate to integration, taking a more data-driven approach is a no-regrets move that will better target the spending and make the entire integration process more cohesive.
Europe needs a clear, complete strategy for achieving better integration outcomes. The approach should combine scale and flexibility to reach the entire refugee population while meeting a wide range of individual needs. Putting more effective systems into place can have the double benefit of supporting the recent wave of arrivals while leaving Europe prepared for any future humanitarian crises in the years to come.
Download Europe’s refugees: Refocusing on integration, the briefing note on which this article is based (PDF–289KB).