Refugees and growth

18 March 2016 4:58 pm

With Syrian refugees clamouring to find some place, governments are citing national security concerns to justify closing their borders. Others like columnist Carole Malone in the UK say countries can’t afford to keep the borders open.

But has anyone actually thought this through.

Let’s take for example more than 80,000 Vietnamese boat people made the dangerous trip to Australia in the decade following the Vietnam War. And some Australians were concerned at the time about the impact on social security and society. The Vietnamese today are presented well in the professions such as engineering, law and medicine. Talk to Australian people and most would say that Vietnamese integration into the community is a success story. That’s on top of other successful refugees to Australia like leading scientist Sir Gustav Nossal, global shopping centre entrepreneur Frank Lowy, and Visy Board’s Richard Pratt, to Young Australian of the Year and successful business woman Tan Le, actors Ahn and Khoa Do, and North Melbourne’s Majak Daw, the first Sudanese Australian drafted into the AFL.

We see it in other parts of the world.

In May 1980, with the Cuban economy sharply declining amid tensions between Castro and the United States, 125,000 Cuban refugees arrived in Miami on small boats. This influx of refugees added 7% percent to Miami’s labour force. Economists found it increased the labour force by seven per cent and had no effect on the wages or unemployment rates of less-skilled workers,

Lebanon is sheltering approximately 2 million Syrians, Indeed, 25 to 30 per cent of Lebanon’s population is now comprised of refugees. But according to the World Bank, Lebanon will now have economic growth of 2.5 per cent. That's one of the highest rates of economic growth around, especially when you compare it to places like Germany growing at 1.7 per cent.

The International Monetary Fund says influx of refugees into Europe is likely to raise economic growth, mainly in Austria, Germany and Sweden, and could deliver a bigger long-term economic boost to the EU if refugees are well integrated into the job market.

Of course, we have to remember that Steve Jobs’s biological father was a Syrian migrant who met his mother while teaching and studying at the University of Wisconsin.

If countries did the right thing and helped to alleviate the current humanitarian crisis, there would be no guarantee that they would get another Jobs. But the economic history of refugees tells us that, eventually, the Syrian refugees would repay the favour, and then some.