THERE are many myths about immigration and immigrants. The misconceptions often put wind in the sails of politicians who tend to blame society's ills on everything that is "foreign" to the "full-blooded" nation, be it minorities, neighbouring countries or immigrants.
As the chasm between the developed and developing countries continues to grow, immigrants keep trying to cross the widening abyss by walking the tightrope that links the promised lands with their own countries.
Over the past decade, several Western countries have reinforced their gates and tightened border regulations and immigration procedures to keep out potential threats to their societies. However, some European Union member states might soon have to unlock their gates and let in qualified labour to fill millions of vacant jobs.
A couple years ago, EU expansion revealed the hidden frustrations of many EU citizens who got worried that the cheap Eastern European labour would flood their markets, taking jobs from locals. At the time of the enlargement, in fact, unemployment was the top concern in most EU member countries. Only Sweden, Ireland and Great Britain opened their labour markets to the newcomers immediately after EU enlargement.
At the time, advocates of the free movement of labour said there was no real reason for the old members to keep their gates locked, because the labour inflow from the new EU members did not threaten their economies or social balance in any way.
But what might soon challenge EU economies is the growing lack of qualified labour. EU Commissioners Franco Frattini and Vladimír Špidla proposed "blue cards" for immigrants to solve Europe's labour shortage. Brussels is considering issuing an EU work permit, similar to the United States' green card, that would allow non-EU citizens to work in any EU country.
There are currently about 20,000 job vacancies in Slovakia and it is more than clear that these jobs will not be picked up by the country's long-term unemployed. But some Slovak politicians think the "blue card" is an extremely bad and dangerous idea.
While Prime Minister Robert Fico seems fine with the idea, Christian-Democrat Vladimír Palko and the Slovak National Party's Anna Belousovová have already sounded the alarm on the potentially dangerous influx of foreigners.
Palko even called a special press conference to make sure his anti-blue-card attitude gets effectively disseminated.
"We need children, not immigrants," Palko said on the public service Slovak Radio. "The philosophy that we have to come up with the millions of labourers we will lack because of the low birth rate by importing them from all parts of the world is an insanity that needs to be rejected."
Palko said he worried that most of the immigrants coming to the EU would be Muslims.
"Western Europe's exper-iences show that not even the second generation of children of immigrants, or even the third one, is able to integrate, and sometimes they feel even greater hostility towards the host country," Palko told the Sme daily, demonstrating his newly-gained social sciences and immigration expertise.
Palko called on Slovak officials to resolutely reject the Brussels-born idea of attracting millions of qualified labourers.
Other politicians, like the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union's Iveta Radičová or the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia's Jozef Halecký, think the blue cards are actually a good idea.
Špidla dismissed fears of immigrants from Islamic countries, suggesting that even these countries have ageing populations, according to ČTK Czech newswire. He also said it is absolutely unrealistic to expect that demographic stability in Europe can be restored naturally.
Slovakia has already shown some willingness to renegotiate labour policies with Ukraine, and PM Fico thinks Ukrainian labour might patch up some of the holes in Slovakia's labour market. One of the country's major carmakers has already hired foreign workers, and several employers have suggested they might be forced to opt for imported labour.
One has to wonder, however, whether Palko's opinion is only an isolated voice that does not represent the attitudes of the majority. When he served as the country's interior minister, Palko was strongly against the prospect of Slovakia losing its right to a veto in the sphere of asylum policies, and he has never hid his opinion that Slovakia needs to be in control of who is coming in and why.
But no matter how scared Palko is of the foreign labourers, Slovakia will have to open its gates anyway. Unfortunately, the education sector is often so disconnected from the needs of the workforce that it will take ages for the curriculum to be effectively revised to keep pace with business.
Immigration is as old as the human race itself. People leave their homelands for many reasons, and spreading misconceptions about the phenomenon only injects seeds of mistrust and dislike into the majority population. This can often turn not only against foreign labourers, but also asylum seekers and refugees who had no other choice but to leave their home.
By Beata Balogová
22. Oct 2007 at 0:00