The European immigration dilemma from a U.S. perspective

Sean Kennedy

Immigration backlash is on the rise in Europe. As prominent nations within the EU grow increasingly burdened with floods of immigrants from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, concern is growing among citizens that foreigners are diminishing local culture and costing jobs, and these fears are being reflected in political action. Anti-immigration groups like Austria’s Freedom Party and France’s National Front Party are seeing their largest support in decades.

Across Europe, countries are having the debate that we Americans have experienced: what to do with immigration. While this question has no easy answer, there are steps Europe can take in the short-term to decrease the problem. Though there is no one right answer to deal with immigration issues, the EU could benefit from bolstering their immigration policies.


The issue with the EU’s legislation is that it is so open-ended that it leaves member countries without the flexibility to adjust to their own needs and lacks the “teeth” to deter illegal immigration. The EU needs to revise the two core tenants of its migration legislation, the Free Movement Principle and the Schengen Code.  According to the European Commission, the Free Movement Principle allows EU nationals to work in any country of the EU, reside there indefinitely and enjoy equal treatment “in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages.” Essentially, this policy creates a “United States of Europe” situation in which internal borders are relatively meaningless. Furthermore, the protection of these borders is governed by the Schengen Borders Code, which is a set of common rules for all member countries designed to increase the transparency and efficiency of the operation.

The problem with having a “one size fits all” policy for an area as large as the EU is that it treats all countries as if they were equal when, economically and geologically, that’s not the case. For example, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich spoke out about Germany’s struggles with “benefit tourism,” a phenomena in which migrants from poorer EU countries like Romania and Bulgaria travel to more prosperous countries like Germany to take advantage of the generous welfare benefits and social services.

The EU should take a page from our country and  reign in free movement among states so that individual countries can respond to their own needs. The EU requires that migrants prove their intent to work in a country within six months to receive benefits, when in the U.S., there is far more work required. With regards to tuition, in-state residency takes years to qualify for. In our union, states retain more autonomy; they exercise more control over the funding of social programs that impact their citizens than the federal government.This allows state governments to better adapt to the needs of their constituents than if they had to rely on the men in Washington.

While the relationship between our state and federal governments is fundamentally different in certain areas than that between the EU and its member countries, the need for a balance in power remains the same. Addressing the EU member countries as individual pieces with distinct needs rather than as a homogenous whole would give countries the flexibility to adapt to their individual needs, like the “benefit tourism” befalling Germany, and allow the Union to focus its attention on bigger-picture issues, like the economic hardship in Eastern Europe that is fueling these migration problems in the first place. The EU needs to refocus the relationship it shares with its member countries to allow every government the freedom to adapt to the needs of their people. While there is no easy answer to balancing immigration, a shift of power in Europe would go a long way towards addressing its needs as a system in whole.

Sean Kennedy is a sophomore with no declared major and a senior columnist at the Collegian. Feedback can be sent to or @seanskenn on Twitter.