Man working on a manufacturing site.
Man working on a manufacturing site.

reasonable but fragile support for asylum

The residents of this country have a rather negative view of migration. They have more bad than good personal experiences with migration and consider the global consequences to be negative. Their opinion is much more positive when migration is work related. Only 12% reject migration as a way of dealing with shortages on the job market. 60% are in favour of regular labour migration. There is also wide support for the principle of family reunification. However, the terms must be made stricter. There is also reasonable support for asylum, but it is fragile. There is criticism of the improper use of asylum and the deficient return policy for asylum seekers whose request is rejected. Citizens are most critical of all about illegal migration. Support for a stricter policy in this area is very great. Only 15% favour closed borders, while 16% support open borders. There are big differences between the various electorates in political parties. A number of electorates are also greatly divided internally on the question of how to deal with migration. This is demonstrated in the study ‘In search of public support for migration’ by Randstad Research among more than 3,000 respondents.

a more negative overall opinion on migration

The overall opinion on migration is rather negative. 60% believe migrants cost more than they contribute. Only 12% disagree. Only 18% of respondents believe that Belgium is now doing better economically because of migration. And 64% believe that migration has caused the quality of education to decline.  

Respondents’ personal experiences with migration are also rather negative. 58% feel less safe as a result of migration and 53% feel less at home. On average, the share of the population with negative experiences is double the number with positive experiences. 

Not surprisingly, only 27% believe that migration has been beneficial for the country over the past 50 years. 39% explicitly disagree. There is also a large group who are undecided. Clear communication on the subject is still valuable. 

a positive view of migration within the work context

Work-based migration has a lot more positive support. If migrants are working, and relying less on social security or welfare, a lot of the resentment or unrest disappears. Migration for the purposes of shoring up labour market shortages gets approval from 60% of respondents. Only 12% do not support this, which is about the same percentage that advocate closed borders (15%). Those in favour are five times more numerous than those against. 

strong support for family reunification, but under stricter terms

Only 16% reject migration for the purposes of family reunification. This figure matches the number of those wanting to close the borders to migrants (15%). Family reunification does need to be linked to (sometimes fairly strict) conditions (72%) for by far the largest cohort.  Solid majorities favour compulsory civic integration and better language skills. Migrants must also have worked for at least four years before bringing other family members over.

reasonable but fragile support for asylum

51% agree with the statement that those applying for and entitled to asylum in Belgium should be able to stay here and receive protection. Only 17% disagree with this. This indicates a still fairly solid support base. 

The picture changes, negatively, when asked about accommodation capacity for asylum seekers. The proportion who believe there can be no cap on recognised asylum seekers is only 23%, which is more than half. This statement also shows that 21% do not want to recognise asylum seekers at all. For European asylum seekers this is 14%, a clear, albeit not enormous difference. ‘Europe first’ seems applicable only to a limited extent.  

From a wide array of data it appears not so much that the principle of asylum is contested, but far more the way in which the various aspects are addressed. For example, 55% believe that the asylum procedure is being used improperly by ineligible people. Only 12% disagree with this. Equally, 55% believe that the temporary nature of asylum should be reinforced. Again, only 12% disagree with this. The protection applies until the situation in the home country is okay again. 61% believe that countries not wishing to accept the return of asylum seekers should be sanctioned. And 43% believe that asylum should be banned because the deportation of asylum seekers whose request is denied is not working.

wide support for a tougher approach to illegal migration

Open borders, a situation in which illegal migration does not exist, is endorsed by only 16% of respondents.  For 56%, staying in the country illegally should be punishable. Only 15% disagree with this. For 52%, someone who entered the country illegally can never be regularised; only 18% disagree with this. For 49%, illegal immigrants should be detained in a detention centre before being deported. 67% are in favour of greater surveillance on the outer borders. There is considerable support for a tougher approach to illegal migration. 56% are even in favour of more control on the internal European borders. 

differences between sub-groups

Women, the well-educated, young people and French-speakers are generally more positive or less negative about migration. Those with a more pessimistic worldview, seeing no progress in the future both socially and personally, also view migration more negatively. We see the biggest differences based on political preference. The different electorates have strongly differing opinions. Thoughts on migration are strongly politicised, whereby those for and against a resolute approach are concentrated in a limited number of parties. In other parties we tend to see large differences in opinion within the same electorate. 

big differences in opinion between electorates

Globally speaking, the green political family (Ecolo and Groen) is the most positive/least negative about migration in general and the various forms of migration. Almost half of the green electorate believes that migration has been good for the country over the last 50 years, which is way above the average of 27%. The only exception is work-based migration. In this area, the green electorate is similar to the average. CD&V, les Engagés and Open VLD are the ones reacting most positively here. Vlaams Belang is the least positive/most negative across the board. However, when it comes to work-based migration, the share of the VB electorate that rejects this is about equal to that of PVDA and PS electorates. The scores of N-VA electorate are sometimes similar to those of Vlaams Belang, but sometimes also very different.  As such, 69% of the N-VA electorate are in favour of work-based migration, which is significantly higher than the global average. 

big differences in opinion among electorates from one party

The big differences are seen not only between but also within parties. 30% of the Ecolo electorate are in favour of open borders, but 35% are against. With Groen, this is respectively 29 and 27%. In Vlaams Belang, only 30% are in favour of closed borders (an official point in the party’s programme), but 35% are against. At PTB, 21% are in favour of closed borders (way above the average) and 28% support open borders. 

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There are two big lessons when it comes to policy. There is clearly support for a tougher approach to migration. Furthermore, the work connection must be strongly referenced. The same applies to asylum and family reunification. Political parties can find inspiration in the study to become more explicit and refine their own migration position.

Jan Denys
job market expert and spokesperson for Randstad

in search of public support for migration

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