The Netherlands needs to widen its debate on migration beyond a simple discussion of quotas or risk running into a Brexit-style dead end, D66 parliamentary group leader Jan Paternotte has warned.
Paternotte, on a visit to the Brainport technological hub in Eindhoven, explicitly used the UK’s departure from the EU as a salutary tale about the dangers of shutting the door to migrant labour just as a shortage of workers looms.
‘The British wanted to take back control of their borders,’ Paternotte said in an interview with the Financieele Dagblad. ‘Now many sectors are having a very hard time simply because they can’t find the people.
‘Meanwhile you see Germany, which has a labour market that looks quite a lot like ours, saying: we actually need more labour migration.’
Paternotte said the debate focused too much on restricting numbers amid concerns about the increasing number of asylum seekers in the Netherlands, without considering the consequences of making work permits harder to obtain.
Other parties, including coalition partner VVD, have called for a temporary halt to asylum arrivals to deal with a backlog in processing claims and brought in rules preventing family members joining people who have been granted asylum but are still waiting for a place to live.
But without migrant labour, many sectors in the Dutch economy will struggle to function, Paternotte argued. ‘If you want less labour migration, you need to have the conversation about whether you want less horticulture or fewer distribution centres. Or if you want longer waiting lists in healthcare.’
D66 wants the rules preventing asylum seekers to be relaxed, both to ease the deficit in the labour market, where there are currently 1.2 vacancies for every job seeker, and to improve the integration and acceptance of refugees.
How many people the Netherlands can afford to take in is less a question of raw numbers as an issue of how quickly people start contributing to society, Paternotte said.
‘We thought at the start of this year that tens of thousands of Ukrainians would create a huge problem, but with the combined forces of municipalities and the efforts of [junior asylum minister Eric] van der Burg they were absorbed pretty quickly.
‘So what society can handle depends on what you let people do and how you organise it. A mentality of “wir schaffen das” rather than “take back control”.’
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