Opening of the Club of The Hague Meeting

Speech by the Minister for Immigration Teeven at the opening of the Club of The Hague 11th meeting: the Hague Process on Refugees and Migration.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to The Hague and to the Peace Palace complex. This international symbol of peace and justice is celebrating its 100th anniversary! To mark its first centenary and its rich history, many special events will be held in this grand building. So, we are especially proud to welcome you here again this year!

I would like to talk to you today about how business interests, migration management and good governance are interconnected.

Today it’s hard to believe, but after the Second World War the Dutch government actively promoted emigration. Australia, New Zealand and Canada were popular destinations for Dutch nationals.

In the 1960s, the post-war economy finally got going and emigration levels fell. Around the mid-’60s, the demand for labour increased to such an extent that workers were actively recruited in other countries, especially around the Mediterranean. Employers welcomed these low-wage workers. This influx delayed the introduction of new, innovative machinery.

All that changed in 1973 with the Yom Kippur War, which was followed by the first oil crisis. Employers started to shed labour, replacing workers with modern capital goods. Some guest workers – especially those from Italy, Yugoslavia, Portugal and Spain – went home as the economies in their home countries started to boom. By contrast, Turkish and Moroccan immigrants were not only allowed to stay, but also to bring their families in. At the same time, many of them started to become dependent on social welfare. This was the flip side of the coin; it has made us more cautious about importing low-skilled labour.

Today, we still welcome highly skilled workers in the Netherlands. But only 1 out of 7 labour migrants fits this description.

Highly skilled workers tend to go to countries where their skills are in demand. In many cases they migrate permanently, on the basis of a credits or points system, like those in Canada, the US and Australia. Those countries get a good deal. They attract highly skilled workers, but they didn’t have to pay for their 18 years of education and health services.

Low-skilled workers also migrate – often illegally – to countries where their services are welcomed. Not necessarily by the authorities, but by employers. They do jobs that locals aren’t interested in and they work for low wages.

A possible positive outcome is that low-skilled workers may obtain skills and experience that they can use once they return home. But labour migration becomes truly problematic when highly skilled workers go abroad to do low-skilled jobs. The school teacher who becomes a domestic worker; the engineer who works in construction, et cetera. This is a loss of human capital and brain waste. When they return home, they have a hard time finding a job at their educational level. Out of frustration, many leave their home country again. Some call this circular migration, and it’s a sad variant indeed.

As the 1973 ILO Convention indicates, we may wish to promote the transfer of capital rather than the transfer of people:

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Considering that in order to overcome underdevelopment and structural and chronic unemployment, the governments of many countries increasingly stress the desirability of encouraging the transfer of capital and technology rather than the transfer of workers.

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For a long time, this view of migratory movements met with disapproval. But today, we need to be thinking about the relationship and balance between labour and capital, and asking ourselves: should we bring people to where the capital is or bring the capital to where the people are? This is especially critical when it comes to cross-border movement. The problem is: who would want to invest in a country where corruption is rampant and where the judicial system is unreliable?

We should think twice before identifying migration as the solution to all our economic challenges. Is the population ageing? Bring in the migrants! Are locals not interested in doing certain jobs? Bring in the migrants! But migration is no longer a silver bullet. For one reason, like all of us, migrants age. What happens when they grow old and retire? Do we start the whole process again and bring in more labour migrants? It’s better to think about alternatives, like outsourcing and innovation. Options that will enable us to make our economies more efficient and more productive.

It’s quite obvious that the Netherlands has an interest in inviting highly skilled workers. And they do come, and they do contribute. Just walk around the offices of any international corporation... Or check out the origin of the researchers and PhD students at Maastricht University for example, where some 40 scholars representing 25 nationalities are involved in migration studies.

Ladies and gentlemen, ten years ago you agreed on the ‘Declaration of The Hague on the Future of Refugee and Migration Policy’. This concise document identifies 21 key principles constituting a comprehensive approach to the migration and refugee challenge, and ideas for innovative international ways forward.

Like the ILO Convention, the Declaration says that we must re-think the long term interests of states, societies and people on the move. With good international cooperation, managed migration offers great potential and remaining in one’s own country should be viable for all.

The Declaration also says that in order to build more orderly and just refugee and migration regimes, receiving countries will have to move towards more planned approaches and transparent policies. New policies will need to serve legitimate national interests. They will also be determined by the growing obligations of States to meet universal standards in international human rights, in international humanitarian law and in refugee law.

We obviously subscribe to this notion.

And that brings us to the theme of this year’s meeting: the connection between innovation, employment and urbanisation. This theme is very topical and goes to the heart of the matter. Innovation is a key objective, urbanization is an ongoing process and employment in Europe’s turbulent economy is an issue of great concern. Together, we need to look at these three issues in a holistic way. We must be fully aware that they are interconnected, and examine them against the backdrop of migratory movements in general.

The development of our respective societies, and of the global village as a whole, needs our close attention. Migration is part of this. Diversity among highly qualified employees has a strong, positive impact on innovation output. Pooling people with diverse backgrounds in particular areas can foster the creation of new ideas, knowledge spillovers, entrepreneurship and economic growth.

Politicians, captains of industry and researchers should be aware of this. They should work together to improve and increase our knowledge and awareness of the causes and consequences of migratory movements. The Hague Process can and will play an important role in this area. It is founded on this recognition: ‘Migration is of all times, it is an integral part of human history, present and future.’

I wish you a productive conference and trust that you will share the outcomes of your deliberations.

Thank you.