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40 percent of wages paid in Belgium are going to non-citizens

Stijn Baert, professor of labour economics at Ghent University, tweeted that as much as 40 percent of living wages in our country go to non-Belgians. In addition, more than four out of ten migrants outside the European Union aged between 25 and 64 would not be working or even looking for a job. Crazy numbers. And what turns out? No EU country does worse.

Student @ UGent@Work, a research unit at Ghent University, has repeatedly examined Belgian living wages. The academics were able to examine not only the current state of affairs, but also the explanations for the dramatic scores of Belgium. And from this came remarkable findings…

The fact that Belgium has both few employed and jobseekers has been shown several times by figures from Statbel, the country’s largest independent statistics agency. What is new, however, is that no less than 44.2 percent of 25 – to 64-year-olds with a nationality from outside the European Union (EU) are inactive (i.e. not working) in Belgium. In addition, according to the recent report by student@UGent@Work, another 11.5 percent are looking for work. The remaining 44.3 percent will work.

Inactivity among non-EU nationals is lower in Flanders (41.1%) and Brussels (43.1%) than in Wallonia (51.3%)

Inactivity among non-EU nationals is lower in Flanders (41.1%) and Brussels (43.1%) than in Wallonia (51.3%). But do not cheer too early, because even Flanders scores worse than all other European countries for which Eurostat data are available. ‘Belgium, with 35.4 percent inactive among 25 – to 64-year-olds born outside the EU-27, is at the very back of the European class. The EU average in this regard is 25.9 percent,’ according to the report by Student@UGent@Work.

Furthermore, the Research Unit examined the proportion of citizens with a nationality from outside the European Union in the complete Belgian picture. According to the report, there are a total of around 1,315,300 inactive people, of which 123,000 people have a nationality outside the EU. That is about 9.4 percent of all inactive people in Belgium.

According to the researchers, whether that is a lot depends on that proportion compared to all 25 to 64-year-olds with a nationality from outside the European Union. It turns out to be 4.6 percent, which means that the proportion of people with a non – EU nationality among the inactive is more than twice as high as their share among all 25 to 64 year olds. This bias is less pronounced in Europe as a whole, where non-EU27 nationals account for 8.6 per cent of all inactive people between the ages of 25 and 64, but also 5.8 per cent of all 25 to 64-year-olds.’

Again, there are major inequalities between the different Belgian regions: ‘in Brussels, almost 1 in 4 of all inactive people between the ages of 25 and 64 have a nationality from outside the EU. Again, they are clearly overrepresented within the inactivity. However, the ratio between the number of non-EU migrants among the inactive versus their representation within all 25-to 64 – year-olds is most pronounced in Flanders.’

Well, the numbers are there and no one is making any headway with just talking about them, so it is important to also highlight the explanations for those scores. Easier said than done, it turns out, because even the academics have largely guessed about it. They cite ten important studies in their report, which may or may not offer explanations for the current situation.

’In a nutshell: these are statements on the employer side (ethnic discrimination, although it seems to be decreasing and does not seem to be higher than abroad), on the employee side (studies show, for example, that Moroccan and Turkish families expect less from girls) and on the policy side’, professor Baert tells breakthrough.

Indeed, recent scientific research shows that on the employer side, ethnic discrimination in recruitment still plays a major role. The amount of such discrimination is in a declining trend, but it is present worldwide. “Across all global studies, it was found that ethnic minorities receive on average a third less positive responses to their applications than completely similar candidates without a migration background,” the researchers said.

It is argued that ethnic discrimination mainly emerges because employers fear that their clients or employees are unwilling to work with people of a different ethnic background. Also, resume screening, a technique widely used in the west in selections for vacancies, would be very sensitive to the phenomenon.

A striking finding is that the discrimination phenomenon is much less present when candidates demonstrate their commitment as volunteers. In support of this thesis, 1,152 fictitious applications were sent out within the Flemish labour market. The main difference was the social commitment of the candidates. ‘Job candidates with a Turkish name who did not take up social commitment received a positive response in 9.7 percent of their applications (compared to 15.6 percent for those with a Flemish name). Turkish job candidates who reported being active as volunteers saw their favourable responses increase to 20.8 percent of their applications, more than doubling.’

For example, in families with a migration background, boys are given more freedom than girls, because they need to be’ protected’

Another interesting point is that women with a migration background are strongly underrepresented in the Flemish labour market. The researchers note that one of the explanations for this may be cultural factors. For example, in families with a migration background, boys are given more freedom than girls, because they need to be ‘protected’. Consequently, the progression from school to professional career is complicated for women from such environments.

One last point is about government. The board would let the ethnicity of candidates play a decisive role in filling its top positions. Remarkably, this time it is not for the benefit of the candidate. ‘It is found that ethnic minorities are generally considered better qualified for such positions.’To what extent in that case there is no discrimination ‘on the other side’ is of course only the question.

Professor Baert argues that policy also plays an important role in the low efficacy of migrants between the ages of 25 and 64, with a nationality outside the European Union. “These are socio-economic policies, more specifically a social security that activates little and can cause less strong flows to select themselves to our country and a migration policy that facilitates humanitarian flows, but is much less successful in attracting economically strong flows. In Denmark you see a predominance of migration of people who come to work or study, with us because they are on the run or intend a family reunion, ” he says.

“Politically, we seem to be in a vicious circle. Due to a lack of decisive policies, the socio-economic performance of migrants is poor, which undermines support for economic migration above the humanitarian minimum, which in turn makes it very difficult to increase employment among migrants in the long term. If we want to reverse it, we really need Danish Dynamite, in migration policy and in social security. No Belgian incremental policy, we are too bad for that.’ In that case, let’s hope that in 2024 pants will not be made from the same sheet.

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