Wilders: Calculate cost of immigrants

The anti-immigration party of Dutch populist Geert Wilders wants each ministry to make a cost-benefit analysis of the presence of non-Western immigrants and their offspring in the Netherlands.

When Geert Wilders first brought up what he called "the cost of multiculturalism" in the Dutch parliament last year, he got mostly laughs. Wilders claimed non-Western immigration had already cost the Netherlands 100 billion euros and speculated about how that money could have been put to better use. Every elderly person could have had his or her own room in a nursing home, Wilders suggested; we could all have retired at 50, "or we could have given everybody in the Netherlands a free sailboat."
But now his Party for Freedom (PVV) is taking the matter up again in a more serious manner: PVV member of parliament Sietse Fritsma has requested a cost-benefit analysis of the presence of non-Western immigrants or 'allochtonen' (see insert) in the Netherlands from all twelve Dutch ministries.

That may be a difficult question to answer. For instance, Fritsma wants the transport ministry to calculate how much of the department’s expenses are due to immigrants. This would mean calculating, among other things, how many drivers struck in traffic jams throughout the Netherlands are immigrants.

The PVV also wants to know how much taxes immigrants pay, how often they go the doctor's and what percentage of police interventions is related to immigrants

Fritsma wants every ministry to come up with figures for the current year, the past five years, and prognoses for the coming year and the next five years. It remains to be seen if the ministries will respond to the PVV's request.

Some research has already been done into the costs and benefits of labour migration. Last year, Wilders quoted from a 2003 study by the economic policy bureau CPB, but that study did not have the 100 million euro figure. It is unclear how Wilders reached that figure.

The CPB study did come to the conclusion that immigrants cost more over a lifetime (in health care, education, pensions and social security) than they contribute in taxes.

The CPB calculated that an immigrant who arrives in the Netherlands at age 25 will cost Dutch taxpayers 43,000 euros over the rest of his lifetime. (The study did not look into second or third generation immigrants.) It concluded that the Dutch economy as a whole does not benefit from large-scale immigration, and that immigrants are not the answer to the ageing of the Dutch population. However, the study did recommend limited immigration of skilled workers for specific jobs that are hard to fill otherwise.

Economist Pieter Lakeman made an attempt at a cost-benefit analysis of immigration in the Netherlands ten years ago. He said he was the first to ever do so. In his book Binnen zonder kloppen (Enter without knocking), he argued that immigrants were a considerable write-off, costing the government 13 billion guilders (5.9 billion euro) a year. Immigrants from Turkey and Morocco alone have cost the Netherlands more than 70 billion guilders (31.8 billion euro) in the twenty years until the year 1999.

"Without anybody noticing, Dutch immigration policy has become one of the most wasteful forms of government aid around," Lakeman told NRC Handelsblad at the time.

When the Dutch government returns from summer recess in August, ministers will have to decide how to respond to the PVV's request: individually or collectively. The latter is the more probable. One thing is for sure: the PVV intends to make the cost of immigration the hot potato of the next political season.