Coordinated by Dr. Stefan Kordel and Tobias Weidinger, both from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, the MATILDE consortium examined the processes of immigration in European rural and mountain areas. Dr. Stefan Kordel, one of the editors of the report ‘Classification of MATILDE Regions’ (Deliverable 2.1) answered our questions about history, dynamics and economic aspects of migration to European rural areas.

Deliverable 2.1 of MATILDE project consists of detailed reports about each of the ten countries covered by the project, including their historical background of migration. Can you please tell about migration phases in European rural regions with a retrospective regard?

This report shows us that, historically, the MATILDE countries and regions have faced different phases of immigration, accompanied by economic and political transformation processes. Crucial points of change for most of MATILDE regions were marked by economic upswing and resulting labour shortages in the 1960s and 1970s, which also affected industrial rural areas. Specific national and regional economic constellations and contexts, for example economic clusters in a certain region, resulted in the highly selective influx of immigrants by means of respective border regimes and visa policies. In a globalised world, national and regional economic developments are affected by broader transformations, but also by single events. The economic and financial crisis in 2008 for instance, marked an important turnaround in migration dynamics especially in Southern Europe. Due to lack of employment, a phase of massive immigration was succeeded by one of remigration to Latin American and African countries. Besides, in the 1990s and slightly before, immigration to European rural and mountain areas occurred in the course of the political transformations in former socialist and communist states. Recently, people have arrived in rural and mountain areas as a result of armed conflicts and civil wars in countries such as Iraq (in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s), Iran (in the 1980s), Somalia (since the 1980s), ex-Yugoslavia (in the 1990s), Afghanistan (since the 2000s), Syria and Venezuela (both since the 2010s). The placement of asylum seekers or resettlement refugees in rural and mountain areas, was and is often based on allocation schemes and dispersal policies. Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the UK are the examples in this matter. Nevertheless, the 2010 decade in particular is often seen as a time when some rural and mountain areas were first confronted with immigration of TCNs. Accordingly, some MATILDE regions may be classified as relatively novel destinations for TCNs immigration, whilst others have developed a certain migration history with continuous flows of immigrants. As a result of relationships forged during colonial times and spatial proximity to non-EU countries, specific migration regimes were established and are still upheld, for example between Spain and Latin American countries, between Italy/Spain and North African countries or between Scandinavian countries and Russia.

According to the report, what are main reasons to migrate towards European rural regions?

In the report we distinguish among 5 types for migration: forced, family reunification, students migration, lifestyle migration and finally work-related migration.

Migration for humanitarian reasons, for example forced migration impacts on rural and mountain areas mostly as a result of dispersal policies. The ex-Yugoslavian, Iraqi or Somalian citizens who arrived in the 1990s were still reflected in the 2008 top ten TCN lists of the majority of MATILDE regions. Today, however, the share of Syrian and Iraqi, but also Afghan, Eritrean or Venezuelan citizens have also become important. The most recently arrived asylum seekers and refugees have challenged social cohesion at a very local level, but also increased awareness of issues of rural development. Forced migrants have had a remarkable impact on the shape of rural and mountain areas to date, with regard to population size for example, socio-demographic composition, housing and labour markets as well as the provision of social, educational and mobility infrastructures. Although family migration is well reflected in the numbers of issued entry permits and very important numerically, it is always interrelated with other processes of migration. Family migrants mostly have to prove that they have the means of subsistence, mostly via a relative already living in the country. Student migration is only important in those rural and mountain areas that have universities or university campuses. The majority of people engaging in amenity/lifestyle migration are still EU citizens. However, either because regional economies are related to construction and real estate or for historical reasons, TCNs become increasingly important at a regional and local level. Due to their relatively privileged socio-economic status, they can evoke massive implications with regard to local economies and social cohesion.

Can you please give us insights about work-related immigration to rural areas and how this relates to rural economies?

Labour migration is one important process in rural and mountain areas and is supported by more or less restrictive visa regulations in the individual countries. Temporary working permits are common, for instance, in the agricultural sector, for example in Southern Europe or Scandinavia, where migrant employment is marked by seasonality. The development of non-agricultural activities introduced new opportunities, among them an increasing demand for services related to an ageing population, in tourism, construction or the food industry and distribution. High-skilled migration is less relevant in rural areas, since apart from hidden champions, workplaces that need qualified employees are often scarce. Some occupations are highly gendered, for example men in construction or women in healthcare/care or specific agricultural activities such as berry picking.

Besides, one can observe transformation processes in rural economies. Whilst economic activities in some MATILDE regions are more focused on one sector, other regions have diversified as a result of restructuration and structural change in the last decades. Finally, changing rural economies have an impact on the attractiveness of the region for immigration, especially since immigration regimes are driven by economic demands to a certain extent.

To reach the full report ‘Classification of MATILDE Regions’, please visit here.