Public and political discourses all too often spread negative perceptions about ethnic minorities and migrants and portray them as a 'burden' to European welfare systems and a constraint on economic growth in the EU. It's now time to put the facts right: ethnic minorities and migrants are not only needed to sustain European economies; they also contribute hugely to Europe's economic, social, political and cultural life.
The European Network Against Racism's latest publication 'Hidden Talents, Wasted Talents? The real cost of neglecting the positive contribution of migrants and ethnic minorities' provides evidence of migrants' contributions to Europe - culturally, socially, politically and economically, whilst highlighting the uncalculated losses incurred by not recognising and valuing these talents.
For instance, despite misconstrued myths of migrants as 'welfare scroungers', migrants are in fact contributing more to welfare states overall than the rest of the population. In France, a study found that migrants contribute €12 billion annually to the state. Migrants are also playing a particular role in care work - a sector which is critically important to ensure high levels of labour market participation - and in sustaining healthcare systems across the EU. In the UK, migrant workers account for 19% of care workers and 35% of nurses employed in long-term care. In Ireland, 17.4% of health professionals identify themselves as migrants.
Multi-ethnic societies also hold the key to the ability to trade and compete in a global economy. Known as soft skills, the ability to work cross-culturally is recognised by business leaders today as important as the quality of qualifications. Cultural diversity in the labour market is thus crucial to enhancing companies' ability to perform in diverse societies and a global market.
Yet Europe is not taking full advantage of its rich variety of cultures, traditions and languages. On the contrary, the fight for equality meets strong opposition, with widespread racism, xenophobia and discrimination. High unemployment across much of the continent has also led to an exacerbation of fears, with many blaming migrants. The notion that migrants are 'stealing' jobs from natives is unfounded, however. The reality is that migrants are needed to secure the future well-being of Europe, particularly as populations grow older and birth rates decline. Moreover, in the midst of the economic crisis, one in four employers in Europe has difficulty filling positions due to lack of qualified individuals.
Failing to recognise and value the positive contributions of migrants and ethnic minorities - or worse, setting barriers to their participation in society - results in a waste of these many talents. This has a damaging impact on Europe's resilience to economic crises, its creativity, and on the well-being of European residents.
Imagine, how many more migrant 'success stories' would come to light if we ceased wasting talents because of discriminatory and exclusionary policies and practices? How much better off would we all be?
European leaders must take ambitious measures to break down structural barriers and policies that do not make economic sense or ensure the protection of human rights, and that further limit migrants' opportunities to participate fully in society. We also need courageous politicians to stand up and speak out to promote and praise the many contributions of migrants and minorities in Europe and value Europe's diversity.
After all, diversity is part of the very foundation of Europe. We can only build a strong and successful Europe and put European economies back on track when the value of our differences are recognised and the hidden talents among us revealed and appreciated.