Japan made world headlines in the last few weeks as it began a program to pay second generation Latin American immigrants to go home. It may have been the first domino in a chain of rich countries — now the Czech Republic and Spain are offering immigrants a similar “buyout” if they’ll leave and promise not to come back:
During its manufacturing boom earlier this decade, the Czech Republic wooed immigrants with plentiful jobs and comparatively higher wages. Now the Czech government is paying them to go back home…
Other countries in Europe have reacted similarly, amid rising unemployment. Last November, Spain’s Socialist Party government launched a program to send 100,000 immigrants home. Those who promise not to return to Spain for three years get six months of unemployment benefits — an average payout of €14,000 ($18,500). Some 4,000 immigrants have taken the cash.
The catch, of course, is that once the immigrant leaves, they promise not to come back. But from a practical standpoint, it’s not quite that simple, especially in the EU, where a migrant can take the cash and mozy into another part of the EU.
Europe has a history of offering immigrants cash to go. After World War II, countries including Germany and France recruited thousands of guest workers to help rebuild shattered economies. France launched the first of these programs in 1977, and thousands of immigrants went home.
But there were drawbacks. Many immigrants who took the cash later broke the ban and returned to France. And apart from making them feel unwelcome, the payments often weren’t enough to entice workers who felt job prospects back home remained bleak. Such complications also bedevil the Czech Republic’s program.
You’ve at least got to hand it to the Europeans for being sensitive about the topic. Czech NGOs and government officials stress that, in distributing information on the buyout, they’re only informing immigrants of their options. Japan is being borderline dishonest. When the plan was announced, some thought that the package was almost a paid family leave scheme, and the promise never to return was only fine print.