ECONOMY

Migrants are banks’ best clients

They came to Greece poor, seeking a better future. Now, economic migrants have largely been integrated into Greek society and become part of its productive forces, contributing significantly to economic growth. According to estimates from available Bank of Greece data, economic migrants’ activity accounts for 1 to 1.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Their contribution to economic growth has mainly been made through productivity gains in various sectors of the economy (farming, construction etc) but also through an increase in consumption. According to data made available by Greek banks, all migrant households own a television, 80 percent own a phone (a landline and/or a mobile) and more than 20 percent own cars. Also, recently, they have begun applying for housing and consumer credit This, combined with their high propensity to save (they save more than native residents) and an average annual household income in excess of 12,000 euros, has turned them into the banks’ favorite customers. Bank data show that the average savings accounts balance of a family of migrants is 12,000 euros versus 8,000 for an average Greek family. Migrants’ total savings exceed 5 billion euros. Some of that money goes to relatives left behind in their homelands: remittances to Albania alone are estimated at 500 million, although the trend is now a declining one. It is also estimated that of the 500,000 or so bank accounts opened by migrants about 150,000 were opened for the express purpose of helping their owners get a «green card» (residence permit). Positive effects This latest migratory wave toward Greece (1990-2005) mostly took place in an anarchic way, with the majority of people entering the country illegally. Despite that, it benefited economic growth over the past decade, despite continuing high unemployment, especially among the young, according to an Alpha Bank study. The study examines the impact of migrants on Greek society, the social security system and politics. It also claims that the migratory wave will affect Greece’s demographic prospects, since migrants, as a group, tend to have higher birthrates. Whatever the positive effects of the migration, they remain largely unknown to the local population, which remains very hostile to the migrants. A study by the Center for Research and Analysis of Migration shows Greece and Austria are the most hostile among EU countries. On a scale of 0 to 1, with 0 signifying a complete acceptance of migrants and 1 signifying complete hostility, both Greece and Austria scored above 0.7. Among Greek respondents, 86.1 percent called for «tough» measures to curtail further migration. One benefit that most people are not aware of is that the presence of migrants has delayed the migration of some firms to neighboring markets with lower labor costs. Sectors that have thus been protected include agricultural products, textiles, food and tourism. Migrants contributed heavily to the big construction projects necessary to stage the Olympic Games.