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Wednesday, 10 September 2008 20:17

Deep down, we are all migrants from somewhere.  And today, most advanced OECD countries need more migrants.  Even Japan is opening up gradually to migration notably through an intern program.  International migration is perhaps the oldest dimension of globalisation.

Migrants are the human face of globalization.  But, anti-migrant feeling is now rising in all of our countries -- and even moreso since the global financial crisis struck.  The inflow of immigrants into the rich OECD countries fell by about 6% in 2008 to 4.4 million people, reversing five years of average annual increases of 11%. Recent national data suggest migration numbers fell further in 2009.


Over the past two decades, international migration has grown strongly, despite the many restrictions, especially on unskilled people.  About 4% of the world population are migrants.  They make up a growing share of the workforce in most OECD countries.  Countries with high shares of foreign born persons in the labour force include Luxembourg (45%), Australia (26%), Switzerland (25%), Canada (21%), Austria (16%), United States (16%), Spain (15%), Ireland (14%), Sweden (14%), France (12%) and United Kingdom (11%) (all data for 2006, from OECD).


International migration all started "out of Africa" more than 50,000 years ago.  At the same time, migration is perhaps the weakest link in today's globalization with the historically lower levels of migration.  The globalization phase of one century ago saw massive cross-border movements of people.  While goods, services and capital are very free to cross borders, people are much less so.  Further, in contrast again to trade and finance, there is no comprehensive multilateral framework governing the cross-border movement of people.  The GATS "Mode4" provision is restricted to the temporary movement of service providers and covers only a tiny fraction of the cross-border movement of labour.

But there is more to migration than international migration.  Perhaps the greatest movements of people take place within countries especially in the context of urbanization as is now occurring in China and other rapidly developing countries.  According to the UN World Urbanization Prospects report, the global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13% (220 million) in 1900, to 29% (732 million) in 1950, to 49% (3.2 billion) in 2005.  The same report projected that the figure is likely to rise to 60% (4.9 billion) by 2030.

Why migrate?  If living conditions are better in other countries, there is an incentive to migrate.  Economists often talk of push and pull factors. The push of bad conditions at home, and the pull of good conditions abroad.  The Global Commission on International Migration talks of the 3Ds -- differences in development, in demography and democracy.  Migration is also facilitated by globalisation with open borders and open access to information.

What the benefits of migration ?

Migration is usually, though not always, beneficial to the person migrating.  Some people are tricked into migrating by false promises by human traffickers.  Migrants are very often dynamic and entrepreneurial individuals who make a contribution to their host countries.  They keep the shops open at night!  Migrants can fill gaps in jobs market by doing jobs that locals do not want to do -- dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs.

As OECD societies have increasingly ageing populations, migrants will become even more necessary to fill job gaps, notably in the health industry.  High skilled migrants also contribute to activities like information technology.  Have you seen all the Asians in Silicon Valley?  Migrants have also contributed to the development of global cities which are becoming centres for global innovation.  Cultural mixing is a potent ingredient for innovation.

Migrant diasporas can become engines for economic development.  Witness the large share of the foreign investment in China which comes from Hong Kong and Taiwan.  Remittances sent back to migrants' families can also help developing countries.  Migrants' remittances sent to developing countries in 2009 exceeded $300 billion, about triple the size of official development assistance.

Are there any costs or problems associated with migration?

Perhaps the biggest problem for sending countries is brain drain which hits the poorest countries the hardest.  Brain circulation through return migrants is becoming a new trend, especially for China and India, but it is not sufficiently widespread.

Illegal migration is a growing phenomenon.  Illegal migrants often have difficulty finding jobs and integrating into our societies.  They may be one of the factors provoking the public backlash against migration.  Human trafficking is becoming a very major problem.

There are sometimes massive social costs for the families left behind in sending countries, especially when the migrant is the mother.  Integration into host societies is an important problem, especially in Europe where unemployment is higher for migrants than for native population (unemployment is also higher for second generation people).  According to the OECD's PISA study, education perfomance is also generally weaker for migrants and second generation.

The great paradox of international migration is that all of our countries need migrants, and they are human beings after all.  But we do not treat them well, or invest in them like we should.  They need our help to integrate into our economies and societies.

Some of the specific integration issues are: (i) highly skilled migrants may have troubles for the recognition of their qualifications and experience, and hence be over-qualified for their job; (ii) lower skilled migrants often have greater difficulty finding jobs and typically have a higher unemployment rates than natives -- they also frequently have lower levels of education and weak language skills; (iii) discrimination remains an issue in many countries; (iv) migrants are more likely to lose their jobs in an economic downturn than a native would, but conversely would pick up jobs more easily when the economy picks up; (v) children of migrants are less likely to be employed even when they are qualified.

What are the lessons for successful labour market integration ?  (i) for new arrivals, it is crucially important to have early work experience; (ii) for the secomnd generation, early and frequent contact with the host country language is important; (iii) governments need to help establish contacts between immigrants and employers; (iv) low-skilled migrants need better accompaniment; and (v) governments need to project a responsible message on migration, and not blame migrants for domestic problems.   
Good references


Global Commission on International Migration -- http://www.gcim.org/en/
OECD reports including International Migration Outlook -- http://www.oecd.org/topic/0,3373,en_2649_37415_1_1_1_1_37415,00.html

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