Part 2 – Migration: the finger in the dyke

It is interesting to note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to leave a country but doesn’t to enter!

Migration, however, or labour mobility, in the economic context, is like air or water – it will flow wherever there is a vacuum or where gravity takes it.

These movements are a response to the demands of labour as a means of production, which have always been served by varying migration modes and waves: forced slavery; indentured labour and now worker and student mobility.

In previous eras, population movements took place side by side with the development of contacts, colonies and trade flows between different societies and cultures.

In particular, large human migrations played a fundamental role during the first phase of economic globalization, which took place between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

In this respect, the present situation is paradoxical, because in a world which is more interconnected than ever and financial and trade flows more liberalized, the movement of persons runs up against severe barriers which try to prevent, restrict and contain it.

Migration remains a politically sensitive issue. As a result, there are gaps between national needs and policy in many countries, which brings about market distortion and is partly responsible for the problem of irregular and even unregulated migration.

The public discourse on international migration has acquired a sense of urgency in recent years. Growing mobility of labour in a globalizing economy, emerging middle class citizens, gender and demographic dynamics, diaspora remittances, cheap labour requirements as well as enhanced security concerns, taken together suggests that our collective capacity to “govern” migration phenomena is not keeping pace with these developments.

A wide range of considerations drives this sense of urgency. For some countries, migration has contributed and continues to drive important goals of economic development, social dynamism and balancing cultural diversity.

For others, the sense of urgency comes from questions on how to adjust to new migratory situations and develop effective policy responses to perplexing challenges, such as increasing unemployment, aging populations and the mismatch between job skills and talent.

It needs to be noted that “Development” does not substitute for migration, in fact it tends to foster it (the classic example being migration to cities from rural areas).

The question is no longer whether to allow migration, but rather how to manage migration effectively to enhance the positive side of the tally sheet and reduce the negative. What forms of migration are desirable, and should be facilitated and under what circumstances? What forms are undesirable and need to be curbed?

According to Devesh Kapur, of University of Pennsylvania, the rapidly growing literature on Globalisation has paid limited attention to the third leg of the globalization triad (other than goods and services and capital): the flow of labour. He has argued that cross-border flows of human capital are likely to play an equally influential role in shaping the political and economic landscape over the next fifty years.

It is time that labour mobility and the free movement of natural persons be seen as a necessary corollary to the global cooperation on trade and development.  Just as the free movement of goods and services and capital are seen to foster global economic growth and prosperity, the free movement of people will be a major driver of the global economy in this century. In fact it is the one missing link in the global economy that we refer to as ‘globalization’.

As economies and labour markets are further integrated through the process of globalization, barriers to the movement of people continue to be cited as a major impediment to potential global welfare gains that would benefit developing as well as developed countries and individual migrants and their families. Let me illustrate this argument with some simple numbers.

Even a modest liberalization of the temporary movement of persons to provide services under Mode 4 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) – by all accounts only a Learn more about how health major medical health insurance works and how to buy health major medical health insurance for 2014. small percentage of annual cross-border movements – has been projected to produce annual global welfare gains of between USD 150 billion and USD 200 billion, outstripping gains expected from further liberalization of trade in goods.

Despite the potential benefits of liberalizing the temporary movement of persons under GATS Mode 4, countries have made relatively limited commitments under Mode 4, largely as a result of problems presented by substantial incoherence between trade and migration regimes (both within and between countries).

Clearly therefore, there is an urgent need for multi-stakeholder cooperation in migration management.

Despite the reluctance of governments to liberalize immigration policy, the number of people living outside their country of origin has risen from 120 million in 1990, to over 250 million by 2010.

According to the 2010 UN Human Development Report, migrants account for approximately mobile casino 3.1 percent of world population (as of 2010). The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has noted that “Today, the number of people living outside their country of birth is larger than at any other time in history. International migrants would now constitute the world”s fifth most populous country if they all lived in the same place”.

Protection of the rights of migrants is an essential international principle, enshrined in international human rights law. Yet, instances of xenophobia, discrimination and racism are prevalent across countries today. Following the global financial crisis and the economic downturn, migration discourse has become victim to populist and ill informed debate with a rising anti-immigrant sentiment being fuelled by fringe parties in many countries.

What is the image of migrants in society today – in both host and home countries – and why is this important? As migration increases, and migration policy emerges as a policy priority of governments’ worldwide, public perception of migrants has a direct impact on the policy direction of governments on migration.

While there is growing recognition of the opportunities that migration offers for economic growth, development and stability in host and home countries, perceptions of migrants have not kept pace with changed policy understanding. Receiving countries reap considerable benefits from migration, which are usually overlooked.

Quite simply, the public perception of migrants seems to be overwhelmingly negative. In reality, migrants of all skill levels contribute a great deal to societies. They spawn creativity, nourish the human spirit, spur economic growth, and empower nations.

Migrants bring diversity, provide innovation and are an antidote to stagnation. However despite this reality, powerful misinformed assumptions and negative stereotypes of migrants prevail. Lower skilled migrants, in particular, are often seen as displacing local workers and abusing social welfare systems and become scapegoats for economic insecurity. There is a tendency to apply facile stereotypes and untested assumptions to the value of migration or of migrants to society.

Why is there such a negative image of migrants in society today? Part of the response lies in the fact that patterns of migration today are broader and more diverse than previously, but these patterns are not well understood, resulting in misinformation and misperceptions.

This, in turn, can perpetuate a vicious cycle, influencing government policy, mass media and public opinion, each of which then directly or indirectly influences the others, and the resulting image of migrants in that society.

For example, there is a common perception that international migration takes place primarily in a South-North direction, whereas current data indicates that more than 40 per cent of migration takes place between developing countries.

This misperception in an era of growing human mobility results in increased public concern over inflows of migrants and over irregular migration, and smuggling and trafficking, in particular, and as a consequence affect the image of migrants in general.

Abuse of immigration laws and systems by some, easily leads to a negative image of many. Public perceptions reflect real issues and real problems, but they also reflect ignorance, prejudices and fear. Managing migration requires managing how migrants are perceived in society.

Let me simply say, the benefits of migration can be undermined by politicization of the topic, with migrants perceived as a burden on society, rather than a benefit, regardless of what the reality may be.

This is Part 2 of a three part article, written under the title of Migration in a Globalised World: Going and growing beyond Borders


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