Migration is considered one of the defining global issues of the early twenty-first century, as more and more people are on the move today than at any other point in human history. There are now about 192 million people living outside their place of birth, which is about three per cent of the world's population.
This means that roughly one of every thirty-five persons in the world is a migrant. Between 1965 and 1990, the number of international migrants increased by 45 million-an annual growth rate of about 2.1 per cent. The current annual growth rate is about 2.9 per cent.
Discourse on migration involves many perspectives. There is growing recognition that migration is an essential and inevitable component of the economic and social life of every State, and that orderly and properly managed migration can be beneficial for both individuals and societies. The multiple and complex dimensions of migration include:
- labour migration
- family reunification
- migration and security
- combating irregular migration
- migration and trade
- migrant rights
- health and migration
- migration and development.
Policy makers and practitioners need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the multi-dimensional phenomenon of migration in order to manage it effectively. A comprehensive and cooperative approach to international migration management is required to deal with the migration pressures of this century. Such an approach will include policies and programmes for migration and development, facilitating migration, regulating migration, and forced migration. To be successful, international migration management cannot be undertaken by governments unilaterally.
There are many global trends behind today's mobile world that will impact migration and migration management, including:
- demographic trends
- economic disparities between developing and developed countries
- trade liberalization necessitating a more mobile labour force
- communication networks linking all parts of the world
- transnational migration.
In the twenty-first century, the movement of people will become even more significant as a result of these trends:
The trade and investment climate has sustained the flow of migrants. Higher demand for labour in the developed economies and availability of labour in underdeveloped economies has set global labour migration in motion. The huge global labour market has offered employers the chance to hire migrant workers as part of their cost minimization strategies.
Moreover, globalization with its associated forces has increased the mobility of labour across borders. It has already reinforced the movement of skilled workers. Multinational corporations favour the movement of labour, especially highly skilled labour. Faced with acute labour shortages, the industries of developed countries are evaluating migration policies and are showing preference for a relatively flexible mechanism. American and European service industries in particular have been pushing for a "liberal policy" for movement of labour as "service providers," especially in the hotel and restaurant, software, insurance, and financial industries.
The global economy has been experiencing a decline since the beginning of 2001. The International Monetary Fund has projected global growth of 3.2 per cent lower than in previous years. This has produced downward pressure on the movement of labour, especially in the information technology (IT), construction, and manufacturing sectors. However, the actual impact of economic decline, in terms of the return of migrant labour to countries of origin, has yet to be seen. Experience with the Asian financial crisis of 1999 suggests that most migrants tend to remain in the country of destination even when conditions worsen. Temporary recession may not always cause a major disruption of migratory flows and will not alter the trends in a major way.
Global population growth differs between developed and developing countries. In the developed countries, the current annual rate of growth is less than 0.3 per cent, while in the rest of the world the population is increasing almost six times as fast. Demographic changes affect international migration in two ways. Rapid population growth combined with economic difficulties push people to move out of their habitat, and a declining and ageing population pressures countries to accept migrants.
Sustained low fertility in developed countries produces a rapidly ageing population. The "smaller and older" population projected for developed countries over the next 50 years may enhance possibilities for greater mobility of people. According to UN population projections, Japan and all countries of Europe are expected to face declining population growth over the next 50 years.
For example, the population of Italy is projected to decline from current 57 million to 41 million by 2050. Similarly, the population of Japan is projected to decline to 105 million by 2080 from the current 127 million. In addition to the decline in population size, Japan and the countries of Europe are undergoing a relatively rapid ageing process. While not a solution on its own, one part of the toolkit to address this problem is a gradual process of "Replacement Migration."
Emergence of "migrant networks"
Networks of migrants from a specific region or regions have emerged as a dominant force in enhancing mobility of people. They influence political decisions in host countries to provide economic assistance to their country of origin. They also influence economic and trade relations between the host and the home countries and require more creative and productive integration processes.
Emergence of transnational migration
Advancements in transportation and communication technologies that link places and people globally are leading to the emergence of a "transnational migration space". This spreads over more than one geographical space in which migrants can shuttle between more than one home. Apart from physical movements, the flow of information, skills, and remittances are the other components of the "transnational migration space". Gaps between "geographic space" and "migration space" have shrunk with far-reaching consequences on international migration.
The most immediate outcome of this phenomenon is the growing acceptance of dual citizenship, multiple property, and voting rights. States now recognize that membership is no longer territory-based. A new kind of "people-State" relationship, which is fast taking root in international politics, is likely to influence the future course of human mobility.
Few countries manage migration effectively
There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which is because few countries have a defined and articulated migration policy. It is difficult to manage anything if there is not a policy structure established to guide the managers. Yet even countries that do have a coherent migration policy backed up by legislation often experience serious difficulties in managing migration.
Some critics of public policy, particularly in the developed countries, have characterized the period from the mid-1970s to the present time as a quarter century of migration mismanagement. Moreover, the large-scale movement of peoples has not ceased. Irregular migration has become one of the major issues of our time. Migrant smuggling now matches drug trafficking as a major source of income for organized crime. Trafficking in human beings has become a significant worldwide concern. Migration has moved up the scale of important issues facing the countries of the developed world so that now it is at the top of the policy agenda of the G8 countries.
It is not difficult to understand why people from the poorer regions of the globe wish to migrate to more prosperous countries. People have always moved within regions or from one region to another in order to improve their standard of living, to give their children better opportunities to get ahead, or to escape from poverty, war, and famine. This is the iron rule of migration that has governed since the beginning of time.
Today, with modern transportation and telecommunications, more people are motivated and able to move. The poor and disadvantaged can now see with their own eyes the wide disparity between their standard of living and that of the richer and more advantaged people in the world. They want to share in the wealth, and by the means of modern transportation, they are able to get to richer lands in a matter of hours. With economic globalization and the proliferation of international business, there is also increasing demand for mobility of professionals. The challenge for all countries is how to regulate and manage these large-scale migratory movements.