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Where do all the migrants go?


In light of the note I wrote on Sunday regarding migrants, I thought it is a good occasion to understand where the migrants are going to today. Migration statistically is challenging data to capture precisely, because we are referring to people on the move and for this one has to take data across time, create a definition about who the migrants are and try to make sense of their movements.

United Nations published a report in June this year regarding international migration which sums up the latest information about this growing phenomenon. It says that there are currently 232 million people who have emigrated from their country of origin. Moreover, the split between men and women is almost equal, meaning 48% of migrants are women. By analysing the data of 2000 up to 2013, it is clear that the countries migrants move to the most have remained the United States and the old continent, Europe. However, there is increasing evidence of movement between emerging market countries.

For example, the UN report claims that the number one destination for migrants is the US, which this year has received over 45 million people, followed by 11 million immigrants to Russia and 10 million to Germany. However, the top fourth and fifth destination countries are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, overtaking the more traditional countries such as the UK and France. It is evident, therefore, that the economic power of emerging markets is reflected in the latest migration flow.

On the other hand, a curious fact is that immigration into Spain, a country that has been on the brink of bankruptcy since the global financial crisis, has increased significantly. In 2000 two million immigrants were recorded in Spain but today there are 6 million of them. Such data reminds us that beyond economic factors of the receiving country, migration is also dependent on the context in which the emigrants find themselves in their home countries and also the changes in immigration policies. With the unemployment rate in Spain passing 20%, it would be interesting to investigate the reasons behind this growing influx.

The argument on the impact migrants have on countries remains controversial. There are economists, such as Michael Clemens of the Centre for Global Development, who claim that if all barriers to migration were eliminated, the world GDP would increase by 20 or even up to 60% . As a matter of fact, there exists an ‘open border’ movement which is led by a mathematician from the University of Chicago, called Vipul Naik.

Naik makes the point that putting up border restrictions is like impeding a person living in Mississippi from going to find job opportunities in New York City. Another supporter of this movement, Michael Huemer, a philosopher, asks whether the authority which imposes these restrictions should be looked at as someone who killed the other person by violating his rights or someone who fails to help him. Huemer goes on to say: ‘This is analogous to the U.S. government’s immigration policy. There are people who want to trade in our marketplace, in this case the labour market, and the government effectively prevents them from doing that, through use of force.’

As Clemens says: ‘Development is about people, not about places… We don’t really care about helping poverty-stricken Liberia, we care about helping poverty-stricken Liberians’. In fact, one of the easiest ways to make a person richer is by moving to another place. In addition, if globalisation is facilitating the flow of products it should be counter-intuitive to restrict the flow of people. Otherwise, what is the point, for example, of signing a free trade agreement if in practice it only eases a one-way circulation? It does not make sense to talk about globalisation when there are clear restrictions in place to make sure certain people remain local.

Ayako Iba


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