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International Migration

Updated on October 15, 2013
More Mexicans are now entering the US both legally and illegally.
More Mexicans are now entering the US both legally and illegally.

If it is about anything, 'globalisation' is about dramatic increases in movement - the movement of capital, technology, goods and people across international borders. Of course, the barriers to the movement of people are still far more restrictive than those to capital and goods.

The 150 million people who live outside their country of birth are still less than 2.5% of the world's population. But they have an importance beyond their numbers. Immigration is now the major contributor to demographic change in many of the world's most developed, affluent countries. These countries are experiencing declining birth rates, ageing populations and increased educational levels which predispose people against manual labour. Immigration is often the only antidote to population decrease, potential decline in economic growth and the fiscal disaster which could occur if the number of people receiving pensions expands without a commensurate increase in the working population paying taxes.

Japan, the one developed country with little immigration, is expected to lose 26 million people by 2050. Who will pay for the increasingly high percentage of the Japanese population on pensions as the postwar baby boom reaches retirement age? In the USA, according to the latest US Census Bureau projection, the population will grow by 129 million by 2050 if immigration continues at a current rate, but would go up by only 54 million if immigration stopped. Recent immigrants have higher birth rates and will continue to give the USA a growing population. Immigration, therefore, matters enormously in relation to prospects for future population growth and decline in developed countries.

Foreign Born Population of Major US Cities

Number of foreign born
Los Angeles
New York
San Francisco

From 1996 to 2000 the USA received 27% of the world's international migrants. Germany, the second most popular destination took only 9%(US Bureau of the Census 2001). Western Europe as a whole took in 21%. Fully one-quarter of all migrants to the USA went to California. Favourite cities by number of foreign born are LA, New York, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago.

An Afghan refugee: will he return home now the war is over?
An Afghan refugee: will he return home now the war is over?

The world map of net migration gives a good idea of the global pattern of international temporary migration. It shows than international migrants come overwhelmingly from underdeveloped countries, with China at 14% and Mexico at 8% being the largest sources. Most under-developed countries have negative net migration. The few with positive numbers (i.e. more migrants entering than leaving- such as Afghanistan. Rwanda and Liberia) have all had civil wars. These disrupted local populations who went to neighbouring countries as refugees returned once the wars ended.

Thought the typical image of a migrant is of a poor person willing to work for low wages., many immigrants are in fact highly skilled and are not fleeing poverty and social chaos. The US Census Bureau report strongly endorses the view that international migrants are heterogeneous with respect to education, workforce characteristics and relative affluence on arrival. Migrants who travel greater distances tend to be both better off and more likely to achieve faster upward social mobility than those from nearby - in the USA migrants from Mexico are usually the poorest and least educated whilst Asian households have higher median incomes than the 'native' population.

In general the poorest and most populous nations are not those who send the most migrants, and it is not the poorest people from the generally more affluent countries who migrate. For example, if emigration was caused by poverty, most immigrants to the USA would be from Africa and the poorest countries of Asia and Latin America. Indeed, irrespective of country of origin, immigrants tend to be drawn overwhelmingly form the middle of a country's socioeconomic distribution.


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    • carlarmes profile image

      carlarmes 3 years ago from Bournemouth, England

      A time to pause for thought, immigration, as more people gain more knowledge and more freedom, they will want to move to greener pastures, with greater opportunities, who wouldn't.