Sunday, January 10, 2010

Myths Debunked

Which of the two groups of countries would you expect to have higher emigration rates? Would it be the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany or Vietnam, India and China? The first group represents wealthy countries which have a high level of human development. The second group represents countries with a low level of development.

When we think of migration, we often associate it with refugees, asylum seekers, boat people, and economic migrants who are fleeing conflict, poverty and a lack of opportunity back home. So, common sense would lead us to believe it would be the second group of countries, the ones with low levels of development where we would find high emigration rates.

Well, presented below are these countries ranked according to their emigration rates from highest to lowest:

1. United Kingdom 6.6
2. Switzerland 5.6
3. Germany 4.7
4. Vietnam 2.4
5. India 0.8
6. China 0.5

Surprised? In fact, data from the latest UN Human Development Report covering the period 2000-02 show that the median emigration rate for countries with very high human development was 8 per cent. With the exception of the United States and Japan which had emigration rates of 0.8 and 0.7 per cent, the rest of these developed nations (38 in all) had healthy emigration rates.

In contrast, nations with low levels of human development had a median emigration rate of under 4 per cent (less than half of the former) which makes sense since these countries face stiffer travel restrictions. That is not all that is surprising though.

Out of the 200 million individuals on the move from one country to the next, only 70 million flow from developing to developed nations. The rest are flows between countries of similar economic standing. A lesser known fact is that international migration that occurs between countries is only a fraction of internal migration or movement that occurs within countries estimated at 740 million.

I mentioned travel restrictions earlier. Many nations with advanced economies try to prevent low-skilled migration from occurring. This is due to the perception that these immigrants would depress the wages of low-skilled workers in their economy. The UN report states that based on the body of evidence these negative effects are in fact "generally small and may in some contexts be entirely absent."

Instead such workers boost economic output at little or no cost to locals. There are, however, other difficulties that limit the movement of labour. This includes the lack of absorption capacity or ability to fit-in with receiving communities and the break-down of social cohesion that might occur.

To address these problems, public policy must respond in order to allow the benefits of migration to flow to both receiving and sending countries. Mainstreaming migration policy into an overall economic developtment strategy is an approach whose time has come.

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