The Migration “Crisis” Is Not What It Seems: The Current Opportunity of Migration to the EU and Elsewhere

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Migrants and refugees in the Greek island of Lesbos. File Photo: IOM/Amanda Nero

With the recent debate in Europe surrounding the AquariusNGO rescues at sea, and the steep increase in tragic deaths of migrants at sea in the past weeks, there has been a resurgence of discussion in the media and political arena about the so-called “migration crisis” and feelings about “invasions” of migrants. It is about time to restate the facts, recall the actual numbers, and reconsider the situation.

It is perfectly understandable that people in Europe and elsewhere would react to alarming messages. Yet, looking at the actual numbers regarding migration and labour forces in Europe and other global economies reveals a much less alarming situation. One way to address public worries about migration is to present the actual numbers.

Firstly, it should be more well-known that international migration has notsignificantly increased over the past few decades. International migration encompasses all migrants who cross a border with a view to establish themselves in another State, leaving their habitual place of residence, including all asylum seekers and refugees. In 2000, international migrants made up 2.8 percent of the world population. Today, international migrants comprise roughly 3.4 percent of the global world population. This means that the number of international migrants, the so-called migration ‘stock,’ has increased by only 1.4 percentage points over the last 20 years. So, while the number of international migrants has grown in absolute terms, notably because the world’s population itself has grown, migration as a share of the world’s population has actually increased only slightly. This remains true despite the raging conflicts, climate change, environmental degradation and other humanitarian crises plaguing the world.

Aging populations are putting a heightened burden on the workforce which is needed to fund the pensions, healthcare and social security for an unprecedented number of elderly dependents.

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Syrian refugees crossing the Serbian-Croatian border. File Photo: Francesco Malavolta/IOM

Secondly, increased arrivals of migrants to Europe in the past few years are not unprecedented. It is rather the grimness of the situation and the perceived chaos surrounding those arrivals that are unprecedented: In 2015 alone, nearly 4000 migrants died in the Mediterranean en route to Europe. Although migrants’ arrivals to Europe exceeded one million in 2015 and 2016, a closer look shows that the net migration rate to the EU during those years closely mirrored the net migration rate of many years between 2000 and 2010. And, while the 2015 arrivals prompted panic at various levels, they equated to only about 0.002 percent of the total EU population.

Meanwhile the size of the labor force is sharply decreasing in the EU. In 2010, Europe saw more workers retiring from the labour force than joining it for the first time in history. By 2020, many large global economies will experience labour shortages, including Canada, China, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation. By 2030, Europe should face a projected labour shortage of 8.3 million workers.

Further, aging populations are putting a heightened burden on the workforce which is needed to fund the pensions, healthcare and social security for an unprecedented number of elderly dependents.

As established and recognized in the newly minted Global Compact on Migration, migrants contribute significantly to the labour force, the flexibilityof labour markets, and the economic growth of host countries. Labour migration does not drive down wages when the labor market is properly regulated. In fact, the most prosperous cities and States in the world have higher levels of immigration. Immigrants often fill the positions that are less desirable, such as cleaning, farming, assembling and machine operation. Migrants also often fill gaps in fields like care work, including for the elderly and children.

In the near future, citizens from the EU as well as from other economic areas may find that, far from a crisis or a threat, migration can be a crucial asset, and a unique chance for economic and social stability. But to harness those benefits in respect of the rule of law and human dignity, opening additional legal labour migration channels is necessary.

Through the Global Compact on Migration, over 190 nations have validated the truth about the benefits of safe, orderly and regular migration. Our leaders must now communicate these positive realities to their public as we all move forward to realize the commitments made in this historic agreement.


This story was written by Anne Althaus and Amanda Brown, at the International Migration Law Unit, IOM Geneva.
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Categories: Human interest, Security

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