International Migration and Economic Development

Today I want to focus on an issue that is very dear to me: international migration.  I am currently residing in a foreign country, finishing up school and looking for work, and so naturally I have quite a vested interest in international immigration regulations and restrictions.  I don’t want to focus on my own story, however, but rather on the overall impact of global migration on international economic development.


On 11 September the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) released new figures that show that more people than ever are living abroad.  According to the recent data, approximately 232 million people are currently living abroad worldwide, compared to just 175 million in 2000; that’s a little over 3 percent of the world population–not an insignificant amount!  Most of these immigrants have moved to developed countries, and Asia has seen the largest increase in migrants in the last decade with 20 million new migrants since 2000.  This dramatic increase is believed to have occurred because of the increased demand for foreign labor in the oil-producing Asian nations like Malaysia and Thailand.  The US, meanwhile, holds the largest absolute number of migrants, with almost 23 million migrants having arrived in the country since 1990.


Historically, migrants have tended to move from developing countries to developed countries,  often resulting in the phenomenon known as “brain drain.”  Highly educated and skilled workers from developing countries, finding few opportunities in their native country, migrate to developed countries, especially the United States, where they have a better chance at finding success.  Developing countries suffer as a result, while developed countries benefit from fresh talent and skilled workers.  Brain drain does not only affect developing countries, though.  Just a few days ago, for instance, I read an article here in London warning that the City is currently facing a brain drain due to skills shortages, an aging population, and restrictive migrations policies, and it could potentially affect future economic growth.


Indeed, the Director of UN-DESA announced on 11 September that in recent years migrants have been settling in developed and developing countries in relatively equal numbers, though they still tend to originate in developing countries.  This could be quite significant for global economic development, as migration broadens opportunities available to individuals, leading to a better and more productive match of people’s skills and jobs.  As new sources and destinations of migration pop up countries can become important points of origin, transit, and destination simultaneously, further improving economic growth.  Additionally, migrants often send money back to their home countries in the form of remittances, which can be quite significant given than migrants typically make more money in their new country than they would have in their home country.


With all the benefits that global migration can bring to both developed and developing countries, then, it’s no surprise that the subject is quite high on the international agenda these days.  In just a few weeks, on 3-4th October, a high-level UN summit on international migration will be held in New York, and the focus will be on ways to enhance the benefits of migration for both workers and countries as well as ways to reduce any negative implications.  It will be very interesting to see what the results of the conference are, and how migration can be linked to development and growth.  I’ll be awaiting the results, and if you’re interested as well leave a comment here with your thoughts about the conference as it unfolds.


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