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October 2016, Volume 22, Number 4

Global Migration

International migration is the exception, not the rule. Some 250 million people, about 3.3 percent of the world's 7.3 billion people, have left their country of birth for a year or more.

Why don't more people cross national borders, especially in light of large differences in wages and job opportunities? One reason is that many people do not want to move away from family and friends, and another is that governments restrict the entry and stay of foreigners with visa requirements and border controls.

A UN summit in September 2016 discussed international migration, especially the 16 million refugees and the 34 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The concluding document called on nations hosting refugees not to return them to face persecution in their countries of citizenship and to allow the refugees they host to work and their children to attend school. It also calls for global compacts on migrants and refugees by 2018 that establish principles for "responsibility sharing" when there are waves of migrants.

Migrants fleeing persecution obtain protections under the 1951 Refugee Convention only when they cross national borders, giving some of the IDPs incentives to cross borders.

About seven million people a year move to another country for a year or more. Surveys show that a sixth of the world's adults, some 900 million, would like to move to another country, including 250 million who would like to move to the US. The UN acknowledges an asymmetry in migration: all individuals have the right to leave their country of citizenship, but not the right to enter another country.

Clemens et al estimate that the place premium for 35- to 39-year old men who have nine to 12 years of schooling is 5.6, meaning that these men would earn 5.6 times more in the US, or $14,000 a year (the sample men are from 42 developing countries). The range in wage gains was wide, from a doubling of wages in the US for Dominicans and Moroccans to 16 times more for Nigerians.

Clemens et al conclude that "natural" wage differences are usually less than 1.5 times, citing Puerto Rico as an example of a place with lower incomes than the US mainland despite freedom of movement. The estimates are based on 891,000 wage earners aged 15 to 65 in 42 developing countries, 624,000 people from these countries in the US, and 500,000 US-born persons.

The International Organization for Migration, founded in 1951 to resettled those displaced in Europe by World War II, became a UN agency during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants in September 2016. IOM has 165 member governments, 9,500 staff and 450 offices around the world.

The 15,000-employee World Bank has always been headed by an American. Jim Yong Kim finishes his first five-year term in June 2017, and the US nominated him for a second term. The World Bank has taken the lead in developing tools to understand and reduce the cost of sending remittances from migrants in one country to their families in another. Kim has shifted the World Bank from a country focus to a focus on pandemic preparedness, climate change and refugees.

Clemens, Michael, Claudio Montenegro and Lant Pritchett. 2008. The Place Premium: Wage Differences for Identical Workers across the U.S. Border.

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