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April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2

Global: UN, Theory, Health

The UN SG released a second assessment of the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in January 2022 that included 14 recommendations under four categories including: migrants in pandemic response and recovery programs; promoting safe and regular migration; preventing loss of life and other tragedies during migration; and building capacity.

The UN report calls for facilitating pathways for migrant entry and stay, developing flexible policies to prevent migrants from falling into irregular status, and regularizing irregular migrants. However, the report includes no hints on how to deal with trade offs between these policies. For example, developing new or expanding existing guest worker programs could encourage more people to consider going abroad and, if there were not enough legal guest worker options, more people may migrate illegally.

Theory. Over the past 50 years, the number of international migrants tripled and the share of global migrants in industrial or rich countries rose to two-thirds. The major reasons for more international migration are demand-pull forces within receiving countries, as with farmers seeking workers, and supply-push forces in sending countries, as when over half of Mexican workers have informal jobs not covered by the minimum wage and social security.

Inequality between countries motivates most cross-border migration. Global GDP was $85 trillion in 2020, making the per capita GDP of the world’s 7.8 billion people almost $11,000. In the 50 high-income countries where per capita GDP was $12,700 or more, the average was $51,300, while in the 150 lower- and middle-income countries, the average was $10,700, a five to one income gap.

Most of the major emigration countries are lower-middle-income, with GNIs of $1,000 to $4,000, including India, the Philippines and Ukraine, meaning that per capita income gaps are more than 10 to one. However, some emigration countries are in the upper-middle-income group, including the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Mexico.

The brain-grain-via-drain argument attributes rising emigration from India and the Philippines to economic development that allows more people to move, and from the Dominican Republic and Mexico to migration networks that encourage family unification.

Why has migration increased faster than population growth over the past half century? Many political scientists highlight the liberal paradox of managing migration in rich countries. Employers want governments to open border gates to migrants, while cultural and security concerns push governments to limit immigration.

The liberal paradox is evident in all industrial countries, where admissionists trumpet labor shortages and aging populations to urge more immigration, while restrictionists argue that migrants provide cheap labor that benefit a few and can reduce social cohesion. Faced with these competing narratives, rich country governments are converging on policies to manage migration, making it easier for high skilled migrants and their families to enter, ensuring that low-skilled migrants rotate in and out of the country, and struggling with refugees and asylum seekers.

The convergence hypothesis argues that rich countries facing similar problems converge on similar policies to deal with them, whether the issue is dealing with climate change or the changing labor market, while the gap hypothesis argues that governments cannot achieve their migration goals. There are goal-outcome gaps in most areas of public policy, from preventing crime to ensuring decent jobs, but the goal-outcome gap may be especially large in migration policy, as evidenced by significant unauthorized migration and unpredictable waves of asylum seekers.

The perception that migration is not under control often fuels public dis-satisfaction with migration policy.

Is more migration into rich countries a side effect of more development and trade? As countries such as Mexico, Morocco and Turkey got richer and integrated into the global economy, there was a migration hump as trade and migration rose together. Sub-Saharan Africa, in this view, has not yet experienced a migration hump because of lagging development and incomplete integration into the global economy.

What effect does the arrival of migrants from developing countries have on richer countries? Economic theory predicts slower wage growth and higher profits, but a wide range of studies has failed to find negative impacts of migrants on similar native workers. Instead, the arrival of migrants often slows labor-saving mechanization, as with the arrival of Mexicans in US agriculture.

Development economists whose primary goal is to speed growth in developing countries urge richer countries to open doors to migrants that provide incentives for residents of developing countries to obtain more education, which raises productivity and incomes at home and abroad. Rising education levels, in turn, speed development, increase trade, and spur even more emigration, the migration hump, until per capita incomes top $10,000 per person per year.

The development-centered view of migration’s impacts argues that more rapid economic growth means more emigration from the most rapidly developing countries. Workers in rich countries are not harmed by the migrant influx, this theory argues, and residents of poorer countries have new incentives to invest in education, raising productivity and incomes at home or abroad. This brain-gain-via-brain-drain theory of development imagines residents of developing countries who see the success of migrant nurses and IT professionals and are encouraged to acquire the credentials needed to imitate them.

Migration networks allow migration to continue until per capita income differences narrow to about four to one, with the ratio affected by the hope factor in emigration countries or prospects for jobs and income growth.

Instead of migration from poorer to richer countries, investment in poorer countries could create jobs that keep workers at home. Firms that export tend to pay higher wages than firms that produce for the domestic market, and investments in garment manufacturing in south and southeast Asian countries turned many young women from informal farm workers into factory workers earning $100 a month or more. Trade agreements that facilitate investment to create export-sector jobs can thus reduce emigration pressure.

Some 30 percent of Central Americans are employed in agriculture, which generates less than 10 percent of GDP, suggesting low wages and a reservoir of potential migrants. There has been investment in factories to sew garments in Central America, but there have been few wider economic effects such as the development of supplier industries and moving up the supply chain to designing clothes. Until Central America can create an economic framework that attracts long-term investment, freer trade may generate jobs but not economic development.

Some migration flows are not easily predicted, including many flows of refugees and those linked to natural disasters. The arrival of large numbers of unexpected migrants can lead to a restrictionist backlash, as with the arrival of over a million Syrian and other migrants in Europe in 2015. Such migrants may be welcomed initially, as with Ukrainians in 2022, but eventually public opinion can turn restrictionist if there are difficulties integrating newcomers.

Health. Many older health care workers retired during the covid pandemic, prompting hospitals and nursing homes to recruit replacement health care workers in developing countries. Recruiters say that 1,000 foreign nurses a month arrived in the US in 2021, and that 10,000 are waiting for required visa interviews at US consulates abroad.

Salaries of health care workers are five to 10 times more in industrial than in developing countries, and many industrial countries have special programs that speed recognition of foreign-earned health credentials or allow families to accompany migrant doctors and nurses. The WHO’s 2010 Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel recognizes the right of health care workers to migrate, but calls on industrial countries to permit recruitment of doctors and nurses only under the terms of bilateral agreements that take into account the needs of sending countries, such as compensation in the form of aid to train more health care workers.

Countries such as India and the Philippines have private schools that train nurses to host-country standards, facilitating out-migration. Many African countries prohibit private nursing schools, and pay health care workers such low salaries that many graduates are not employed in health care.

There were far fewer covid cases in sub-Saharan Africa than expected; malaria made more people sick than covid in 2020 and 2021. In 2022, blood samples indicated that two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa residents had antibodies to fight covid even though only a seventh were vaccinated, suggesting that many Africans got and recovered from covid. One theory is that the relative youth of Africa, a median 19 versus 38 in the US, protected Africans from severe covid illness. Another is that covid killed sub-Saharan Africa residents but their deaths were not recorded.

Conflict and migration are interlinked. After WWII, the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol aim to prevent refugees from being denied protection by obliging signatory countries not to refoul or return persons inside their borders to their countries of citizenship if they have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion fear or persecution” there. Some 146 countries signed the 1951 Convention.

Refugees are persons recognized as in need of protection; asylum seekers are those who want host governments to recognize them as refugees. Economic migrants, on the other hand, are persons seeking a better life who could remain in or return to their countries of citizenship without fear of persecution.

It is very hard to draw sharp distinctions between refugees and non-refugees. Are Afghans who supported the US and face discrimination at the hands of the Taliban refugees or economic migrants? When such mixed-motive migrants move to a third country such as Pakistan, should they be encouraged to integrate into the local economy or kept in camps to facilitate their return or resettlement in third countries?

Some researchers who look at migrant enclaves in the developing world urge rich countries to provide aid so that Pakistan can integrate Afghan migrants, or Kenya and other African countries can integrate the migrants who arrive due to conflicts, climate change and other factors from their neighbors. Aid money goes much further in developing host countries than to integrate Afghans and Africans in Europe or the US, this argument runs. However, the reality is that rich countries are often asked to spend more to help integrate migrants abroad and at home.

Fears that diverse newcomers cannot be integrated successfully abound in Europe, are inflamed after terrorist incidents, and often become the anti-immigrant planks of populist parties. Many European countries have foreign ghettos and no-go areas and fear importing the conflicts that some migrants escaped. Concentrated areas with “different” migrants and their children who are dependent on social welfare benefits is a recipe for a backlash against migrants.

Human trafficking may be far less common than is sometimes assumed. NGO Polaris operates a National Human Trafficking Hotline with $4 million a year from HHS. If operators identify instances of fraud, force and coercion from the calls and texts received, they report a potential trafficking case. Polaris identified 11,193 potential cases of trafficking in FY21 and reported 3,353 cases to law enforcement, that is, the hotline costs taxpayers about $1,200 per case referred to law enforcement. The FBI, by contrast, reported 1,883 incidents of human trafficking in 2019 that led to 708 arrests.

Population. Austria's Wittgenstein Centre for Demography developed several long-run scenarios for the world’s population. In the high-fertility scenario, life expectancy would be 75 in 2100, adults would have an average 10 years of schooling, and the total fertility rate or the average number of children born per woman would be 2.3, yielding a global population of 14 billion in 2100. In the low-fertility scenario, life expectancy would be 100 in 2100, adults would have an average 14 years of schooling, and the total fertility rate would be 1.3, yielding 7.2 billion people by 2100, half as many as under the high-fertility scenario.

Africa. There were military coups in Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan and Burkina Faso in less than two years, highlighting the fragility of democracy in countries struggling with separatist groups, corruption and poor economic prospects that leave youth unemployed and frustrated.

About 10 percent of global trade passes through the Suez Canal that has connected the Mediterranean and Red Seas since 1869. About 100 ships a day pay an average $300,000 to transit the canal, which is owned by Egypt.


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