Thinking Aloud: “The Latest Wave of Migration: Motivations and Responses,” Part II

May 13, 2015 by Darius 

Yesterday, I attended a discussion on “The Latest Wave of Migration: Motivations and Responses.”  Both Kathleen Newland, currently affiliated with the Migration Policy Institute, and Dilip Ratha of the World Bank provided incisive statistics and made a number of trenchant observations.  Yesterday, I shared the comments of Kathleen Newland, which dealt mostly with the current European migration crisis.  Today, I’ll share the remarks of Dilip Ratha, known as the economist who first documented the role remittances play in the global economy.

Ratha said that there are between 200 and 250 million international migrants around the world.  Of these, 93% are economic migrants, while only 3% are refugees.  Therefore, according to Ratha, migration policy should not be formulated with only refugees in mind.  Ratha felt there must be a legal route for both economic migrants and refugees, but that governments must go after criminals and smugglers.  He likened the task to finding a needle in a haystack without destroying the haystack.

Ratha suggested short, medium, and long-term policy goals to address the current migration crisis in the Mediterranean.  In the short term, the goal must be to save the lives of migrants currently crossing or those about to make the journey.  In addition, pressure on smugglers in Libya must be increased.  In the medium term, legal channels for migration should be opened.  In the long term, forced migration is a global burden.  The world must share this burden, including fiscally.  This isn’t a matter of wealthy countries being burdened by poor countries’ refugees.  In fact, most refugees go to other poor countries.  Pakistan is currently the world’s largest refugee host.

According to Ratha, migration is a boon, not a burden, for the receiving country.  For every economic migrant, there is an employer in the receiving country who hires him or her.  In general, migrants are paid less for their work compared to a native worker.  Therefore, Ratha felt that migrants are in fact subsidizing the receiving country.  Ratha cited an OECD study that found that migrants contribute more to the tax systems of receiving countries than they draw in welfare.  Additionally, according to Ratha, the liberalization of migration policies brings far greater gains to the receiving country than the liberalization of trade policies.

Ratha also pointed out that only 3% of the world’s population are international migrants; 97% of the world’s people live, work, and die in the country they were born in.  Even if countries were to institute policies of completely open borders, the percentage of migrants would not change overly much because of peoples’ natural inclinations to live within their own cultures and families.

To conclude, Ratha said that the movement of people is inextricably linked with economic change.  Some of that economic change happens to spill over international borders.  Despite some crises, international migration is overwhelmingly a natural, mutually beneficial process.  Increased migration is not something to be avoided; it is something to be welcomed.

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