No. 7 : January-April 2013

Catherine Wihtol de Wenden

International Migration

Academic Foresights

How do you analyze the present situation of international migration?

The present situation of international migration is characterized by a deep disequilibrium. While  international migrants are representing 3% of the earth’s population with 230 millions, they are both a globalized and a regionalized force, the world being divided in regions where the demand meets the supply of migration (Americas, Europe and the southern rim of the Mediterranean, Russia and its surroundings, Turkey and its surroundings, South-East Asia, East Africa and the Gulf States…). However, the South has difficulties to emerge as a real actor : while mobility is considered to be a key factor of human development, two thirds of the population of the planet do not have the right to moove freely, because they are submitted to visas requirements, with sometimes no chance to get them. Therefore, migrations are the result of contradictory globalizations.

Another factor of disequilibrium lies in the absence of the south in the definition of immigration policies and as an equal actor in the management of migration at the global level. Most emigration countries are weak countries, with few possibilities to bargain the rights of their nationals. They have often accepted to sign readmission agreements to repatriate the illegals in exchange of development subsidies, but they become victims of the closure of their own borders, because they are confronted with transit migration on their territories. The case of Morocco, Turkey and Mexico are illustrating this new situation. The immigration countries are defining the rules of migration policies, creating a sort of “far west” at the world level; only a few powers draw such rules, without any supra-national order, which results in a lot of negative outcomes: illegal people dying at borders, deaths in the Mediterranean sea, long requests for legalization, exploitation through black markets of recruitment, border economy as a place of passages and trades

The process of definition of a global governance of migrations has been on the agenda of the United Nations since the creation, in 2006, of the World Forum for Migration and Development. However, we are far from a sort of “Bretton Woods agreement”, due to the reluctance of powerful immigration countries to accept the negotiations on a multilateral method of governance. Thus, sovereign states are resisting the agenda of the FMMD, and actually resist the process to start.

In your opinion, how will the situation likely evolve over the next five years?

The situation may evolve in the next five years, due to several factors :

- the first one is the demographic trend, with rich Northern countries (Europe, Japan, Russia) quickly aging (fourth age, half of the population being over 40 years) and poor southern countries with half of their population being less than 25 years old (and sometimes even less in Sub-Saharan Africa). Added to constant political crisis, it will cause new waves of migration, although many southern countries are in a demographic transition : progressively, migration profiles will differ from the present one (with more urban, more qualified migrants, especially on the southern rim of the Mediterranean);

- another factor is the possibility of political crises leading to massive migration from undemocratic countries with civil wars (Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East), as well as environmentally displaced persons due to climate change (Bangladesh, Tuvalu and Maldive islands, Sahel, China…)

- Europe, entering in a long term crisis, should also attract less migrants than emerging countries such as Brazil, China, India, due to low growth rates, with the return of some migrants, including of the second generation, to their countries of origin.

- the regionalization of migration will probably increase, including more populations in the migration process (poorer, rural people) which will lead to a higher number of migrants crossing shorter roads to find their heavens.

- the strength of images of Western society, led by TV, internet, cell phones, remittances, will continue to attract the candidates, especially more women and younger people.

Migration will therefore last, with perhaps an increasing consciousness of the necessity to deal with the problem through a less passionate and more rational decision making process.

What are the structural long-term perspectives?

The structural long term perspectives will lead to the institutionalization of a global governance of migration, with a definition of mobility as a world public good in a win-win-win approach: for the migrant, for the country of origin and for the country of arrival. Such a governance will have to be applied within the United Nations system, and to be discussed in the most important meetings of the planet, alike G8 and G20, where presently the topic is not yet debated.

Due to demographic and economic discrepancies, migration will also go on to be present in the so-called 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous and difficult) mostly with illegal workers, in high qualified jobs where there is a scarcity of such profiles (doctors, computers maintenance, engineering…), as well as in lowly qualified jobs not fulfilled by natives (care jobs, construction works, agriculture, domestic work). Thus, the competition for highly qualified profiles will last in parallel with low qualified ones, resulting in a high stratification of the labor market.

Some new regional areas will develop, due to the migration of populations, and most regions in the world will have a similar globalized landscape of migrants (new cosmopolitism). At the same time, among the less qualified workers more migrants will come from the same region (more Latin Americans with Amerindian background in the US, more Indians and Chinese in South East Asia and East Africa, more Sub-Saharans in Europe…)

The securization of borders will be increasingly expensive, raising the question of the costs of control and its efficiency, while the Western Welfare State will continue to be reluctant to admit more newcomers in times of economic crisis

However, diversity will be more and more encouraged by international institutions as a way of life to be protected; there will be an extension of double citizenship, of mix marriages in spite of the persistent populist trends trying to ethnicize the national community of citizens. Religious identities may also be exacerbated, and discriminations may develop a feeling of rejection and resentment, leading to local violence if nothing is undertaken to find solutions.

In conclusion, migrations will last in the long term. It is a phenomenon which has to be accepted  as normal, and managed with rationality as an international, national and local reality.

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Catherine Wihtol de Wenden is a researcher at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI), and Professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, both in Paris, France. As a specialist in international migration she has recently published Atlas des migrations, Paris, Editions Autrement, 2012, and La question migratoire au XXI siècle, Paris, Presses de Science Po, 2010.

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