Sunday, October 31, 2010

International Migration: How to turn it into Public Good?

We have one Earth and its limited resources can support human population and its growth only to a certain extent without hurting the progeny and posterity. But Earth is divided into about 200 nations with their own identities and aspirations. These boundaries make it difficult to reach a balance in Demographics as every nation has their own political and cultural climate which restricts international migration.

Let’s investigate without getting trapped by national boundaries as how international migration can be good for all. Demographics vary in different regions of the world. Some regions would have ageing population and some would have surplus young population. Migration of surplus young workforce to regions of ageing population helps to provide the working population to complement the ageing population and sustain the growth of the region. The young regions benefit by lower unemployment and hence lower social ills related to high unemployment like poverty, crime, violence, fanaticism etc. In long term the regions trade place. After 50-60 years, the young regions grow old and other regions come up with young population. On overall, the world has right age distribution but not regions wise. Migration gets the distribution right.

The above sounds simple enough till you add the factor of national boundaries which changes the whole game. Nations differ in extent of economic development and culture which adds several anomalies and make international migration dysfunctional.
  • Developed nations with shortage of workforce have been importing high quality workforce from developing nations through visa rules and restrictions. This has helped the developed nations tremendously and robbed the developing nations of the very people who would have championed the growth of their region. Also developing nations loose the investment which has gone into their upbringing, education and training. This brain drain results in reverse foreign aid to developed nations from developing nations which is much more than a direct foreign aid from developed nations to developing nations as per some studies.
  • Cultural identities too play a major role. Japan has a very ageing population. But Japan culturally is closed to outsiders ‘Gaijin’. The demographic imbalance in Japan has taken its toll on the country pushing the Debt to GDP ratio of this second largest economy to 200%. We also hear protests against migration from West as people are not able to accept immigrants who are glaringly different in appearance, customs and culture. Add regional politics to above and one gets further muddled situation. Politicians cash on popular (though unjustified) sentiments and introduce policies which are protectionist and create trade barriers.
  • Occupational and lifestyles discrepancies further compound the problem. Emigration from rich agriculture resources countries to modern, attractive and consumption oriented regions tends to affects world food production.

However, the above anomalies disappear within a national boundary. Within a country, people can move from one place to another to inhabit and work without any restrictions, no matter how culturally different the place is. India is one good example as how a region with numerous cultures, ethnicities, appearances, customs allow unrestricted and good migration which does not suffer from the anomalies mentioned above. The challenge is enable similar good migration across national boundaries. Formation of European Union with relaxed movement across European countries (which in themselves are culturally diverse) is a step in right direction.

OECD recently declared that migration is key to long-term growth. Most economists agree that legal and illegal migration is beneficial to economy. However, general public opinion is negative in countries which face immigration. International agencies like UN and ILO are constantly working towards strengthening international cooperation on the topic.  The current recession literally put brakes on good international migration. However, in a increasingly growing global and flat world, its imperative to manage international migration and public opinion better to turn migration into public good. 

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