GENEVA - Many concerns that surround migration, such as loss of jobs, lower wages, increased welfare costs and the belief that migration is spiralling out of control, are not only exaggerated or unfounded but contrary to evidence, according to the World Migration Report 2005, released today by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
According to the report, the first ever comprehensive study looking at the costs and benefits of international migration, there is ample evidence that migration brings both costs and benefits for sending and receiving countries, even if these are not always shared equally
"We are living in an increasingly globalized world which can no longer depend on domestic labour markets alone. This is a reality that has to be managed," says IOM Director General, Brunson McKinley. "If managed properly, migration can bring more benefits than costs. The 2005 World Migration Report illustrates this clearly."
Migrants represent only 2.9% of the global population. The UN Population Division estimates the migrant population in 2005 at between 185-192 million people - up from 175 million in 2000. Nearly half of them are female. However, the socio-economic and political visibility of migrants, especially in highly industrialised countries, is much greater than this percentage would suggest.
Migration flows have also shifted in recent years and in some cases, international migration is actually decreasing. Although Asia, which has traditionally represented the largest international migrant stock, has seen an increase in the number of migrants from 28.1 million in 1970 to 43.8 million in 2000, in real terms, this represents a drop from 34.5% to 25% of the migrant stock in the same time frame. In addition, more and more Asians are finding job opportunities within Asia itself.
In Africa, international migration, usually within the continent rather than outside of it, has dropped over the past 30 years from 12% to 9% of the global stock and this is a pattern repeated in several other regions. Only two areas in the world have seen an increase in their migrant stock - Northern America and the former USSR.
The perception that migrants are more of a burden on host countries than a benefit is not sustained by research, according to the World Migration Report. In the UK, for example, a recent Home Office study calculated that in 1999-2000, migrants contributed US$ 4 billion more in taxes than they received in benefits. In the US, the National Research Council estimated that national income had expanded by US$ 8 billion in 1997 because of immigration.
The report also notes that in a wide variety of jobs in Western Europe, there is rarely direct competition between immigrants and local workers. Migrants occupy jobs at all skill levels, with particular concentration at the higher and lower ends of the market, often in work that nationals are either unable or unwilling to take.
Regular migrants are not likely to put a greater burden on health and welfare services than host population as they pay taxes. Irregular migrants, who run the highest health risks, are less likely to seek medical attention. The report stresses that this not only poses risks for the health of the migrant, but is also a public health concern and can contribute to fuelling sentiments of xenophobia and discrimination against all migrants. The report, therefore, underlines the need for government to invest in the health of migrants.
According to World Migration Report 2005, migration brings a much wider range of benefits.
Remittances are an important indicator of the benefits of migration, their huge potential for supporting development and poverty reduction having captured the attention of governments and development agencies alike. In 2003, remittances through official channels totalled US$ 93 billion. By 2004, they had already surpassed US$ 100 billion and now seriously rival development aid in many countries. However, while remittances can enable developing countries to repay foreign debt and improve their creditworthiness, they cannot be a replacement for development aid.
Migrants also contribute to development strategies in their home countries by transferring their skills and investing in local economies. Diaspora associations such as the African female-based ones in France, or Mexican Hometown Associations in the USA, can strengthen cooperation between communities at home and abroad. Some countries are also seeing a shift from brain drain to brain gain as a result of increasingly pro-active policies to attract back ?migr?s with newly acquired skills and education. Countries like the Philippines and Morocco have established special ministries or agencies to support their ?migr? communities. Trends suggest a greater movement toward circular migration, with substantial benefits to both home and host societies.
At a time of growing resistance to migration in some receiving countries, World Migration Report 2005 highlights the need for effective policies of socio-economic inclusion of migrants into host communities, even on a temporary basis to maximise productivity. These measures have a cost but can ensure social cohesion in the face of cultural diversity and enable migrants to be productive for themselves, their host and home communities.
Finally, the report underlines the value of migrant-sending countries in engaging in dynamic and broad-based development, combining job creation and economic growth with a fairer distribution of income to create general optimism about the future of the country. It also emphasizes the need for governments to work together and make the right policy choices to steer migration more in the direction of benefits than costs.