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What migration is really doing to politics and economies worldwide

Alan Crawford, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

In a year of elections, populist leaders from Europe to the Americas are pushing a narrative that migration is out of control.

Yet for all the hysteria, the number of international migrants worldwide according to the latest United Nations estimate remains a small minority of the total population. Movement within national borders is still “overwhelmingly the norm,” it says.

The real change of recent years, says the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), is that the core drivers of displacement — geopolitics, technology and climate change — are intensifying, with a notable rise in irregular channels for migration as safe routes are closed off.

In the US, immigration at the southern border has risen up the agenda of voter concerns to become a totemic campaign issue for both main candidates in the presidential election.

But Washington is far from alone in struggling to balance the needs of its citizens with the influx of humanity seeking a better life — a migration dynamic which helped to build modern America.

The case studies below, from South Africa, New Zealand, Peru, Ireland and Denver, Colorado, show how the modern-day reality is impacting national and municipal governments worldwide, often in surprising locations and in unpredictable ways.


What’s clear is that the fallout is not just political but economic.

Businesses concerned at restricted access to international talent are starting to speak out. In the Netherlands, where the anti-immigration Freedom Party placed first in a November vote, central bank Governor Klaas Knot made the case that the country as a whole and firms like chipmaking giant ASML Holding NV in particular need migrants to prosper.

The IOM points to the evidence being clear that the flow of people beyond borders drives human development globally and helps to meet critical labor demand, while also enriching societies. Education levels vary widely of course, but almost three-in-four international migrants are of working age (20 to 64).

So an upgrade in the UK’s demographic outlook issued in January on the back of high migration flows may mean a bigger pool of workers and hence a larger economy.


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