Global Migration


Contemporary patterns of global migration

There has been significant growth in the numbers of people migrating across international borders in the 21st century. 

In 2015, there were 244 million people living outside their country of origin. 

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The growth of migration is linked to globalisation and the fact that places are increasingly interconnected. The reasons for migration are diverse. Globally, the majority of migrants are economic migrants, seeking work and social opportunities, often sending money back to their family. There are also a growing number of refugees and asylum seekers. 

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The UN defines a long term migrant as a person who moves to a country other than his or her usual residence for a period of at least a year. 

A short term migrant is a person who moves for at least 3 months but less than a year. 

Population change = (births - deaths) +/- international migration 

Net migration = the difference between numbers of immigrants and emigrants for a particular country 

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How global migration can promote stability, econom


  • Migrant remittances are a source of foreign exchange which can contribute to economic stability of the recipient country.
  • Returning migrants, having acquired new ideas and values including democracy and equality, can contribute to peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

Economic growth:

  • The GDP and tax base of the host nation can be boosted by working migrants. 
  • Migrants can fill skill gaps and shortages in the labour market of a host country at local and national scales. 
  • Migrants as consumers themselves can stimulate local economies in a host country.
  • Migrant remittances can supplement household income, stimulate consumption, provide funds for local investment and stimulate local multiplier effects. 


  • Migrants can create networks which ease flows of skills, financial resources, values and ideas through their links to diaspora associations. 
  • Skills and knowledge acquired by returning migrants can be benefit to countries of origin. 
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How global migration can cause inequalities, confl


  • Countries of origin lose a proportion of the young, vibrant and fittest element of the labour force; this may contribute to downward economic spiral at local, regional and national scales. 
  • Migrant remittances can increase inequality between families who receive them and those who do not. 


  • Immigrant populations can place pressure on service provision such as education, health and housing in the host country. 
  • Social conflict can develop between host countries and newcomers; people of a particular culture or ethnic origin may find difficulty integrating. 
  • International borders can be areas of conflict for border control authorities, traffickers and illegal migrants.


  • Migrants are vulnerable to violation of their human rights as a result of forced labour, exploitation of women and children, and human trafficking.
  • Treatment of asylum seekers can include being held in detention centres, not being allowed to work and being supported on meagre financial resources for food, sanitation and clothing for the duration of application. 
  • The plight of refugees in terms of shelter, food, water, medicines and safety, including possibility of return to country of origin where risks are high.
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Inter-regional migrant flows

Many people have risked their lives fleeing conflict and instability in Africa and the Middle East in the last decade in order to reach European territory. 

Often having travelled overland across desert areas, the migrants are transported and sometimes set adrift in small vessels in the Mediterranean by the traffickers. 

One migration route is in the central Mediterranean from Libyan ports to Italy.

Numbers of migrants increased significantly in 2015, this became a major issue of rescue, border control and migrant welfare. 

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Intra-regional migrant flows

Migration between member states of the EU is common and of a large scale. This is explained in part by the Schengen Agreement which allows freedom of movement within most of the EU across its internal national borders. 

It can also be explained by recent EU expansion which has increased the potential number of migrants. The overriding motive for migration is economic. 

For example, Polish accession to the EU in 2004 stimulated a new wave of immigration from Poland to the UK. Polish migrants were attracted by greater employment opportunities, higher wages, between living standards and ease of return. 

Intra-regional migration within the EU is also explained by education, retirement, joining family and return flows. 

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Migration in the UK

In total over 5 million people born in the UK live abroard. Reasons for this include:

  • Employment opportunities
  • Retirement 
  • Family reunification 

There are also approximately 8 million foreign born people living in the UK. 

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Migration and Development

Migration can contribute significantly to development; it can be a positive process for stability, economic growth and socio-economic change. 

Inequalities in levels of development can be a cause of migration; this has a major influence on the direction and scale of global migrant flows. 

One statistical measure of international migration which is linked to development is the value of migrant remittances. There are private funds sent by migrants usually to the non-migrant members of the family. 

Remittances are of considerable importance in the development process. Migrant remittances to the more advanced countries, with higher HDI, are a lower percentage of the overall HDP. 

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Changes in the 21st Century

Conflict and persecution have increased the number of refugees - the main reasons for the large number of refugees globally include: the effects of conflict including personal safety, loss of homes etc, political persecution and violation of human rights, economic hardship including forced labour and mordern slavery, and the impacts of natural hazards.

Flows in South-South corridors are now equal in magnitude to those in South-North corridors - the main reasons for the increase are: restrictive administrative barriers for migrants from the South attempting to enter the North, the number of fast-growing economies in the South providing employment, increased awareness of opportunities in the South due to better communications, and preventative costs of moving to more distant, richer countries. 

Changes in national immigration and emigration policies - this can be illustrated with the example of Canada. Changes were made to its immigration policy in 2015 to address the skills gap in the labour market. Potential migrants are ranked on a point system which enables young, highly skilled immigrants to be fast tracked. 

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Changes in the 21st Century continued

Development of distinct corridors of bilateral flows - bilateral migration is simply the migrant flow between two countries. Whilst some bilateral corridors are long standing e.g. Mexico and the USA. There are new ones emerging in the last decade e.g. Sudan and South Sudan, due to large numbers of refugees. 

High concentration of young workers and female migrants - the main reason for international migration is economic, greater employment opportunities, higher wages and the possibility of remittances. Demand for workers in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East is an example of young labour driven migration. Also, globally there has been an increase in the number of women and girl migrants in the 21st century. This can be explained by their greater independence, status, freedom and increasing importance as main income earners. 

Economic globalisation leading to the emergence of new source areas and host destinations - traditional migration partnerships have remained strong, but in addition new places of origin and new destinations for migrants have emerged as the effects of globalisation have spread. An inter-regional example is the migration of highly skilled workers from China, India and Brazil to the USA. An intra-regional example is the return migration within the EU. This includes young workers who have achieved their pre-planned economic goals after two or three years by taking low skilled jobs abroad. 

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Brazil - EDC case study

Net migration loss of half a million between 2005-2009.

Increased migration between Brazil and neighbouring countries. 

Increased emigration of highly skilled workers to Europe and USA.

An influx of migrants from Haiti.

A rise in the number of international labour migrants due to the Olympics and World Cup.

Interdependence between Brazil and Portugal - long standing bilateral relationship. Brazil was former colony of Portugal. 

Interdependence between Brazil and USA - many thousands of low skilled economic migrants working in the USA are able to remit significant monies, while returning migrants having acquired skills and knowledge are able to contribute to development. 

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Brazil - EDC case study continued

Impact on Brazil's economic development:

  • Waves of immigration in different periods have contributed to the growth in agriculture and manufacturing sectors. 
  • Recent arrivals of highly skilled professionals with employment contracts have contributed to innovation and reducing gaps in the labour market. 
  • Emigration to USA has resulted in migrant remittances to Brazil.

Impact on Brazil's political stability:

  • Brazil has a stable and democratic political system; it is also a leading member of Mercosur and has helped South American integration and promotion of political stability. 
  • There are stable political relationships between Brazil and the countries with which it has significant bilateral migrant flows. 

Impact on Brazil's social equality:

  • There are inequalities in Brazilian society between different ethnic groups. Brazilians of African descent are most affected. 
  • Poverty concentration in the rural areas. Prejudice and discrimination in labour market.
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USA - AC case study

The USA has a strong influence on global migration. In 2013, there were 41.3 million immigrants living in the USA and this included 78 nationalities. 

There has been rapid growth in the number of immigrants entering the USA in the 21st century. 

Reasons for attractiveness of the USA to immigrants include: the possibility of obtaining a Green card and becoming a permanent resident, employment opportunities, wage differentials and educational opportunities. 

US immigration policy is based on the following principles: reunification of families, admission of migrants with skills valuable to the US economy, protecting refugees, promoting diversity and humanitarian relief. 

Interdependence - USA and Mexico - each of the two countries has its largest diaspora living in the other. Low skilled Mexicans contribute to the US economy. Wages are much higher than in Mexico, providing opportunities for remittances. Since the formation of NAFTA, bilateral trade between the two has grown significantly. 

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USA - AC case study continued


  • Immigrant populations take many of the low paid jobs.
  • US immigration policy aims to attract highly skilled and well qualified professional.
  • Most immigrants to the USA are in the young working age groups and contribute to the tax base. 
  • Immigrants are consumers themselves which helps job creation and business start ups. 


  • An estimated 11.5 million unauthorised immigrants live in the USA. Many illegal immigrants cross the border through Mexico. 
  • Integration of immigrant groups in the USA society. 
  • Where immigrant populations are concentrated and numerous, supply of resources and services have become an issue.
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Laos - LIDC case study

Net migration of -1.1 person per 1000.

1.3 million Laotians live abroad - mainly in Thailand (930,000).

There are only 20,000 foreign born immigrants living in Laos - mainly Vietnamese (10,000).

Immigration into Laos is mainly because of employment opportunities in government driven policies funded by the World Bank. 

Many Vietnamese immigrants work in construction and mining. 

Increasing developments in hydroelectric power industry require construction workers and some highly skilled engineers. 

Many people move to Thailand because in Laos much of the population are subsistence farmers, which holds no promise of financial gain. Daily minimum wage in Thailand is 300baht compared to 80baht in Laos. 

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Laos - LIDC case study continued

Interdependence between Laos and Thailand - the Laos-Thailand migrant corridor dominated numerically by the outward flow of unskilled Laotians to work in Thailand. Thailand has funded large health service development and a drugs treatment centre in Laos. Both members of COMMIT which helps combat human trafficking. 

Laos has limited influence on the global migration system because the government doesn't have an accurate record of migrants. It is therefore difficult to create policies and ways of developing and attracting migrants without the information to make decisions. Lots of human trafficking which cannot be recorded. The general population have limited skills. There is no control on the economies of the countries bordering Laos. 

Opportunities: the migration corridor between Laos and Thailand is one of the largest within ASEAN. It has helped to stimulate political and economic cooperation in terms of trade, investment and development policies. Bilateral relations with Vietnam also extend beyond reciprocal labour migration. Migrant remittances are very important to the life of reurnees and their families. 

Challenges: most economic migrants from Laos are low-skilled, of limited education and under 18 at their first migration. Many travel illegally and are vulnerable to human trafficking, forced labour and exploitation. There is a loss of skilled labour to Thailand. 

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