"International Migration Trends," Presentation by John Slocum at Chicago Matters event
November 29, 2006 | Speech | Migration, Human Rights

Good morning. My name is John Slocum; I direct the Initiative on Global Migration and Human Mobility – a relatively new grantmaking area at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation here in Chicago.  I would like to express my appreciation to the Chicago Community Trust for extending the invitation to me to speak this morning. 

In the brief time allotted, I will try to provide a broad brushstroke, big picture of international immigration trends and also describe MacArthur’s own emerging grantmaking activities in the field of international migration.

Before going further, let me raise a terminological point.  While today’s event appropriately focuses on immigrants and immigration, in my presentation I will also make heavy use of the terms migrant and migration. This choice of words is intended to capture several distinctions.  First, the term immigrant is always used relative to a specific country.  But every immigrant – a person entering a new country – is also simultaneous an emigrant – a person leaving a country of origin.  So Migrant is simply a more general term to describe such individuals.  Second, the term immigrant generally implies a one-way movement from country A to country B, whereas today much migration is back-and-forth or circular.  And third, the term migration captures the sense that immigration to the U.S. is a part of a global system of population movements.   


Now on to the big picture.  International migrants – defined as people living for at least one year outside their country of origin – now comprise nearly 200 million people, or three percent of the world’s population.   This number is comparable – though smaller in percentage terms – to other historic periods of migration.  During the first wave of globalization, from 1870 to 1914, an estimated ten percent of the world’s population migrated in search of work opportunities and a better life. 

Today, the contours of international migration have been transformed by inexpensive and reliable transportation and communication technologies.  As for the basic characteristics of global migration patterns, I would like to raise the following seven points. 

First, in the late 19th and early 20th century, global migration was essentially unregulated.  Today, throughout the world, migration is heavily regulated at the national level, and the right to control a country’s borders and limit access to residence and citizenship is seen as a strong prerogative of each sovereign nation-state.  But although there is a global system of international laws and rules for dealing with one subcategory of migrants – that is, refugees – there is little coherence and coordination between countries on the management of broader migration flows.

Second, migration is increasingly viewed as a transnational phenomenon – meaning that migrants maintain economic, political, and cultural ties in two countries, and they interact across national boundaries in ways that challenge the most basic assumptions of the older model of immigration.  Examples of migrant transnationalism include hometown associations and diaspora involvement in home-country politics.  Worldwide, the growing level of migrant remittances, now estimated at around 230 billion dollars, attests to the economic influence of migrants in their home countries. 

Third, circular or return migration is becoming more common, as are migratory patterns that include one or more countries of transit.  However, return migration among earlier immigrants to the United States was far more common than is usually imagined.  For example, some 2.2 million Italians came to the United States in the first decade of the 20th century – but, in the same timeframe, over a million people returned to Italy from the U.S.

Fourth, while the conventional image of the migrant is a man leaving his family behind in search of economic opportunity, women in fact make up nearly 50 percent of all international migrants, and are a larger proportion in certain parts of the world.  It is perhaps more surprising that this is not a new trend, and that as least as far back as the 1960s, women have made up almost half of all international migrants. 

Fifth, while we think of migration as primarily a South-to-North phenomenon, the scale of migration to the developed world is actually smaller than migration between developing countries.  In the year 2000, the latter pattern, so-called “South-South” migration – both across and within regions – accounted for 60 percent of all international migrants.    

Sixth, within the developed world, there has been an unprecedented increase in undocumented migration.  The undocumented migrant population in the United States is estimated at eleven to twelve million people; estimates of the undocumented population in Europe range from six to 15 million.  The grey and black markets for labor, largely unregulated by governments, have made it easier for human traffickers, smugglers and employers to exploit migrants.

Seventh, underlying all of the “push and pull” factors that are used to explain global migration flows, is the stark reality of global demographics.  The UN Population Division estimates that, in the period from 2005 to 2050, nearly 100 million migrants will leave poor countries for rich countries.  This level of migration will help offset population decline in the developed world, but it represents only four percent of the expected population growth in the developing world

Another question I’ve been asked to address is which countries are receiving which groups of migrants.  This is obviously a huge issue, but here are some highlights.  First, the ten countries with the largest international migrant stock, as of 2005, are the United States, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, France, Saudi Arabia, Canada,  India, the United Kingdom, and Spain.

A sampling of the largest single country of origin (of migrant flows) for some of these provides a snapshot of the world’s largest immigrant groups.  For the U.S., the largest sending country is Mexico; for Russia, it’s Kazakhstan; for Germany, it’s Poland; for France, Algeria; for Saudi Arabia, it’s South Asia (Bangledesh, India, and Pakistan account for 1 to 1.5 million migrants each); and for Canada, it’s China (37,280 in 2004).

To a certain extent, each world region represents its own migration system, but there is plenty of migration between regions, and again the popular view can sometimes be misleading.  For example, the headlines draw a great deal of attention to Muslim migrants in Europe – notably including Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, and Pakistanis in the UK.  But of Europe’s total migrant population of 64 million, at least a third are migrants from one European country to another.

I have also been asked to address the major differences between U.S. and European approaches to immigrant integration.  Again, this is a huge topic, but briefly, the bottom line is that it is easier for immigrants to integrate in the U.S. than it is in Europe.  This is due to a whole range of factors, including a more open economy with more flexible labor markets, a far more significant level of mobilization of immigrant advocacy groups and non-profit social service organizations, and the U.S. tradition of thinking of itself as an immigrant society – as opposed to the European tendency to define the nation in ethnic terms.  On the other hand, Europe is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to thinking systematically about how governments can use public policy to help further immigrant integration.  And on both sides of the Atlantic, immigration is too often seen as a threat, rather than an opportunity. 


Finally, a few words about the MacArthur Foundation’s work in this area.  We started our Migration Initiative at the beginning of 2006 with three goals: first, to develop improved understandings of global migration through support of policy-relevant empirical research and improved sources of data on migrant flows; second, to encourage better governance of migration at global, regional, and national levels; and third, to stimulate new thinking on broader issues of global human mobility.  During its first two years, the Initiative is focusing primarily on support for research and policy work in two substantive thematic areas: governance and development. 
In the governance area, we seek to contribute to an improvement in the norms and institutions for governance of international migration at the global, regional, and national levels.  On the development side, the Foundation is seeking to produce better understanding of the relationship between the movement of people and economic development.  We are looking at three main channels through which the global movement of people affects the economies of sending and receiving countries: worker remittances, labor mobility and brain drain, and diaspora networks. 

Thus far, the Migration Initiative has not focused specifically on immigration policy in the U.S., but some aspects of the MacArthur Foundation’s domestic grantmaking program are considering the role of immigrants in community and regional development.  And the Foundation is also supporting the work of the Governor’s New Americans Initiative, which is highlighting the importance of immigration to the State of Illinois, and encouraging immigrants to become citizens and participate fully in civic life. 

More information about the MacArthur Migration Initiative is available in a handout or on the Foundation’s website, www.macfound.org

Thank you, and I look forward to the rest of the day’s discussion.

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