Globalisation and Migration: some reflections on the
connection between two inter-related global phenomena
Antonios K. Papantoniou/Doris Peschke/Torsten Moritz
A Council of Europe 20/04/09
Globalisation and migration represent two of the most dynamic global socio-political trends of our present time. While both have their own driving dynamic, they are highly interrelated. Globalisation has an ambivalent and somehow contradictory influence on the current migratory flows. On the one hand it creates situations and conditions which increase the pressure and intensify the desire to migrate: Growing economic inequalities, extreme poverty, breaking down of national economies, declining of traditional industry, environmental degradation, revival of tribal, ethnic, and religious fundamentalism, conflicts and wars, to name only a few of the direct or indirect results of globalisation, contribute towards migration understood as a «survival strategy». A considerable number of the estimated 150 million people working outside their countries of origin have been forced in to migration by the economic consequences of the globalised economy.
The revolution in communication; the easiness and low cost of information flow and geographical movement of persons; the daily projection of prosperity and affluence pictures at a global scale; the cultivation through the mass media of the illusion of an increased familiarity with the North and accessibility of the Western way and quality of life to everyone living in the Western countries intensify the desire of participation - particularly among those who, for political or economic reasons, lived up to now isolated and deprived -and constitute a great temptation and an urge towards taking over the risk to migrate.
The functioning of a national economy increasingly depends on the fast availability of a (small) number of high-skilled migrants and a higher number of migrants belonging to the pool of low-paid workers (often undocumented workers constituting cheap and flexible but also vulnerable labour force). The capacity to manage and steer migration movements towards a country has thus become an important element of the global competitiveness for a global economy.
In addition, the demographic developments in most Northern industrialized countries will pose enormous challenges to the societies. A far greater percentage of the population will be part of the older generation with more demands on the social and health services. At the same time, most of these societies will decrease in numbers dramatically over the next years. While most of the related problems require structural responses, they will also require active migration policies. A number of countries, among them major European states, have already started active recruiting policies.
On the other hand globalisation constitutes a restraining force, counteracting migration: Globalisation prioritizes the importance of capital and downgrades significantly the role and relative power of the labour in the globalised economy. Particularly in the developed economies of the North since the early 70's the value of the unskilled labour force has dramatically decreased resulting to the official stop of immigration. The EU countries decided to apply -even though unsuccessfully-a policy of «zero migration», imposing continuously new and additional controls, restrictions and barriers to the entry of migrants originating from the so called «third countries».
The downgrading of the significance of the factor «labour» partially explains also the fact that powerful governments, TNCs and the «globalising» IGO's like WTO and IMF, while undertaking intensive efforts to achieve freedom of movement of goods and capital, show a limited interest to promote the free movement of persons, if so it is often restricted to the«global elite».
In parallel, TNC's transferring their economic activities where labour is cheap, flexible and unregulated, environmental protection minimal and taxes very low, contribute indirectly in counteracting migration. However as recent surveys show this trend is far less important than originally anticipated.
Global exchange at present is dominated by a few countries, and even more so corporations, which have the freedom, and resources, to travel and to decide where they want to stay, produce or sell. This domination extends to the migratory movements. One of the most significant repercussions of globalisation on migration is the transfer of the economic policies of «privatisation» and deregulation on the formation of migratory movements. While until the decade of the 60's, migratory movements were organised and took place with the participation and the collaboration of states and enterprises, the actual migrations constitute a purely private enterprise and are linked to many «entrepreneurial risks». In the context of the globalising markets, the global, fast and flexible movement of labour (a small percentage of highly skilled workers as well as a big number of cheap often undocumented workers) becomes an important key element of successful economic development. Labour migrants could thus be key players in the process towards a globalising economy - both as those largely profiting from and setting the agenda of globalisation as well as potential objects and victims of globalization processes.
In this frame restriction policies of the EU prove ineffective from the moment that there is a demand for cheap and flexible labour (a small percentage of highly skilled workers as well as a big number of cheap often undocumented workers), in order to secure the conditions for a successful response to the strong pressures of global competition, the survival of the small and medium enterprises (SMI) and the protection of the sensitive sectors of the national economy. Proof for this is the formal and informal employment of thousands of seasonal workers in the European agricultural sector.
It is noteworthy that a whole global industry has developed around migration. This industry includes both those activities related to the trafficking of human beings (creating alarming new structures of slavery through forced labour and debt enslavement) as well as the provision of "services" of smuggling human beings to those seeking to migrate. Revenues in this area are extremely high and exploitation of those concerned fierce. Given the initiative of most government in immigration countries to further limit the possibilities for legal entry into their countries, it is foreseeable that the migration industry will continue to boom and the levels of exploitation connected with it become more fierce.
Some other considerations on the important link between globalisation and migration: The countries of the South of Europe, as well as the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, candidates to join the EU, constituting the external borders of the EU have turned into «control instances» and «Waiting Rooms» for would be immigrants to the «core» countries of the EU. The restrictive policies of the EU have as final result that migrants and particularly asylum seekers are pushed to the «periphery» with all the negative repercussions linked with illegal migration and organized crime. We can thus see a parallel between the "outsourcing" of unwanted areas of production to the poorer countries of the periphery and the "outsourcing" of the common European responsibility to accommodate largely unwanted migration, including the obligation according to international conventions to provide protection, to the poorer countries of the periphery.
In a comprehensive approach for managing migration, development policies are seen as an important factor to reduce the migration figures from Southern countries. It has to be noted, however, that a successful development policy for poorer regions may reduce forced migration considerably; at the same time, increased education and skills lead to an increase of voluntary migration in search for improved employment possibilities in the short term as well. Many migrants, among them an increasing number of women, accept jobs below their qualification in order to gain an income sufficient to sustain their families remaining behind in the countries of origin.
The increased efforts of countries of the North to attract high-skilled migrants from countries of the South have additional consequences on the development chances for the countries of the South. The phenomenon of the "brain drain", which already has been experienced and analyzed for many years is becoming more and more severe as countries of the North are pursuing active recruiting strategies in the countries of the South. The fact that for example 75% of the doctors trained in the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Philippines are estimated to have left their country to work elsewhere significantly endangers the health system in these countries. Similarly, the aggressive recruitment of well-trained nurses from South Africa, undertaken now by private recruiting companies, is detrimental to establishing an efficient health service in South Africa.
The transfer of money by migrants constitutes an important economic contribution to the national economy for a lot of countries of the South. For many countries, the money sent home by migrants is one of the most important sources of foreign currency earnings. In many cases, these transfers help to create an unofficial social security system: families of migrants manage to survive despite their own financial difficulties - thanks to the transfers by relatives, who migrated. The World Bank estimates that remittances by migrant workers amount to 65 billion USD per year. The national economy of Turkey for example annually receives around 3 billion USD from remittances of migrant workers, compared to 1.5 Billion in official development assistance.
These few examples show the interrelated nature of globalisation and migration. A long-term economic development strategy, which is aiming at rebalancing globalisation will not create any sustainable results without taking into consideration the phenomena of migration. Monitoring and analyzing migration trends as well as trying to monitor and to influence migration policies thus needs to become an integral part of any development strategy in the times of globalisation. On the other hand, any efforts to influence migration policy will remain patchwork if not complemented by an analysis of the trends of globalisation and the promotion of sustainable models of economic globalisation.
It also seems necessary that churches lobby for the ratification of the UN convention for the rights of all Migrants and their family members (which so far was not ratified by a single EU member state) as an international, globally agreed standard, help in making the content of this declaration more known and advertising the fact that immigration has already in the UN Human Rights declaration of 1948 been recognized as a Human Right.