Human migration policy after the 2015 MDGs expire

We are living in an unprecedented age of human mobility. It is estimated that nearly 250 million people around the world are living as migrants. Some migrated across national borders as political, environmental and economic refugees, some as forced migrants and some simply to seek opportunities for work. This number is expected to reach 400 million by 2050.

Remittances (money sent from migrants to family and friends back home) totaled nearly $600 billion, triple the amount of international foreign aid. Migrants tend to save just as much, which could be a major source of capital to fund local business enterprises.

Despite it’s importance and magnitude, migration was not included in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which really should coe as no surprise. Calls for the protection of migrant rights and for the relaxation of onerous taxation laws which skim off the top of remittances are both the responsibility of governments, specifically governments of countries which host migrants. The MDGs were notable in that they demanded little change to how governments operate in developing countries and demanded almost nothing of the wealthy countries which depend on migrants as a source of cheap labor.

A report from the office of the UN Special Representative for International Migration came out today with specific policy recommendations for the Sustainable Development Goals, which are set to replace the expiring MDGs.

Migration patterns are likely to evolve in response to demographic imbalances, development dynamics and environmental changes. While three quarters of international migrants today move to a country with a higher Human Development Index (HDI) than their country of origin, much of that movement is to non-OECD countries. Nearly half of all international migrants move within their region of origin and about 40 percent move to a neighbouring country. Emigration rates are highest for small and remote countries, many of them small island developing states (SIDS).

As distasteful as some people find it, the economies of the United States, Europe and, to a less obvious extent, Japan, depend on migration to function. Large economies are characterized by falling populations as families have fewer and fewer children and by a constant need to cheap and efficient labor.

Closing borders works well to insure poor working conditions and near slave-labor compensation schemes. Insuring adequate protection for migrant labor and systems which effectively integrate them into the greater economy can benefit everyone.

An aside, I enjoy it when people make arguments that increased immigration will increase the supply of labor reducing wages overall. The flawed economic assumption here is that demand for labor is constant, that is, the demand for good and services is a fixed and unchanging number. This is entirely incorrect. An influx of migrants creates new demand for goods and services by introducing a new set of potential customers which must eat, house themselves and enjoy basketball games on the weekend.

I’m an advocate of open borders. If someone wants to come to the US and work, start a business big or small, take advantage of educational opportunities for their kids or themselves, then by all means, let them. We could use the money.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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