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Friday, December 16, 2011

IOM 2011 Migration Report

The International Organization of Migration has just published their 2011 World Migration Report.

IOM is a non-governmental organization that is "committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society" and they have been around for awhile - since 1951 in fact.

I enjoy reading these reports because they are a useful antidote to some of the vague and even hostile political rhetoric going on in the ramp up to the 2012 election.  When Claude Gueant, for example, talks about "too many immigrants" or claims that many bi-national marriages are fraudulent I want to raise my hand and ask, "Where are the facts, sir, that support these statements?"  Or when I read in the paper that France is "welcoming all the misery of the world?"  Again, show me the facts.  If you cannot or refuse to do so (or even worse you close your ears because you don't like what you're hearing) then I would say that France has bigger problems than immigration since the Education Nationale is obviously not doing its job.

And then, of course, there are unpalatable facts that never get mentioned because they do not conform to the party line or might damage national myths such as:  most migration is within regions (not from Africa or Asia to the US and Europe but within Africa or Asia or North America) or the statistics on the outbound (emigration) rates.  People come and people go.  Funny how the latter half of the equation is seldom mentioned.  I was floored to read that Mexico is reporting that so many Mexicans have left the US and so few are trying to get in that the effective net migration rate is now zero.  If this is true, it does make you wonder why the topic is even on the table and why politicians prefer to talk about that rather than the state of the U.S. economy.

Now, I am not so naive as to think that facts can't be manipulated and I admit people do lie for their own purposes.  When politicians move their lips, for example, you can be pretty sure that what is coming out of their mouths is either an outright falsehood or has been massaged beyond all recognition to have only a tenuous connection to what is objectively true.  So, looking for information instead of passively absorbing or reacting angrily to subjective statements is always a step in the right direction.  Let's have a look at what IOM has to say.

The first part of the report (the most interesting part) is divided up into two sections:  Communicating Effectively about Migration and the International Migration Review 2010/2011.  Let's take them in reverse order:

International Migration:  What inquiring minds want to know is to what extent the global recession has had an impact on migration (the MPI folks have a very good report about this and I have it on my Christmas list).   IOM says that international migration was pretty resilient to the economic shocks.  Lots of variation between regions but in general the recession did slightly reduce some of the flows to some destinations:  "In the USA, the number of foreigners entering the country dropped from 1,130,818 in 2009 to 1,042,625 in 2010; in the United Kingdom, the number dropped from 505,000 in 2008 to 470,000 in 2009; in Spain, it dropped from 692,228 in 2008 to 469,342 in 2009; in Sweden, from 83,763 in 2009 to 79,036 in 2010; and, in New Zealand, from 63,910 in 2008 to 57,618 in
2010." International migration came back in 2010 to about 214 million worldwide.  If you compare this to the number of internal migrants, which is about 740 million, you can see that internal migration is by far the higher number.

The unsettled situation in the Middle East and North Africa has been a real problem for international migrants.  Many foreign nationals were caught in these countries as the conflicts deepened and had trouble getting out and getting home.  In Libya 600,000 people left the country. Though "the media have often promoted the perception that the crisis in North Africa would result in much more irregular migration to Europe. In reality, a very small proportion of those displaced by the conflict took boats to cross the Mediterranean."  Most ended up in adjacent countries or went back home to Bangladesh, Chad and so on.

Perceptions about Migration:  Some very interesting conclusions from IOM.  Perceptions simply do not reflect reality:
One of the most consistent findings is the over-estimation of the absolute numbers of migrants in a given country/region or of the proportion of the population that migrants represent. Estimates tend to be even higher for irregular migrants. Research findings also show that when survey respondents are provided with more information about migrants/migration, rather than simply being asked if they think there are “too many migrants”, their responses tend to be more favourable. Findings are therefore influenced by prevailing conventional wisdom,
That "wisdom" can be radically wrong.  A few examples given on page 8 of the report:  Italians think that immigrants make up 25% of the population - the actual figure is 7%.  In the US, Americans think migrants are 39% of the population when it is really 14%.

IOM also points out that it is hard to know what the general public really thinks about immigrants because people define "migrant" differently and attitudes vary by group - age and class are two important variables.  In the UK in 2008 63% of the upper class thought there were too many immigrants but that level rose to 75% in the skilled working class.  There are also changes over time.  For example in Germany in 1984 79% of Germans thought there were too many migrants in Germany.  That number dropped to 53% in 2008.  Politicians might want to keep in mind that people change their minds and today's positions may become embarrassing liabilities later on.

But I saved the best for last which is their data on public perceptions about emigration.  Some places think this is a big problem -  countries like Argentina and Mexico but also Bulgaria and South Africa. In these countries public sentiment is firmly against people who leave.  Other places like Senegal and Australia have a very positive view of emigration.  The Australian attitude toward its diaspora is quite remarkable -  in 2004 a whopping 80% thought that their expatriates were "adventurous people prepared to try their luck and have a go overseas." 

What I've given you here is just a thin slice of the report based primarily on my areas of interest.  Yours may be different and so I encourage you to read the report in its entirety.  For me it raises even more questions than it answers but it has a good list of sources that I will be mining in the future in order to learn more and I will, of course, share what I find with you.

Bon weekend, everyone!

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