International Herald Tribuneopinion

Subscribe to the newspaper
Find out more >>


Remove all clippings Remove all read clippings

Letting down Lebanon at the United Nations
Collapsing claims set back cloning
Other Views: China Daily, The Daily Star, Miami Herald


Powered by Ultralingua

Send a letter to the editor


(+) FONT   (-) FONT

Put migration on the public agenda

Philip Bowring

GENEVA Around the world, migration is increasing - and is likely to continue to do so, because of the confluence of easy travel with expanding global income and deepening demographic divides. But it is a hard task finding governments with a coherent policy on migration, let alone one that is linked to social, economic and environmental issues.
Recent reports by the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration lay out both the numbers and migration's potential, if properly managed, to benefit source and destination alike - and the ambitions of individuals. There are few more natural human processes, the triumph of individual ambition over inherited loyalties.
But all too often, immigration is a dirty word, to be avoided by government or exploited by racists in the populist media. Just look at the past few days alone:
In France, in the wake of the riots, government has announced a crackdown on illegal immigration. Whatever its short-term results, knee-jerk action has no grounding in a broader policy that addresses the pull factor in such migration and the expectations of society. Where are the fundamental questions: How many migrants do we think we want or need? Where should they come from? What education levels they should have? And so forth.
In Britain, a major report on the future of pensions and the retirement age has just been released. Clearly the future age distribution is crucial to any pension policy, and migration is an important ingredient (albeit rather less so than the fertility rate). Yet this document stays well clear of the migration minefield.
In the United States, the question of illegal migrants, especially from Mexico, is the focus of major proposed legislation. Yet there is scant debate on overall migration policy and its links to fast-changing demographics. Administration emphasis is not on the broader issue of how many and from where, but on being tough on illegals while catering to the needs of business for a revolving door of cheap labor through a "guest worker" program.
The World Trade Organization is about to hold a crucial meeting on trade liberalization. There has been no progress on the one part of the WTO that directly touches on migration - movement of service industry workers under the so-called Mode 4 section of the General Agreement on Trade in Services, even though so far it has only been applied to highly skilled workers. WTO talks are supposed to be a "development round," and migration has an enormous role to play both in raising global living standards and reducing global income disparities.
No one doubts that migration is a sovereign issue, that states have a right to determine entry, whether permanent or temporary, to choose according to occupation, race, language and religion in the interests of social stability or economic need. But coherent policies can come about only if options are freely discussed. Migration will always be a dirty word if people in recipient countries do not feel ownership of policy.
One crucial issue for all developed nations facing demographic challenges is whether to go down the route of countries like the Gulf states and Singapore and minimize permanent settlement while relying on a huge number of mostly very low paid foreign temporary workers. Japan, Korea and Taiwan are to a lesser degree following this path because of reluctance to "dilute" the national gene pool with foreigners - though in Japan "overstayers" may defeat officialdom, and Taiwan has taken to importing thousands of brides from Vietnam and China.
Guest worker programs are favored by source countries because remittances may be higher and returning workers may take home new skills. But they bring even bigger benefits to the citizens of the recipient countries, who get cheap nannies and workers who pay taxes but make minimal claims on government resources and have no pension rights.
Should the guest worker solution be applied in Europe and North America in the hope of avoiding the social frictions that come with permanent settlement? Or is dependence on such a foreign underclass without political rights morally corrosive, a modern form of bonded labor, of non-chattel slavery?
Another crying need is to make the populations of rich countries - now including several in East Asia - face up to the choices among ever longer working lives; tax disadvantages for those who expect a pension but do not invest in propagating a younger generation; increases in permanent migration; or dependence on a variable supply of temporary guest workers from impoverished nations.
In short, migration needs to be near the top of many a nation's public agenda.
previous next
   Subscriptions | E-mail Alerts
Site Feedback | Terms of Use | Contributor Policy | Site Map
About the IHT | Privacy & Cookies | Contact the IHT   
   Subscribe to our RSS Feed
Copyright 2005 the International Herald Tribune All rights reserved