Causes of Migration full text

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Much migration research has focused on the causes of migration. These debates cannot be summarized here, but clearly are central to any assessment of likely future. However, it seems to me that, despite major conceptual differences, all the major theories lead to the conclusion that migration is likely to grow.

Demographic explanations point to the structural disparities between areas with stagnant economies but high rates of fertility, and areas with fast- growing economies but declining fertility (Hugo, 1998), The most dramatic case is Western and Southern Europe, where total fertility rates have fallen as low as 1 .2 children per woman — far below the number needed to reproduce the population. The result is a rapidly aging population and a lack of people of working age, leading to severe labor shortages, particularly in low-skilled jobs. Just south across the Mediterranean are the countries of North Africa with their high fertility rapid rates oflabor force growth, and lack ofjobs for the new entrants. The result is strong pull and push factors, encouraging young workers to migrate northwards, despite the legal barriers put up by ‘fortress Europe.’ Japan is a similar case: the collapse of fertility and the aging ofthe population make restrictions on overseas labor recruitment hard to sustam: who will do the ‘3-D jobs’ (dirty, demanding and dangerous) if foreign workers are not allowed in? Recent debate on the need for foreign women workers for aged care indicate that restrictions may soon be revised (Hirano etaL, 2000).

Neo-classical economics — which has had a dominant influence on migration policy in many Western countries — focuses on individual expectations of higher wages and better economic opportunities in destination areas compared with the place of origin. The income gap between poor and rich countries should be sufficient reason to make a ‘rational choice’ to migrate. In this free market model, international migration should in the long run lead to convergence ofwage levels in sending and receiving countries, and thus to a long-term decline in migration. The shortcomings ofthis model in explain- ing actual movements have been repeatedly shown (see Castles and Miller, 1998:Ch. 2; Massey et aL, 1993). Moreover, it is clear that wage equilibrium does not in fact result, for income disparities between developed and less- developed countries continue to increase. In the terms of the neo-classical model, these growing disparities should lead to increased migration in the future.

The new ‘economics of migration’ approach puts more weight on collective elements in migration decision-making: migration is part of family and community survival strategies, and is shaped by long-term considerations ofsecurity and sustainability, as well as by the role of remittances and invest- ment opportunities (Stark, 1991; Taylor, 1999). On this basis, we should also expect migration to increase in the future, since the high degree of insecurity in many areas of origin makes it highly rational to send a family member to a different and hopefully more stable economy. Adepoju shows that migration in Africa is closely linked to family strategies of high investment of their scarce resources in the education of one family member — usually the oldest male child. Since crisis-ridden local economies make it hard to realize the benefits of this investment, the result is often emigration in search of better conditions in other African countries (such as the Republic of South Africa or Gabon), or an attempt at illegal migration to the North. Similarly, migration may be a rational attempt to mitigate the dramatic effects of structural adjustment programs on the family. Such programs typically lead to cuts in education and health systems, and to reduction of employment opportunities, making emigration a ‘coping mechanism of last resort’ (Adepoju, 2000:385).

Historical-institutional approaches emphasize the role of large-scale institutions, particularly corporations and states, in initiating and shaping migratory flows. Mass recruitment of labor by capital and labor market authorities was a key factor in bringing about migration to Western Europe after 1945. Similarly, contract labor systems have been crucial in migration to the Gulf oil countries and to some Asian countries like Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. Even in the United States, with its emphasis on market forces, the state played a major part in initiating labor flows from Mexico and the Caribbean through wartime labor recruitment programs. The emphasis on the role ofthe state in the historical-institutional approach might lead one to think that migration could be curtailed if state strategies change. Such belieft have always been the basis of guestworker systems, and still underpin ideas of legal and bureaucratic regulation of migration. However, experience has shown that migratory movements, once started, develop their own dynamics and cannot easily be stopped. An important reason for this lies in interest conflicts between powerful groups in receiving countries. For instance, when the Malaysian government sought to repatriate large numbers of migrant workers during the Asian Crisis of 1997—99, plantation owners quickly intervened, claiming that they could not function without migrant workers. This led to a watering down ofrestrictive policies (Pillai, 1999). Similar interest conflicts can be found in the United States, where farm employers lobby for the right to employ Mexican laborers, or in Germany where employers point out that they cannot get local workers for the construction industry.

Sociological explanations of migration focus on the importance of cultural and social capital. Cultural capital refers to knowledge of other societies and the opportunities they offer, as well as information about how to actually go about moving and seeking work elsewhere. Clearly, globalization helps make this cultural capital available by beaming images ofWestern lifestyles into the most remote villages. Improved literacy and basic education also contribute to the ability to move. Social capital refers to the connections needed to migrate safely and cost-effectively. It is well known that most migrants follow ‘beaten paths’ and go where their compatriots have already established a bridgehead, making it easier to find work and lodgings, and deal with bureaucratic obstades. Older migration scholars spoke of ‘chain migration,’ while in recent years much emphasis has been put on ‘migration networks’ and the way these develop as links between communities at home and in destination areas. These net- works are much facilitated by the improved communications and transport technologies ofglobalization, and are therefore gaining in strength and salience. Networks are a further &ctor that helps sustain and transform migration when the original cause of a movement is removed. For instance, when the German government stopped labor migration from Turkey in 1973, flows continued and grew in the shape of fmily reunion, asylum-seekers and illegal migrants which all used transit paths and community infrastructures established in the previous period (Martin, 1991).

A full explanation of contemporary migration would need to combine all these — and other — explanations, and show how the various aspects interact in a dynamic process. Many other elements could be added, such as the way labor migration often paves the way for development ofcommercial activities, so that new migrant or ethnic middle-classes emerge. Another important issue is the way in which migration has become ‘a diverse international business, wielding a huge budget, providing hundreds and thousands ofjobs worldwide, and man- aged by a set of individuals, agencies and institutions each of which has an interest in promoting the business’ (Salt and Clarke, 2000:327). The emergence of this migration industr which ranges from major banks and travel agencies through to illegal traffickers, is a major factor sustaining migratory movements in the face of attempts at restriction. The combined effect of all the causes of migration outlined is that inter- national migration seems set to continue growing in the future. Indeed, as glob- alization reduces barriers to flows, it seems likely that the rate of increase in migration may accelerate. This does not imply that national and international attempts at migration control are irrelevant. They may well influence the size and character of flows to specific destinations. However, it seems unlikely that attempts to radically curtail migration can succeed in the face of the powerful forces which bring about flows.