HUMAN migration and mobility is an age-old phenomenon touching almost every society around the world.
However, current migration dynamics across the world have become topical amid many misconceptions. Since migration is a complex issue, it is often exacerbated by misinformation and politicisation to alarming degrees.
Negative perceptions about migrants are driven by racist alarmism, which is propelled by fear of intermingling races and the myth of purity.
The United States cities that received most European migrants in the golden age of European migration benefited economically from them.
Surprisingly the same people triggered widespread and hostile political reactions, such as, the cutting of taxes and public spending in response to recent immigration.
Notable is the anti-migrant rhetoric in most European political parties failing to reconcile the liberal traditions they want to uphold. There is a general belief that migrants are poor, less educated, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to live on government hand-outs than they actually are.
These distorted facts are often abused by politicians in the run up to elections as a mimic electoral tactic. As a result, the vote share of the Democratic Party, which supported immigration, declined.
This panic and negativity is unwarranted if actual evidence is to be considered. Notably the fraction of international migrants in the world population in 2017 was roughly 3% between 1960 and 1990, while in Europe, most legal migrants of about 1,5 to 2,5 million are people with job offers or those who are to join their families.
What drives migration?
Nearly two thirds are labour migrants, driven by the search for greener pasture.
Recent trends from countries with high immigration rates, such as, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, reveal the goal of immigration is to encourage youthful and high skilled immigrants in order to build their human capital to augment their ageing labour force.
For instance, Canada has an ageing labour force, with an estimated five million Canadians set to retire by 2035 with fewer people working to support seniors and retirees.
Furthermore, in these countries, immigrants are widely perceived as being highly entrepreneurial and important for economic growth and innovation.
This is reflected in immigration policies of many developed countries, which have created special visas and entry requirements to attract immigrant entrepreneurs. Immigrant entrepreneurs to Canada are known to be highly entrepreneurial across all categories of entry.
While poverty is often cited as the key driver of immigration, recent trends in migration refute this. Places that people have been very desperate to leave such as Iraq, Syria and Guatemala are by far the poorest.
These are places where life has become intolerable because of unpredictability. Migration becomes the most feasible option when one reaches that point when home becomes the mouth of a shark, from the unpredictability and violence brought upon them by the drug wars in Northern Mexico, the military junta in Guatemala, civil wars in the Middle East, conflict in Yemen, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, the war in Ukraine, lava bombs in Iceland, then home will not let you stay.
There have also been large-scale displacements triggered by climate- and weather-related disasters in many parts of the world in 2020 and 2021, including in China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, the United States and Haiti.
Benefits accruing to immigrants are unduly overstated, as focus is mostly on the wages of those who moved rather than the many reasons behind their move.
Given the risks embedded in migration, which is often a plunge into the unknown laced by a morass of uncertainties, not knowing how the market will value their skills, where to find potential employers, and how long it will be before they settle, thus focusing only on their wages is misguided.
It is the migrants with the special drive, those with an ability to dream, not the richest or most educated who make it. That is why we find so many entrepreneurs among them.
However, there are instances of certainty for migrants, who go to work in Canada, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates with employment contracts tied to a specific employer.
However, reality is that there is usually a disconnect between their skills and job requirements upon migration. Mounting evidence also shows there are systemic barriers in the labour market and an inability among many recent highly skilled newcomers to find employment that is commensurate with their education and experience, resulting in a significant amount of brain waste. Due to the sunk costs of migration they often take up menial jobs and end up being worse off.
What does the future look like?
Digital technology is becoming increasingly crucial throughout migration. Technological advances since 2005, resulting in the so-called “fourth industrial revolution”, are profoundly changing how social, political and economic systems operate globally.
We have been witnessing the rising power of “big tech”, the increasing production capability for self-publishing of misinformation and disinformation, the race by businesses to “digitalise or perish”, the massive increase in data being produced (mainly through user-generated interactions), resulting in increasing “datafication” of human interactions, and the rapid development and roll-out of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities within business and governments sectors.
Profound technological change was deepening before Covid-19, but has significantly intensified during the pandemic, meaning that deep digitalisation of an already digitalising world will be one of the most significant long-term effects of Covid-19.
Shaping migration and mobility systems to reduce the impacts of inequality in a world that is suffering multiple “digital divides” will be particularly important in ensuring implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other multilateral agreements.
Other connections between migration and technology are also emerging in migration debates. As artificial intelligence technologies are progressively taken up in key sectors, their broader consequences for migrant worker demand and domestic labour markets are areas of intense focus for policymakers and businesses in both origin and receiving countries.
Recent discussions have also turned to blockchain technology and its consequences for migration, especially for international remittances, but also for digital identities and global mobility.
Social media technology is also increasingly impacting the politics of migration, with a surge of far-right activism on social media platforms seeking to influence public debates and ultimately political decisions.
An introspection of Zimbabwe
The number of international migrants was estimated to be almost 281 million globally in 2020, a figure which is a very small percentage of the world’s population (at 3,6%), meaning that the vast majority of people globally (96,4%) were estimated to be residing in the country in which they were born.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has an estimated 30% of its people living outside the country, leaving behind a country with a huge mineral endowment of over 40 different minerals, huge tracts of arable land, a literacy rate of 87%, one of the world’s best climates, among some of its favourable attributes. Could the benefits of migration outweigh the opportunity cost of finding a national solution to the countries` migration push factors? The prevailing electioneering environment could present a platform to diagnose and find sustainable solutions for a progressive Zimbabwe.
- Mandeya is an economist at Salvo Consultancy. These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe.— firstname.lastname@example.org and mobile No. +263 772 382 852.