Transnational flows of goods and capital have driven globalization during recent years.  These flows have been made possible by the gradual lowering of barriers to trade and investment across national borders, thus allowing for the expansion of the global economy.  However, states have often firmly resisted applying similar deregulatory policies to the international movement of people.

As noted by the World Bank in its report, “Globalization, Growth, and Poverty,” while countries have sought to promote integrated markets through liberalization of trade and investment, they have largely opposed liberalizing migration policies. Many countries maintain extensive legal barriers to prevent foreigners seeking work or residency from entering their national borders. In fact, immigration policies across the world are becoming stricter as governments attempt to minimize the economic, cultural, and security impacts of large movements of people between nations.

Despite the reluctance of governments to liberalize immigration policy, however, the number of people living outside their countries of origin has risen from 120 million in 1990 to an estimated 215 million in 2012 (The World Bank, 2012), which is approximately 3.05 percent of the world population.

“Today, the number of people living outside their country of birth is larger than at any other time in history. International migrants would now constitute the world’s fifth most populous country if they all lived in the same place” (UNFPA).

A 2009 study conducted by Gallup Polls across 135 countries reveals that 16 percent of the world’s adult population would like to move permanently to another country if they had the chance. However, these numbers seem to vary by region.  According to polls taken from 2007 – 2009, 38 percent of sub-Saharan Africans want to migrate, while only 10 percent of Asians want to permanently leave their home country. The U.S. is the most desirable destination country, according to those polls (Espisova, Ray, 2009).  

A variety of reasons lie behind migration. People may migrate in order to improve their economic situation, or to escape civil strife, persecution, and environmental disasters. Traditionally, the reasons encouraging an individual to migrate were categorized as “push” or “pull” factors. Globalization has introduced a third set of motivations called “network” factors, which include free flow of information, improved global communication and faster and lower cost transportation. While network factors are not a direct cause of migration, they do facilitate it.

As well as encouraging migration, globalization also produces countervailing forces. For example, as businesses grow and become more internationalized they often outsource their production to developing countries where labor costs are lower. This movement of jobs from developed nations to the developing world mitigates certain economic factors leading to migration. In other words, in a global economy jobs can move to potential migrants instead of migrants moving to potential jobs.

The impacts of migration are complex, bringing both benefits and disadvantages. Immigration provides a supply of low cost labor for host countries, while remittances from emigrant workers can be an important source of foreign income for sending nations. On the other hand, immigration can stoke resentment and fear towards newcomers in receiving states, as immigrants are discriminated against, accused of lowering wages and associated with crime, among other complaints. For the economies of sending nations, emigration leads to a loss of young, able-bodied, well-educated and otherwise economically valuable citizens

This Issue in Depth is designed to help you understand the causes of migration, the allocation of benefits, and the ways in which individual countries and the international community deal with this important subject. The Issue in Depth addresses primarily voluntary economic migration, that is, migrants who relocate to a foreign country as temporary workers or legal immigrants. These categories of migrants are perhaps the most controversial as governments struggle to create a migration policy that effectively acknowledges economic necessity and domestic apprehensions. Civil conflict and oppression create different patterns of migration in the form of refugees and asylum seekers. These types of migration, however, are not causally related to globalization and are only briefly discussed below.



Next: Migration in an Earlier Era of Globalization