Push Factors
Push Factors

Push factors come in many forms. Sometimes these factors leave people with no choice but to leave their country of origin. Below are three examples of push factors that drive people to emigrate from their home countries.

Lack of Jobs/Poverty: Economic factors provide the main motivation behind migration. In fact, according to the International Labour Organization, approximately half of the total population of current international migrants, or about 100 million migrant workers, have left home to find better job and lifestyle opportunities for their families abroad (International Labour Office of the Director-General, 2008). In some countries, jobs simply do not exist for a great deal of the population. In other instances, the income gap between sending and receiving countries is great enough to warrant a move. India, for example, has recently experienced a surge in emigration due to a combination of these factors (Index Mundi 2012).

The greatest challenge facing India is creating enough jobs for its burgeoning population. India’s unemployed sector has never been properly estimated, but it could total as much as 121 million people (Index Mundi 2012). The number of skilled workers graduating from Indian universities is also continuing to increase. Meanwhile, the amount of domestic jobs available to university graduates is minimal. Only about 2.7 million jobs were created between 2004-2005 and 2009-2010.  Job creation has improved in recent years, but unemployment rates still remain extremely high throughout India (The Economic Times, 2013). This imbalance will not keep skilled workers in the country.

Instead, many graduates from Indian universities migrate to the U.S., where their skills and lower wage demands appeal to high-tech companies. In fact, about 40 percent of recent immigrants from India to the U.S. have been accepted due to employment-based preferences, thus showing the high degree of American corporations’ demand for Indian skilled labor (Alarcon, 2007). As the Indian population grows, and more students graduate from technical universities, India may experience a great deal more emigration.

While the case of India described above represents skilled/professional labor migration, similar trends apply to low skilled migrant laborers, who may leave home countries due to lack of demand and/or low wages for their work and excess need for this kind of work elsewhere. The influx of low skilled laborers from Latin America into the U.S. to accommodate the growing service sector provides an example of this alternate form of labor migration.

Civil Strife/War/Political and Religious Persecution:  Some migrants are impelled to cross national borders by war or persecution at home. These immigrants may be considered refugees or asylum seekers in receiving countries. The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defined the qualifications for such migrants and bound signatory countries not to return these newcomers to places where they could be persecuted.According to the text put forth by the Convention, a refugee is “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion” (1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).

In 2011, the total worldwide “population of concern,” which includes refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and stateless persons was estimated to number 35.4 million people; 10.4 million of those people were refugees. Additionally, 80 percent of the refugee population was hosted by developing, rather than developed nations (UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2011).

The Syrian Civil War, which began in the spring of 2011, provides an extreme example of the relationship between internal violence and the emigration of refugees.   The war has included horrific violence between government forces and rebel groups attempting to overthrow the Assad regime, resulting in more than 80,000 deaths as well as extensive human rights atrocities (Abedine et al, 2013).  As a result of the deteriorating conditions in Syria, which include the alleged use of chemical weapons, torture, civilian massacres and so on, Syrian citizens have fled in mass numbers. As of May 2013, more than four million Syrians were internally displaced and over 1.5 million had vacated the country to neighboring states as refugees.  These numbers have drastically increased as circumstances have become more dire; one million of the total refugee population has fled during the first five months of 2013 alone, and the UNHCR suggests that these estimates may be significantly undercounted (Abedine et al, 2013). 

Despite the existence of real conflicts such as the Syrian Civil War, however, the governments of many developed countries continue to treat would-be refugees and asylum-seekers as economic migrants looking for an easier way to escape poverty in the developing world. For example, the U.S. has declared that most Haitian emigrants are fleeing because of widespread impoverishment rather than the social and political strife that plague Haiti.  As a result, the U.S. government does not afford certain privileges allocated to refugees to all Haitians arriving in the U.S. If Haitian immigrants come to the U.S. through unauthorized channels, which many do, they must pass a rigorous examination of their qualifications as refugees or asylum-seekers and if they fail, they are returned to Haiti.

Conversely, refugees from Cuba have encountered a far more welcoming reception in the U.S. during much of the 20th Century, though less so in the post-1980 period.  This may be due, in part, to the political strife between the U.S. and the communist government in Cuba, and the resulting willingness of the U.S. government to accept refugees of communism. Haitian-Americans and their supporters have protested what they call an unfair distinction in treatment of the two groups, while the U.S. government maintains that Haiti, though not a perfect democracy, is not a dictatorship such that Haitians deserve immediate consideration as refugees (Crosette, 1991).

Studies suggest that refugees have been able to better assimilate into the U.S. economy than traditional economic migrants. This may be due to the fact that refugees are more likely to expect a longer stay in their country of resettlement, therefore increasing the incentive to invest in skills that will allow them to take advantage of long-term economic opportunities (Cortes, 2004).  However, this trend may also be related to resettlement programs and other privileges allocated to refugees (like Cuban migrants in the U.S.) that often aren’t available to other immigrants (Crosette, 1991).  Regardless of the reason behind it, this finding contradicts the popular notion that refugees exact a serious financial or resource-draining burden on their country of resettlement.

Environmental Problems: Environmental problems and natural disasters often cause the loss of money, homes, and jobs. In the middle of the 19th century, for example, Ireland experienced a famine never before seen in the country’s history. By late fall 1845, the main staple of the Irish diet, the potato, was practically wiped out. With the government not clear on how to respond, many people died of starvation. The famine killed hundreds of thousands and forced millions of Irish to flee.  Between 1841 and 1851, the Irish population decreased by 1.6 million people, or approximately 17% of the total population, due to starvation and emigration (Daniels 2002).

These emigrants were also encouraged to leave Ireland by their English landlords, who often rented out unseaworthy vessels that became known as “coffin ships,” and by the British government, which offered cheap fares to Canada. The large population of Americans and Canadians of Irish descent, especially in Boston, New York, and Chicago, can trace its ancestry to this period (Daniels 2002). More recently, the term “environmental refugee” has been adopted to describe migrants fleeing environmental disasters.  See the following section to find more information about environmental crises that have produced migration streams during the contemporary period.

Other push factors include “primitive” conditions, natural disasters, poor medical care, as well as slavery and political fear.

For additional information on the conflict in Tibet, please click here: The Impact of Globalization on Tibet.

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