Immigration — and its dynamic effect on global development — has been the subject of many reports, studies, and debates. Its economic implications have shaped global industries for years and are changing the world for the better.
Global migration is a large-scale topic. Currently, there are an estimated 272 million international migrants, which account for 3.5% of the world’s population. While the percentage may seem relatively low, the number of migrants already surpasses some projections for 2050.
In a 2020 report by United Nations (UN), it was revealed that one in every 30 people is an international migrant. Europe and Asia alone host around 82 to 84 million immigrants. These regions were followed by North America, which houses almost 52 million international migrants.
Every year, the percentage of international citizens traversing borders increases and drastically impacts a country’s population size, cultural diversity, and economic productivity.
With the constant wave of settlers and refugees around the world today, a significant question arises — what exactly are the causes of immigration?
The Roots of Immigration
Immigration, in its simplest definition, is the movement of people from one place or country into another one. It is a simple yet fundamental aspect of human history.
Immigration is a concept that pre-dates existing laws. Long ago, nomadic tribes traveled from place to place to find fresh and fertile lands, pastures for their livestock, and rich areas for hunting and fishing.
In modern times, immigration still continues all over the world. In the past decade, the demographic composition of people traversing borders has significantly changed. This can be attributed to a wide range of factors that we can categorize into two groups — push and pull factors.
It is essential to examine these factors in order to perfectly understand the increase of global migration throughout the years.
Push and Pull Factors
To reach well-developed immigration and foreign policy solutions, it is important to recognize the driving factors that prompt individuals to migrate.
People around the globe immigrate for a wide array of reasons that we conceptualize as “push” and “pull” factors.
Push factors are reasons that compel or push people to leave the area of where they reside and settle someplace else. Common factors can include armed conflict, disaster exposure, gender inequality, lack of job opportunities, political corruption, and lack of access to competent healthcare and education. In simple terms, push factors are negative reasons that prompt individuals to leave.
Pull factors are, on the other hand, the exact opposite of push factors. They attract or pull people to move and settle in a particular area. Common pull factors may include better work opportunities, greater security, and access to adequate healthcare and education. Simply put, pull factors are positive reasons that prompt individuals to move.
Immigration, however, is not as simple as being pulled and pushed for merely a few reasons. The push and pull framework is a combination of factors that encourage a person to leave a place of origin and factors that draw a person to a destination.
Push and pull factors are never the same for everyone, and the reasons for immigration are unique to each individual.
However, even though factors can change depending on age, gender, health, social class, and ethnicity, a push or pull factor may describe a pattern that can be attributed to many different reasons.
Quality of Life Factors
Conditions that influence an individual’s quality of life vary from person to person, but may be the leading factors leading to immigration. These can include labor standards, poverty, and the overall state of a country to provide a quality life.
In most cases, people are pulled by work opportunities in a certain area which aren’t available in their place of origin. Data analysis has even shown that there is an increase in the immigrant’s quality of life due to migration that is reflected in financial status and job satisfaction.
People from places like Syria (which has a high unemployment rate of 50%) often immigrate to escape poverty and lack of work opportunities. Numerous developed countries, including the United States, provide a network or social platform that proves to be advantageous for people hailing from less developed countries.
Immigrant workers (people who migrate to pursue work) represent nearly two-thirds of the international migrants in 2017 — standing at roughly 164 million worldwide.
Another large factor involving an individual’s quality of life is access to a proper education and to medical services that are otherwise inaccessible in their country.
War-Torn Country Factors
A major socio-political factor pushing individuals to leave their place of origin is the presence of war and conflict.
Oppression because of one’s ethnicity, religion, gender, race, and culture poses a significant risk to quality of life, which increases the odds of an individual settling elsewhere.
People fleeing conflict zones, human rights violations, and government persecution are asylum seekers that desire international protection and a safer region. Individuals who are forcibly displaced because of external factors, such as war, are refugees.
In recent times, a large number of people have fled to Europe to escape conflict, persecution, and terror in their homeland. Over a quarter of asylum seekers from Syria were granted protection status, with those from Afghanistan and Iraq following respectively.
Natural disasters and climate change are environmental factors that disproportionately affect impoverished families, especially in less developed countries.
Individuals that experience regular occurrences of floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are most likely to immigrate. Additionally, climate change is expected to worsen weather events, leading to an increase in immigration flow.
Environmental immigrants are obliged to leave their point of origin, be it temporarily or permanently, and either move within their country or abroad to avoid the adversities of nature.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme’s statement on climate change and immigration, these are the three environmental factors that can affect immigration in a significant way:
- Effects of Warming: Constant warming in certain areas will slowly bring down agricultural productivity which may lead to a lack of fertile soil and clean water.
- Increase in Extreme Weather Events: Extreme weather events caused by the change in climate, such as violent storms and resulting flash floods, may displace millions of people.
- Rising of Sea Level: The constant sea level rise poses an extreme environmental danger to low-lying coastal areas and may result in the permanent displacement of more than a million individuals.
Why Do People Immigrate to the US?
According to the UN’s World Migration Report of 2020, the United States of America has been the primary destination for foreign migrants since 1970.
In less than 50 years, the number of foreign-born residents of the country has more than quadrupled — from less than 12 million to close to 51 million.
The reasons why so many people immigrate to the US have changed throughout the years, but the country’s core pull factors are what make it the leading destination for immigration.
The United States ranks as one of the most desirable countries to immigrate to because of the better living conditions provided.
The country has an active economy with a wide array of work opportunities for everyone. Wages are higher than most countries, with a relatively low cost of living. Individuals coming from a more collective society prefer American individualistic values.
People that are employed in the United States who have long-distance families are great examples of what compels families to immigrate. When these people gain their green cards, they want their children to move from their native country to the United States to be with them.
Moreover, the United States has access to healthcare and quality education that is not available in many countries.
The Impacts of Immigration
As the number of immigrants increases by the year, the patterns and factors involved become harder to analyze and evaluate. With the dynamic change and demands that immigration brings, it is important to take note of its impacts.
So what exactly are the causes and effects of immigration?
- Economic Output Growth: Net immigration can lead to an increase in the labor force and productive capacity of the economy. When this happens, there is an increase in living standards with a decline in the dependency ratio. Immigration leads to stronger economic growth and, as a result, higher tax revenues, allowing for more national spending options.
- Better Workforce: Because of immigration, the economy of certain countries, like the UK, attracts highly skilled professionals that fill job vacancies, which contributes even more to higher tax revenues. This is due to the fact that immigrants are more likely to have higher educational and skill levels.
- A Flexible Labor Market: Immigrants move to economies when the wages are high, which increases labor demands. The immigrants’ high mobility keeps a booming economy from overheating by providing labor to meet expanding demand.
- Filling In for Undesirable Job Opportunities: Due to low earnings or the lack of prestige associated with some positions, native-born individuals have a tough time filling them. Businesses and employers who rely on flexible labor to fill job vacancies profit from immigration. Furthermore, when low-skilled positions are filled by migrants, native-born people can seek higher-skilled work elsewhere.
A growing scarcity of workers is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most critically significant barriers to sustained economic growth amidst increasingly tight labor markets.
Immigration, without fail, is the reason behind the development and prosperity of most businesses and fills the increasing shortage of workers in labor markets.
There are numerous drivers behind an individual’s immigration, and such a complex process needs good research, political will, and most importantly, collective action from the citizens.
Immigrants are breathing new life into rural and urban communities, shaping labor markets, and building a dynamic society — all of which begins with a simple “push” and “pull”.