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close this bookDiversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature (IDRC, 1995, 234 p.)
close this folder2. Global trends and their effects on the environment
View the documentThe information revolution
View the documentDevelopment of global financial markets
View the documentDevelopment of more effective transportation networks
View the documentMovement of people
View the documentGlobalization and the unequal distribution of wealth
View the documentInternational migration
View the documentThe development of free markets

International migration

Differences in quality of life are increasing in an epoch of intense globalization of communications and transport. As a result, for the first time in history, most inhabitants of poorer countries have become aware that people in other places live not only differently, but much better.

Third World people, representing 80% of the world’s population, increasingly want to emigrate to the developed world. Salvadoreans, Nicaraguans, Peruvians, and many other Latin American people dream of emigrating to the United States and Canada. Thousands of North Africans would like to move to France, Belgium, and Switzerland. Many Indians and Pakistanis would like to emigrate to Britain or Saudi Arabia.

Each year, several million people attempt to fulfill this wish, and a considerable number succeed. They use the most varied and imaginative methods. Some cross a desert or river; others cross larger bodies of water in small boats. Still others try their luck by legal means, hoping to be included in the quotas of Canada or the United States, or through agreements between governments. Professional people and entrepreneurs have an advantage. Those who possess special expertise or belong to the qualified professions are accepted with relative ease.

One result of these migratory fluxes is the development of stricter policies and strategies by the rich countries to prevent uncontrolled arrivals. Careful controls, visa requirements, and financial guarantees are all geared toward closing borders. Despite these measures, however, migratory pressure is so great that large numbers manage to squeeze through or around the various “filters,” and settle in the targeted countries where their situation is often secured after several years through one of the periodic amnesties, which, in a way, are a recognition of the impotence of the police and immigration systems in preventing people from escaping living conditions in the South.

Currently, the main recipient countries for immigrants are the largest and least densely populated: the United States, Canada, and Australia. These three countries absorb about 1.5 million immigrants every year, that is, approximately half of the total migration to developed countries.

Immigration to the United States

The United States alone receives more than 1 million immigrants a year. California, the richest and most populated state in the country, increased its population from less than 26 million in 1980 to the current 31.5 million. Foreign immigration accounted for about 40% of the increase (Appleby 1993). In the area of San Diego alone, legal immigrants constitute more than half the population, and it is estimated that there are 200 thousand illegal immigrants in the population of 2 million. Similar situations are found in other southern US cities, such as Houston, Los Angeles, and San Antonio.

A significant segment of the immigrant population ends up in the sector of American society living in poverty. The shantytowns of San Diego are typical poor neighbourhoods, composed of recent, mainly illegal immigrants. The Los Diablos slum in San Diego County is “a wasteland of rusting cars and makeshift housing, an acreage owned by the city and squatted on for many years” (Appleby 1993). These squatters work at small construction projects or pick tomatoes and cucumbers for below-minimum wages; they earn about $3 per hour, compared with the minimum wage of $4.50 per hour (in Mexico, however, the same work pays one-tenth that amount). Squatter camps like Los Diablos can be found throughout southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida in the inner cities or suburbs of many large metropolitan areas. In some ways, they represent the Third World inside the developed world.

In 1992, over 1 million people immigrated to the United States, of which 841 thousand were classified as “legal” (Business Week 1992). Almost half were from Latin America, with 23% coming from Mexico, the country “sending” the most migrants to its northern neighbours. Of the remainder, 13.1% came from the Caribbean and 11.1% came from Central and South America.

More than a third (35.2%) of the remaining legal immigrants came from Asia. During recent years there has been an increase in immigration from eastern Europe, which previously had not exceeded 8%, and a relatively small amount of immigration from Africa (about 2%).

These legal immigrants include a considerable number of people with high levels of education: 26.6% have university degrees, although in their own countries people with degrees make up only a small percentage of the population. This phenomenon has been referred to as the “brain drain.” It tends to accentuate North-South disparities, strengthening human resources in countries with well-developed capacities and reducing the already weak professional base of poorer countries. The countries of origin of migrants with the highest education are India (average schooling, 15 years), Philippines (14 years), and Korea (13 years). The lowest level of education is found in Mexican immigrants (7 years).

Not only do these immigrants possess relatively high levels of education, they are also often trained and experienced in highly specialized occupations. For example, 40% of AT&T’s researchers were born outside the United States (Business Week 1992). A similar proportion of the professionals in the Silicon Valley are also immigrants. According to Business Week, the next generation of engineers in highly sophisticated US companies will be dominated by immigrants.

While these immigration trends continue, there is evidence of a change in the types of jobs available in the United States. As the country moves toward a postindustrial, third-wave society and redistribution of its global productive roles, a large number of labour-intensive production activities are being transferred to less-developed countries like Mexico. Many jobs that were once performed by immigrants or unspecialized American workers have disappeared, a situation that is affecting the segment of the American work force that depends on these jobs for its survival.

One frequently hears that it is the continuous influx of immigrants that is creating job scarcity. Although research has shown that immigrants create more jobs than they take, their presence can contribute to the level of frustration in society. There is widespread feeling among American citizens that, to solve the unemployment problem, immigration must be stopped or drastically reduced. In some areas, however, the lack of inexpensive immigrant labour may promote the transfer of many jobs to sites in Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, or other countries, including some jobs now performed by American workers.

Immigration to other developed countries

The population density in Canada and Australia is less than 3 people per square kilometre. Immigration to Canada has ranged from 100 to 200 thousand people a year over the last few years. Australia has accepted slightly fewer people than Canada.

Lately, a large proportion of Canadian immigrants have come from Asia (especially those in Vancouver, Toronto, and other large cities), eastern Europe, and, to a lesser degree, the Middle East and Latin America. As a result of the recent war in Somalia, many citizens from this country have also come to Canada, many of them as refugees.

In Australia, the immigrant population includes a considerable number of people from neighbouring Far Eastern countries (China, India, Indonesia, Melanesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Polynesia, and Vietnam), as well as eastern Europe.

In Europe, immigration patterns are closely related to the affiliations of former Third World colonies. France and Belgium have received many immigrants from the Francophone countries of Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia); the United Kingdom is the destination of Indians and Pakistanis; Holland of Indonesians; Portugal of people from Angola, Cape Verde Islands, Guinea, and Mozambique; and Spain of Spanish-Americans, Moroccans, and other Africans.

The southern coast of Spain, in Andalucia near Tarifa, is the destination of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who cross the Strait of Gibraltar in pateras. Moroccans, Mauritanians, Senegalese, and other Africans from south of the Sahara cross the strait with the help of pasadores or lobos. Once they reach Spain, some manage to move into other countries, such as France and Germany, but many remain on the Iberian Peninsula.

In Europe, African and Asian workers are a source of inexpensive labour for jobs not attractive to nationals. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for some of the richer European countries to do without their work. In addition to the large number of immigrants with low professional qualifications, Europe receives a significant number of immigrants with higher qualifications (generally through legal or semilegal channels), arriving as students, invited professors, professionals, and qualified technicians.

A portion of the earnings of immigrants is transferred to their countries of origin. For example, it is estimated that Morocco receives over $1 billion as a result of these remittances (El Pais 1992). Similar figures have been reported for Algeria, Tunisia, and, to a lesser degree, sub-Saharan countries.

As in North America, a significant sector of the immigrant population has a high level of education, strengthening the knowledge base of European countries, while reducing such resources in the countries of origin. Third World countries spend their limited financial resources training their professionals, only to have the few well-trained people who complete their studies quickly absorbed by the much richer North.