Migration. Nowadays migration is a heavily discussed topic in the media. It has become even more since the Swiss have adopted the ‘Stop mass immigration’ initiative that calls for quotas for all foreign nationals, on 9th February 2014. This desire to limit the number of foreigners shows the up-to-dateness of ‘migration’.
But what exactly are the effects of migration? Are they rather beneficial or disadvantageous for a country? Sir Paul Collin, a professor from Oxford University, analyses the impact migration has on countries, in particular developing countries. He shared his point of view at the conference entitled ‘Migration – Winners and Losers’ which was organized by the Graduate Institute in Geneva (IHEID) on 29th April.
Sir Collier identifies three different groups that are concerned by migration: the host country, the migrants, and the people who are left behind in poor countries.By carefully analysing the situation, he comes to the surprising conclusion that the effects of migration on the host countries are pretty small. And if there exist some tiny effects, they are mostly positive. As for example, if Switzerland gets high skilled people from Nigeria, the Swiss economy largely benefits. Furthermore, migration contributes to a greater variety of the society but also to a greater diversity.
The second group consists of migrants. Obviously, they are attracted by higher wages in foreign countries. The flow of new immigrants to a country depresses the working conditions of the immigrants already there. Though, new immigrants will not have an impact on the situation of the native labour force because they are not a close substitute for them. Even if the migrants have a large gain in income, the psychological effects should also be taken into account, as they have a considerable loss of relationships and family structures.
In his presentation Sir Collier mainly focused on the people left behind in poor countries. Why are poor countries poor? First of all, he examined the causes of poverty. His explanation includes that their institutions are dysfunctional. But this is not the only reason; the structure of the identities, the norms and the narrative stories that people believe must also be considered. So, could migration have a positive effect on poor countries?
Actually, the evidence that migration creates a positive flow back to the poor countries is quite encouraging. This means that if a student completes his studies abroad and then goes back to his home country, he will have a strong feedback. Of course, the student will have improved his professional skills but more importantly he will have a new political attitude -in case he experienced a different political system. Thanks to these new approaches the returning students are able to make an impression on their existing institutions and even improve them. People who went to democratic countries can therefore catalyse the process of democratization. More over, there even exists a strong feedback on social norms. For instance, Africans who lived in Europe for a while and then went back to their home country tend to have less children. These political and social spill-over effects are hugely beneficial for developing countries.
All in all, Sir Collin stressed that if a poor country wants to take advantage of migration, it is important to find the right balance of migration. Therefore, it depends on whether a country experiences a brain gain or a brain drain. In case all educated people leave the country –which would be a brain drain- the effects of migration are highly negative. This is the case in Haiti where 85 % of all young and educated people leave the country. On the other hand, if some educated people stay, there will be a brain gain, and therefore a positive effect. Regarding all developing countries in the world, Sir Collin points out that there’s a brain gain, mostly because of China and India. But having a closer look on the statistics, one has to determine that the poorest countries of the planet have too much emigration in terms of education, and therefore a brain drain, which is negative for their development. A moderate level of migration is needed, so that it can be beneficial for the development of poor countries.
Last but not least, the question of the European Union is shortly highlighted by Sir Collin. So, what happens if the European Union opens the borders with the aim to have a free labour movement to Europe? Believing the SVP, a flood of poor, uneducated people would run into our country and live on social insurance. But this is just a fantasy. Indeed, the opposite is the fact. If a country opens the borders, an excess of well educated and specialized people from poor countries, like Romania, will migrate to countries were they earn a higher income. One third of the Romanian doctors moves to higher income countries because of better living conditions, as a superior health care system, improved schools. Hence, the policy of the European Union is catastrophic for poor countries.
This conference was surely horizon broadening by giving an interesting perspective on migration, some remarkable inputs and explaining the impact migration has on developing countries.