The situation in the Ukraine has appalled the World. As of today a total of 3.3m people have been forced to leave their country and become refugees. Those refugees have been pushed into becoming migrants. They follow in the footsteps of the 6.6m Syrian refugees and generations of suffering peoples.
Throughout these Newsletters I have looked at the drivers of population change. The fall in child mortality and fertility that takes a country below the replacement level (Newsletter #003 and #021). The extension of longevity that for a while can maintain that population whilst at the same time ageing it. The point where the natural population goes in to decline and the number of deaths exceed the number of births Newsletter #038 and #046). After that the only source of growth are immigrants.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that there are 272m migrants in the world today. These are people living in a country in which they were not born. Of these 41.3m are refugees. These are the people pushed from their country. War, famine, persecution, and natural disasters have driven them out. These numbers sadly have not been updated to include the people fleeing from the war in Ukraine.
The balance are economic migrants moving from one country to another to improve their lives. Throughout history people have moved across borders to “the land of opportunity”. They are pulled to a better life. Waves of migrants from all over the world moved to North American. The poor farmers of Southern Italy sailed across the Atlantic never to return. They were followed by Mexicans, Central Americans, and Asians.
Attitudes and policies towards migrants do not seem to reflect the reality. Without migration populations will decline. Without a growing population economic growth is much more difficult to achieve. Will migrants become a scarce resource that countries need to fight over?
Migrants as a Scarce Resource.
272m seems like a large number but it only represents 3.5% of the global population. That percentage has remained remarkably constant. In 1995 it was 2.8%. The absolute numbers grow with the global population but the percentage sticks. It seems that the vast majority of people want to stay “at home”. There is no accelerating trend of migration. As populations start to decline in the next thirty years migration will decline.
Most of the small recent growth has come from those who were “pushed”. They come from the wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. If the push is big enough then people have to leave. People pushed from their countries tend to stay close. Of the 6.6m Syrian refugees, 5.3m are in Turkey, the Lebanon and Jordan. They are not beating on the doors of Europe but are in refugee camps waiting to go home. Angela Merkel accepted many Syrian refugees. She said she expected them to go home at some point. It seems that over 80% of all refugees are in fact in camps in developing rather than developed countries.
Pull migration focuses on a few countries. The largest diaspora came from places like India, Mexico , Russia and China. They have large populations. A percentage of whom are attracted to the opportunities of countries like the USA. In any one year the numbers are driven by a simple ratio. The perceived economic attractiveness of a particular country relative to the home prospects.
Migration is also organized along geographic corridors. South America provides a continuous migrant flow into the USA and Canada. Of the international migrants within Europe, 37% come from other European countries. The balance comes from North Africa and the Middle East. For a country looking for migrants, the whole 272m is not therefore available. Having attracted the migrants a country then has to keep them.
The reverse flow of migrants, going home is something that is not tracked well. Logically if a war stops then some people at least will go home. Close to 500,000 Syrians have gone home. Pull movement depends on the economy and the exchange rate. Remittances home are a big part of the economic engine of migration (Newsletter #038). In the UK the number of European workers has dropped. It is partly due the bureaucracy established after Brexit. It is also due to changes in the exchange rates which made pounds less attractive. Less money in local currency could go home. At the same time prosperity around the world is growing. The difference between your own home country and the “pastures new” is shrinking. The pull is less strong.
A recent study by the University of Washington suggests that 45% of all migrants return home. They go back to their families and “good food”. Mexican migrants within the USA provide an interesting example. There are 10.9m Mexican born individuals living in the United States. That number declined by 7% between 2010 and 2019. Prior to that between 2005 and 2010 net migration was zero. As many Mexicans went home as arrived. Even this underestimates the desire to go home. Of the 11m illegal immigrants in the USA half are from Mexico. They cannot go home without risking never being able to return. Mexicans fell to number three in the league table of US immigrants.
Within Europe the there are strong reverse flows. In 2019 there were an estimated 2.7m immigrants from non-EU countries. About 1.2m people emigrated from the EU to a country outside the EU. As of 2020 there were 23m citizens of non-EU countries resident in the EU, only 5.1% of the population. There were a further 13.5m migrants who had moved within the EU.
Can Countries Attract Migrants?
There will be a shortage of migrants. Only a small proportion of refugees would chose to stay. They remain close to their home and want to return to it. Economic migration is geographically based. Language is important. Tapping into the flow from South to North American by a European country is going to be difficult. The pull will decline as the differences in economic prosperity narrow. People want to stay at home.
Attitudes towards migration do not help. One of the biggest declines in population is forecast to be in Italy. Some forecasters expect its population to shrink by a half by the turn of the century (Newsletter #046). They would need 30m immigrants attracted and retained to maintain the population. (Even if they could cope with the social consequences). If not there will be deserted houses and towns just like Japan (Newsletter #046). 30m is 11% of the total pool of migrants just for a single European country.
In a recent survey, 65% of Italians agreed with the statement that “There are too many immigrants in my country”. In Hungary only 6% of people supported immigration. Such sentiments are being fanned by politicians all over the world hunting for votes. Those same politicians should look at the future economic prosperity of their country. Without immigrants the tax base shrinks. Without tax income, social care and pensions are unaffordable. Somehow the rhetoric must change. Taking in refugees is not just a humanitarian gesture. Understanding that economic migration does not take jobs away from “locals” is crucial.
I have been reading and recommend “Empty Planet” by Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson. They are trying to debunk the idea of a population time bomb and argue that a declining global population is the real issue. Their Chapter 8 introduced me to “Pull and Push” migration.