The International Labour Organization (ILO) published the following figures in 1997:
Africa had 20 Million migrant workers, North America - 17 million, Central and South America - 12 million, Asia - 7 million, the Middle East - 9 million, and Europe - 30 million.
Immigrants make up 15% of staid Switzerland's population, 9% of Germany's and Austria's, 7.5% of France's (though less than 4% of multi-cultural Blairite Britain). There are more than 15 million people born in Latin America living in the States. According to the American Census Bureau, foreign workers comprise 13% of the workforce (up from 9% in 1990). A million have left Russia for Israel. In this past century, the world has experienced its most sweeping wave of both voluntary and forced immigration - and it does not seem to have abated.
According to the United Nations Population Division, the EU would need to import 1.6 million migrant workers annually to maintain its current level of working age population. But it would need almost 9 times as many to preserve a stable workers to pensioners ratio.
The EU may cope with this shortage by simply increasing labour force participation (74% in labour-short Netherlands, for instance). Or it may coerce its unemployed (and women) into low-paid and 3-d (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) jobs. Or it may prolong working life by postponing retirement.
These are not politically palatable decisions. Yet, a wave of xenophobia that hurtled lately across a startled Europe - from Austria to Denmark - won't allow the EU to adopt the only other solution: mass (though controlled and skill-selective) migration.
As a result, Europe has recently tightened its admission (and asylum) policies even more than it has in the 1970's. It bolted and shut its gates to primary (economic) migration. Only family reunifications are permitted. Well over 80% of all immigrants to Britain are women joining their husbands, or children joining their father. Migrant workers are often discriminated against and abused and many are expelled intermittently.
Still, economic migrants - lured by European riches - keep pouring in illegally (about half a million every year -to believe The Centre for Migration Policy Development in Vienna). Europe is the target of twice as many illegal migrants as the USA. Many of them (known as "labour tourists") shuttle across borders seasonally, or commute between home and work - sometimes daily. Hence the EU's apprehension at allowing free movement of labour from the candidate countries and the "transition periods" (really moratoria) it wishes to impose on them following their long postponed accession.
According to the American Census Bureau's March 2002 "Current Population Survey", 20% of all US residents are of "foreign stock" (one quarter of them Mexican). They earn less than native-born Americans and are less likely to have health insurance. They are (on average) less educated (only 67% of immigrants age 25 and older completed high school compared to 87% of native-born Americans). Their median income, at $36,000 is 10% lower and only 49% of them own a home (compared to 67% of households headed by native-born Americans). The averages mask huge disparities between Asians and Hispanics, though. Still, these ostensibly dismal figures constitute a vast improvement over comparable data in the country of origin.
But these are the distant echoes of past patterns of migration. Traditional immigration is becoming gradually less attractive. Immigrants who came to Canada between 1985-1998 earn only 66% of the wages of their predecessors. Labour force participation of immigrants fell to 68% (1996) from 86% (1981).
While most immigrants until the 1980's were poor, uneducated, and unskilled - the current lot is middle-class, reasonably affluent, well educated, and highly skilled. This phenomenon - the exodus of elites from all the developing and less developed countries - is called "brain drain", or "brain hemorrhage" by its detractors (and "brain exchange" or "brain mobility" by its proponents). These metaphors conjure up images of the inevitable outcomes of some mysterious processes, the market's invisible hand plucking the choicest and teleporting them to more abundant grounds.
Yet, this is far from being true. The developed countries, once a source of such emigration themselves (more than 100,000 European scientists left for the USA in the wake of the Second World War) - actively seek to become its destination by selectively attracting only the skilled and educated citizens of developing countries. They offer them higher salaries, a legal status (however contingent), and tempting attendant perks. The countries of origin cannot compete, able to offer only $50 a month salaries, crumbling universities, shortages of books and lab equipment, and an intellectual wasteland.
The European Commission had this to say last month:
"The Commission proposes, therefore, that the Union recognize the realities of the situation of today: that on the one hand migratory pressures will continue and that on the other hand in a context of economic growth and a declining and aging population, Europe needs immigrants. In this context our objective is not the quantitative increase in migratory flows but better management in qualitative terms so as to realize more fully the potential of immigrants' admitted."
And the EU's Social and Employment Commission added, as it forecast a deficit of 1.7 million workers in Information and Communications Technologies throughout the Union: