Workers without Frontiers
(Far from reducing international migration flows — by moving products instead of people globalisation will give rise to increased migration pressures in the years ahead. A new book published by the International Labour Organisation — Workers Without Frontiers: The impact of globalisation on international migration — argues that flows of goods and capital between rich and poor countries will not be large enough to offset the needs for employment in poorer countries. Instead, social distruption caused by economic restructuring is likely to shake more people lose from their communities and encourage them to look abroad for work.)
he total number of migrants around the world now surpasses 120 million up from 75 million in 1965 and continues to grow. So says Workers Without Frontiers, a new book on the impact of globalisation on global migration.
‘In a world of winners and losers, the losers do not simply disappear, they seek somewhere else to go,’ says the book’s author, Peter Stalker.
The ability to find good jobs and earn much higher pay is prime reason people are emigrating today :
*A 1996 survey of 496 undocumented Mexicans in the United States found that they earned an average of US$31 per week in their last Mexican job compared to US$278 per week in the United States, an earnings ratio of 9:1
*In 1997, Indonesian labourers earned US $0·28 per day in their country versus US$2 or more per day in neighbouring Malaysia.
*In 1995, hourly labour costs in manufacturing stood at US $0·25 in India and China, US $0·46 in Thailand, US $0·60 in Russia. US $1·70 in Hungary and US $2·09 in Poland against US $13·77 in the United Kingdom, US $14·40 in Australia, US $16·03 in Canada, US $17·20 in the United States, US $19·34 in France, US $23·66 in Japan and US $31·88 in Germany, according to a study (Morgan Stanley and Co., Inc.,1996)
The book finds that falling prices for transportation and the increased speed of communication have changed the character of international migration, making it much less a permanent move. By 1990, air transport costs per mile had dropped to 20% of their 1930 level. Between 1930 and 1996, the cost of a three-minute telephone conversation between London and New York fell from US $300 to US $1.
‘These changes have made departures to unknown lands less daunting and traumatic’. ‘Migration flows, as a result, have become more complex and diverse’.
One major shift is that many more countries have become suppliers, recievers, or both of these of international labour migrants. An ILO analysis of current migration patterns in 152 countries showed that between 1970 and 1990, the number of countries classified as major recievers of labour immigrants rose from 39 to 67. Over the same 20 years, the number of countries designated as major international labour suppliers rose from 29 to 55.
As a sign of the increasing complexity of migration patterns, the number of countries which functioned as both major senders and recievers of migrants rose over the same period from four to 15.
Stalker points out that migration flows are distorted by social and political pressures as host communities become more resistant to new arrivals. Goverments which do little to interfere with flows of trade and finance take much more resolute action when it comes to people.
This has little impact on the overall number of migrants worldwide, but it does affect migration patterns. It has also favoured the emergence of a commercial migration industry helping migrants, for a fee, to secure visas, transportation and employment. And it has spurred the growth of illegal trafficking.
‘In Europe in 1993, some 15 to 30% of undocumented immigrants were thought to have used the services of traffickers.’ In the case of asylum applications, the proportion is even higher : 20 to 40%.
As an enterprise, trafficking is highly lucrative. Smuggling someone by car across an Eastern European border or by boat from Morocco to Spain might be worth US $500, but a sophisticated travel package for an undocumented
migrant from China to the United States can cost up to US $30,000. The book quotes a study which estimates that the trafficking in undocumented migrants brings in US $5-7 billion per year.
‘This illegal flow of workers has created a large market for forged documents’ says the book, adding that Bangkok ‘has developed into a major production centre’ for forged documents, mainly Korean and Japenese passports worth about US $2,000 apiece used by Chinese emigrants to travel on to other parts of the world.
‘Many people also lubricate the flow of migrants by offering financing.’ Some are long-term loans to be paid off over years. But short-term financing is also available.
Bolivian peasants who wish to enter Argentina as tourists must show to immigration officials the equivalent of US $1,500 in spending money. This, ‘has created a new form of financial intermediary, demanding what must be a world record interest rate. For the hour or so it takes to cross the border, bus companies and others will lend migrants the necessary cash for a 10% fee.’
As always, differences in living standards explain the direction of migration flows. In terms of GDP (gross domestic product) per capita, the ratio between the United States and Mexico, for example, is 6 to 1. Between Germany and Poland, it is 11 to 1.
A more realistic indicator of the potential for immigration is the difference in wage rates for occupations which are open to immigrants. These vary considerably from country to country, though immigrants tend almost everywhere to be highly concentrated in certain sectors.
In the United States, the sector in which the share of immigrants is highest is agriculture. In Belgium and the Netherlands, it is the extraction and processing of minerals; in Denmark, Germany, Australia and Canada, it is manufacturing; in France and Luxembourge, it is construction and civil engineering; in the United Kingdom, it is services.
When a free and rapid exchange of information across national borders exists, such as between Mexico and the United States, migrant workers can be very sensitive to changes in the labour market. A US sutdy, by the Public Policy Institute of California, found that when California’s economy boomed in the mid to late 1980s, the state experienced brisk job growth and undocumented immigration peaked. On the other hand, when California suffered from a severe recession in the early 1990s, undocumented immigration fell.
Migration is also affected by condition in the sending country. When the Mexican economy is in crisis, undocumented migration rises. One study concluded that a 10% decrease in real wages in Mexico is associated with an 8% increase in apprhensions of undocumented workers at the border.
The world has seen larger-scale migration in previous eras—the slave trade and the European migration to the New World and Australia.
The most brutal transfers of people from one country to another resulted from the slave trade. Prior to 1850, an estimated 15 million slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas, and during the century following the abolition of slavery, more than 30 million people were moved as indentured workers.
Millions more also travelled voluntarily. Between 1846 and 1939, some 59 million people left Europe, with most heading to the Americas, while others went to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
While many people are concerned about what they perceive as burgeoning international migration, the largest flows historically occured in the 100 years after 1815. The peak year for immigration into the United States occured in 1915, when 1.2 million immigrants arrived, equivalent to 1.2% of the total American population at that time. In 1996, the US received 996,000 immigrants, which came to just 0.35% of the population.
Third World Network Features
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