Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century

Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century

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Why have ninety million workers around the globe left their homes for employment in other countries? What can be done to ensure that international labor migration is a force for global betterment? This groundbreaking book presents the most comprehensive analysis of the causes and effects of labor migration available, and it recommends sensible, sustainable migration policies that are fair to migrants and to the countries that open their doors to them.

The authors survey recent trends in international migration for employment and demonstrate that the flow of authorized and illegal workers over borders presents a formidable challenge in countries and regions throughout the world. They note that not all migration is from undeveloped to developed countries and discuss the murky relations between immigration policies and politics. The book concludes with specific recommendations for justly managing the world’s growing migrant workforce.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300209778
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 1 - 17 Years

About the Author

Philip Martin is a professor at the University of California, Davis, and chairman of the UC Comparative Immigration and Integration Program. Manolo Abella is the head of the International Migration Programme of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva. Christiane Kuptsch is senior research officer at the ILO’s International Institute for Labour Studies.

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Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-first Century

By Philip Martin Manolo Abella Christiane Kuptsch

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2006 Philip Martin, Manolo Abella, and Christiane Kuptsch
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10904-7

Chapter One

Why International Migration?

The United Nations Population Division defines international migrants as persons outside their country of birth or citizenship for twelve months or more, regardless of the reason for moving or legal status abroad. No country defines migrants in this way: in the United States, for example, residents born in other countries are divided into various categories. A naturalized citizen is one who was born outside the United States and typically has been in the United States for at least five years before taking the citizenship oath. A legal immigrant is someone who has not become a U.S. citizen and may have arrived yesterday or thirty years ago. Nonimmigrants, including students, foreign workers, and tourists, may have been in the United States several years or several days, while unauthorized foreigners similarly have been in the country for varying periods.

In a world of about two hundred sovereign nation-states, each of which issues passports and regulates who can cross its borders and stay, there were 175 million migrants in 2000, including 110 million, or 63 percent, in what the UnitedNations calls "more developed" regions: Europe and North America, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, and the ex-Soviet Union "where it is presented as a separate area." Since 1960 the share of migrants in more-developed countries has risen, while the share in less-developed countries has fallen, largely because of immigration and slow population growth in more-developed countries.

Is the number of migrants too many, too few, or just right? Those who think there are too many migrants note that if the world's 175 million migrants were gathered as one "nation," it would be the sixth-most populous, after China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil, and ahead of Russia and Pakistan. If the 110 million migrants in more-developed countries were one nation, they would be the fourth-most populous industrial country, after the United States, Russia, and Japan, and ahead of Germany. Low birthrates and almost daily stories of migrants dying as they try to walk across the Arizona desert into the United States or cross the Mediterranean to Spain or Italy in small boats characterize an age of migration, an era in which most migrants are moving from developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to North America and Europe.

The number of migrants is rising faster than the global population, a response to the fall of communism, wars that produce refugees, as in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, the approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Asian economic miracle. Table 1.1 shows that the migrant share of the global population has risen from a low of 2.2 percent in 1970 to 2.9 percent in 1990 and 2000. Developed countries have more migrants than developing countries, and the share of migrants in their populations has almost tripled in the past forty years.

Many recent migration flows were unanticipated, and they led to efforts by receiving countries to reduce the influx of migrants. For example, in response to the influx of migrants fleeing Balkan wars and seeking asylum in Europe in the 1990s, many European countries offered only temporary protected status to Yugoslavs, in the hope that migrants who did not have a secure residence status would be easier to persuade to return once peace was achieved. To deal with migrants from more distant trouble spots such as Iraq, many European countries adopted policies that required those seeking refuge to apply for asylum in the first safe country they reached, so that an Iraqi reaching Austria via Hungary could have his asylum application in Austria rejected and be returned to Hungary.

The increase in the number of migrants in many industrial countries has slowed, demonstrating that governments have considerable control over entries and stays. However, modes of entry into industrial countries have changed, with most asylum applicants in Europe, for example, believed to have been smuggled over borders in order to ask for refuge from persecution at home (Futo and Jandl, 2004). New destinations for migrants have emerged, especially middle-income developing countries surrounded by poorer countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia, which receive most of their migrants from Myanmar (Burma) and Indonesia, respectively. Such south-south migration is little studied, and our chapter onThailand highlights the dilemmas involved in having to develop a capacity to manage migration seemingly overnight.

A migrant crosses a geographic boundary and stays away from "home" for at least twelve months, but international movement and minimum stay abroad are the only characteristics that migrants share. Migrants cross borders for many reasons, including to escape persecution, to work, to study, or to visit or join family members. Once in destination countries, migrants have a variety of statuses, from naturalized citizen to legal immigrant to irregular migrant. The international community has long recognized that workers away from home can be vulnerable to abuse, and has developed standards to protect them. For example, in postwar Europe, uneven economic growth promoted labor migration from south to north, and the International Labor Organization (ILO)'s Convention 97 (1949) outlined protections for the "migrant for employment," defined as "a person who migrates from one country to another with a view to being employed otherwise than on his own account." The document established the fundamental principle in most migrant conventions-equality of treatment, meaning that migrant workers are to be treated like other workers in the countries in which they work.


Migration is as old as humankind wandering in search of food, but international migration across regulated national borders is a relatively recent development, since it was only in the early twentieth century that the system of nationstates, passports, and visas developed to regulate the international flow of people (Torpey, 1999). Because of inertia, controls, and hopes for improvement and opportunity at home, long-distance international migration is the rarest type of movement. Inertia is the number one form of migration control simply because most people do not want to move away from family and friends. Governments have significant capacity to regulate migration, and they do, requiring passports and visas from visitors and establishing border controls to determine who enters and remains. Historical experience, such as European migration to the Americas, or the contemporary conditions in Ireland, Italy, Spain, and South Korea, demonstrate that the migration transition can turn a country from an emigration to an immigration area with just a few decades of rapid economic growth.

Migration responds to differences, and two major categories of differences prompt people to move: economic and noneconomic (Massey et al., 1998). The factors that encourage a migrant to cross borders can usually be grouped into three categories: demand-pull in destination areas, supply-push in origin areas, and network factors that link them (see Table 1.2). This framework makes it possible to distinguish economic migrants who are encouraged to migrate because of a demand for their labor abroad from noneconomic migrants who cross borders to join family members settled abroad. A person in rural Mexico, for example, may be recruited to work in U.S. agriculture by a recruiter who offers a job, a demand-pull factor. The potential migrant may not have a job at home, or may have failing crops, and thus be willing to move, a supply-push factor. Networks or links across borders help migrants to move, as when a potential migrant obtains information about work and wages in the United States from a previous migrant, decides to migrate from Mexico with the help of a smuggler, and, once in the United States, stays with the family members likely to help him to get a job.

The three types of factors encouraging migration do not usually have equal weights in any individual or family situation, and the importance of each factor can change over time. Generally, demand-pull and supply-push factors are strongest at the start of a migration flow, and network factors become more important as migration streams mature. The first guest workers tend to be recruited, often in rural areas where unemployment and underemployment are high. But after some migrants return to their areas of origin with savings, network factors may become more important in sustaining migration, so that even employed workers in a mature migration stream, such as Mexico to the United States, may leave their jobs to earn higher U.S. wages (Zahnheiser, 1999).

The number of foreign workers often becomes larger than planned. For example, after Taiwanese construction firms requested foreign workers for high-priority national infrastructure projects, the government in October 1989 approved the entry of forty-four thousand foreign construction workers. The ceiling was gradually raised, manufacturing and private households were permitted to employ migrants, and now there are more than three hundred thousand foreign workers inTaiwan. Joseph Lee (2004, 4) explains: "The purpose of importing foreign workers, as set by the government, was strictly to relieve the labor shortage in the construction and labor-intensive industries." As other industries requested and won permission to recruit and employ migrants, the "need" for migrants expanded, and their number grew larger than anticipated.

Family unification is the most important noneconomic factor encouraging migration. Pioneer migrants go abroad and, if they find jobs and supportive employers, many migrants have their families join them. The migration literature often uses a nautical metaphor to explain family unification: a pioneer becomes an anchor migrant who sends for family members, producing follow-on chain migration. Most European countries allow family unification for legal foreign residents who have been residents at least a year and can support the family members they wish to have join them. The United States, by contrast, has a complex family unification system. On the one hand this system has a broader concept of family, allowing grandparents as well as adult sons and daughters and adult brothers and sisters of U.S. citizen residents to obtain immigrant visas, but on the other hand it limits the number of such visas available, so that the wait for family unification visas can be, in extreme cases, a decade or more.

Refugees and asylum seekers also move for noneconomic reasons. Refugees are persons outside their countries of citizenship who are unable or unwilling to return because they face persecution. They often stay in camps near their countries of origin until the situation in their home countries changes or until they are resettled in another country. Asylum seekers arrive in a country and ask to be recognized as refugees: if they are so recognized, they are usually allowed to resettle in the country and begin their lives anew. Most asylum applicants are not found to be in need of protection, but many nonetheless stay, especially in western Europe. A U.N. agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, issues an annual report on refugees, and in 2003 the agency reported that there were 9.7 million refugees and an additional 7.4 million persons of concern, such as recently returned refugees, asylum applicants, and internally displaced persons.

International migration is a result of demographic, economic, and other differences between countries. These differences are widening, promising more international migration in the twenty-first century. Demographic trends provide an example. The world's population reached six billion in October 1999 and is growing by 1.4 percent, or eighty-four million, per year, with 97 percent of global population growth in developing countries. Population density varies greatly but is higher in developing than in developed countries-51 persons per square kilometer in low- and middle-income countries versus 29 in the high-income countries. Will people move from more-densely to less-densely populated places in the twenty-first century, much as the nineteenth century was marked by migration from more-densely populated Europe to the Americas and Oceania?

A comparison of the demographic evolution of Europe and Africa is instructive. In 1800 Europe had about 20 percent of the world's one billion people and Africa 8 percent. In 2000 the populations of these two continents were almost equal-Europe had 728 million residents and Africa 800 million, giving each continent 12 to 13 percent of the world's population. If current trends continue, the populations of Europe and Africa will diverge. Europe is projected to shrink to 660 million by 2050, giving it 7 percent of the world's 9 billion residents, while Africa is projected to expand to 1.8 billion, or 20 percent of the world's residents. If history repeats itself, there could be migration from demographically expanding Africa to other parts of the world.

Economic differences between countries are widening, encouraging migration for higher incomes and jobs. The world's gross domestic product (GDP) was $30 trillion in 2000, making the average value of goods and services produced $5,000 per person per year, but there was significant variation: the range was from $100 per person per year in Ethiopia to $38,000 in Switzerland. When countries are grouped by their per capita GDPs, the gap between high-income countries, where per capita GDPs are $9,300 or more per person per year, and low- (below $750 per person per year) and middle-income countries has been widening, with very few low- and middle-income countries climbing into the high-income ranks. In 1975 per capita GDPs in the high-income countries were forty-one times greater than those in low-income countries, and eight times greater than in middle-income countries. A quarter-century later, the per capita GDPs of high-income countries were sixty-six times those in low-income countries and fourteen times those in middle-income countries. Rising per capita income differences help to explain why so many migrants from low- and middle-income countries take big risks to enter high-income countries, sometimes turning to smugglers or buying false documents.

A second dimension to increasing economic differences, poverty among farmers, adds to international migration pressures. Of the world's labor force of 3 billion in 2000, 2.6 billion workers were in the low- and middle-income countries. In low- and middle-income countries, half of the workforce, comprising some 1.3 billion persons, is employed in agriculture, usually as small farmers, and many are taxed despite the fact that farmers have lower than average incomes. Farm-nonfarm income gaps encourage rural-urban migration, helping to explain why the urban share of the population in low- and middle-income countries rose from 32 to 42 percent between 1980 and 2000.


Excerpted from Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-first Century by Philip Martin Manolo Abella Christiane Kuptsch Copyright © 2006 by Philip Martin, Manolo Abella, and Christiane Kuptsch. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Part I Global Migration 1 Why International Migration?....................3
2 Global Migration Patterns and Issues....................14
Part II Professional and Unskilled Migrants 3 Highly Skilled Guest Workers....................55
4 Guest Worker Programs....................83
5 Managing Guest Workers....................121
Part III Developing Countries and Sustainable Migration 6 Thailand: Migration in a Tiger Economy....................133
7 Managing Migration in the Twenty-first Century....................150
Appendix: ILO Conventions on Migrants....................169

What People are Saying About This

Michael Teitelbaum

This is an important book. International labor migration is one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century, yet public discourse to date has been dominated by dubious analysis and interest group advocacy. The authors, three exceptionally well informed experts with no axes to grind, provide all of us with a refreshingly insightful and unbiased look at the many faces of migration.—Michael Teitelbaum, Sloan Foundation

Juan Somavia

As the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization pointed out, there are deep-seated imbalances in the current workings of the global economy, and some of them could be diminished through a better managed regime that eliminates exploitation of migrants. Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-first Century sets out suggestions for cooperation to help ensure that labor migration reduces inequalities and contributes to our goal of decent work for all.—Juan Somavia, Director General of the International Labor Office

Brunson McKinley

This book offers a wealth of insights into managing labor migration, one of the greatest challenges facing nation states today.—Brunson McKinley, Director General, International Organization for Migration

Mark J. Miller

This remarkable book reflects decades of study and reflection by experts working with the International Labor Organization. The scope of the erudition and the authoritativeness of the analysis in Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century simply dazzle.—Mark J. Miller, University of Delaware and Editor, International Migration Review

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