The Ottawa Citizen
One of every seven human beings on the planet is a migrant. As the climate changes over the course of this century, that figure can only increase.
A changing climate means scarcer resources in parts of the world where resources -- especially fresh water -- are already scarce. It means conflict and natural disasters. These will compel desperate families to seek personal and economic security elsewhere. In most cases, they'll move within their own countries, or to neighbouring states, where life might be only marginally better. But many of those who can find a way to Canada will try their best to get here.
That might not be a bad thing for Canada.
In fact, as the Conference Board of Canada has shown in its body of research on the subject, immigration is good for Canada's economy. Perhaps more surprisingly, the latest issue of the United Nations Human Development Report makes the case that emigration can be good for poor countries.
Think of it as an example of a global free market working as it should: Surplus workers leave countries where the demand for labour is low, and come to countries where the demand is high. International migrants tend to be educated and skilled. The benefits to a recipient country like Canada, where the birth rate is low, are obvious.
It's natural that poor countries might get a little nervous as they watch their skilled workers leave. But the solution isn't to keep those skilled workers in a place where they're unemployed or underemployed. In fact, there's some evidence that such emigrants can do poor countries a favour by leaving.
When migrants leave poor countries to come to a place like Canada, they tend to send money back to their families. These money transfers -- "remittances," in development jargon -- add up, on a global scale, to an estimated $315 billion U.S. a year. That's almost three times as much as the OECD countries spend on bilateral foreign aid, but remittances don't cost taxpayers a dime.
Best of all, the money goes directly to families who need it, bypassing corrupt or inefficient governments. The United Nations Human Development Report points out that families of emigrants also benefit from "social remittances" -- skills, values and ideas that highly educated, well-travelled members of a family transmit to their relatives.
Canada could take advantage of its position as a destination for immigrants, in ways that would promote global security and prosperity. For example, Canada could encourage competition in the money-transfer industry, so it would cost less for Canada's immigrants to send money overseas. Something as simple as publishing the rates of the various companies who offer the service can produce healthy competition.
For migration to work to everyone's benefit, it has to be managed well. Where it isn't, it becomes one more cause of social unrest and even conflict. Think of South Africa, where the pressure from Zimbabwean refugees has created xenophobia and violence. The global recession -- and the pressures from climate change -- could create more such backlashes.
Even a country like Canada, which prides itself on its open attitude toward newcomers, has difficulty absorbing new immigrants and making the most of their skills. That has to change, if Canada is to capitalize on the opportunities that an increase in global migration will provide.
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