They are often vilified, maltreated and denied basic rights. But the world's 200 million migrant workers who have left home to earn a better life abroad contribute more to the global economy than they get credit for, according to a new United Nations report. That includes the 190,000 who were in Canada last year, doing jobs few others will take.
In 2007 alone, migrant workers sent home $240 billion (U.S.) in remittances to Africa, Asia and Latin America, the UN notes in its 2009 Human Development Report, issued Monday. That's twice the $120 billion the rich nations provided in aid. It keeps millions out of poverty. And the workers bring home fresh ideas, know-how and resources.
Nor do the benefits all flow one way. "Contrary to commonly held beliefs, migrants typically boost economic output and give more than they take," the UN says. "Immigration generally increases employment in host communities, does not crowd out locals from the job market and improves rates of investment in new businesses and initiatives." Canada's experience confirms as much.
The annual UN report is better known as the "best country" survey, which ranks nations in terms of development. Canada placed fourth this year, after Norway, Australia and Iceland, and ahead of the U.S., in 13th place. But as this year's labour focus shows, the report also provides agenda-setting analysis.
At a time when some want to shut the door to migrants because of rising unemployment, the report calls for a longer view. We'll need more, not fewer, foreign workers as our workforce ages and shrinks.
Looking ahead, the UN urges a "new deal for migrants." It calls on legislators to resist job protectionism, to make entry cheaper and easier, to give migrants fair pay and health care, to allow them to switch employers, and to regard migration as a factor in development planning. It's sensible advice. This is one area where we do ourselves a favour by helping others.
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