By Harvey Morris and Tim Johnston
Published: October 5 2009 10:35 | Last updated: October 5 2009 10:35
States that host large numbers of immigrants should resist popular pressure to erect barriers to newcomers in the economic downturn and highlight the economic benefits of migration, according to United Nations development experts.
In a study published on Monday, the UN Development Programme acknowledges that “the tendency to blame outsiders for society’s ills is accentuated during economic downturns”. It argues, however, that closing the door to people from abroad would be short-sighted, even from a strictly economic perspective.
“Movement is inevitable,” Jeni Klugman, the lead writer of the report, said in an interview. “Restrictions on movement lead to worse outcomes than would otherwise be the case, so we aim to raise public understanding of the benefits that accrue to destination countries from migration.”
Research for the report suggests that the gains from a 5 per cent increase in the number of migrants in developed countries would be worth $190bn. The report notes that by taxing illegal immigrants, while turning a blind eye to their status, the US raises $7bn a year for the Treasury.
In the face of recession, however, some host governments have moved to discourage foreign recruitment. The US has restricted temporary hiring abroad by companies that receive Tarp funds, South Korea has suspended new visas, and Malaysia has revoked more than 55,000 visas for Bangladeshis in order to boost the job prospects of locals, the report notes.
Ms Klugman said the benefits to host countries can be maximised if they encourage immigrants with a wide-range of skills rather than focusing on short-term, low-cost workers in time of labour shortage. “Governments have tended to see immigration as a tap that can be turned on and off,” she said. “Immigration is no good if it just undercuts wages. That doesn’t help the receiving country.”
She argues for host-country policies that allow immigrants the prospect of permanent settlement. “We are not opposed to temporary immigration but when they come they should have the option to stay.” The alternative is the creation of a rotating underclass, she said. “What we are beginning to see is governments welcoming the skilled and rotating the unskilled. But the low-skilled also have aspirations.”
The latest figures about the scale and direction of migration prick some popular misconceptions: of roughly 1bn people who migrate, principally to improve their economic opportunities, about t75 per cent move within their national borders. Cross-border immigrants – 214m or just over 3 per cent of the world’s population – most often move within their own regions and just 37 per cent migrate from developing to developed countries.
“To take one striking example,” according to the report, “intra-Asian migration accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all international migration and exceeds the sum total of movements that Europe receives from all other regions.”
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