Migration and Development:
Past, Present and Future





Prepared for International Organization for Migration/Center for Migration Studies, Conference on International Migration and Development: Continuing the Dialogue – Legal and Policy Perspectives, Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, New York City, January 17-18, 2008.

To paraphrase my senior honors thesis advisor at the University of Wisconsin, Kemal Karpat, rarely does migration not figure importantly in the history of humankind. Recent anthropological evidence concerning the late Iron Age in Europe suggests that distinctive societies were much more interconnected and fluid than once thought. The prosperity and goods of ancient Greece and Rome fostered trade and myriad other interactions just as the military might of Greece and Rome posed a perceived grave threat to tribes and peoples on the periphery forcing them to adopt, change and define their identities. The extensive Viking migrations of the eighth to eleventh centuries gave rise to plunder and violence. But those migrations also involved trade and commerce. Medieval migrations of Jews in Europe often were linked to rulers’ efforts to spur economic development and to generate greater tax revenues. Much the same could be said about Medieval German migrations eastwards.

However, during the age of Mercantilism in sixteenth to eighteenth century Europe, many rulers opposed emigration and proscribed it, even if not always successfully. Emigration was viewed as a socio-economic loss, especially of possible military recruits. Such was the status quo by the seventeenth century. By the nineteenth century, three factors began to facilitate extensive transatlantic migration. The French Revolution generated a new norm that emigration constituted a human right. Roughly concurrently, the British colonies especially in North America became a magnet for British and other European emigrants. British efforts to prevent emigration became a point of contention between the colonies and the crown. Heretofore prohibitively high transatlantic transportation costs began to decline enabling more and more British subjects the possibility of exit.

The early decades of the new American republic witnessed relatively little international migration. The American population nevertheless grew rapidly due to a high birth rate. Settlers from the former colonies relentlessly pushed westward encroaching upon Indian lands. Despite Indian resistance, more and more land became available for settlement and many states actively encouraged Europeans to emigrate. Worsening political and socio-economic conditions in Ireland triggered mass emigration of the Irish, principally to the United States but to other areas of the New World as well, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Hatton and Williamson have estimated that nearly sixty million Europeans emigrated to the New World, including points in Latin America like Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay between 1820 and 1939. The developmental outcomes for Europe and the New World reshaped the modern world. By the late nineteenth century, the once precarious American republic had emerged as an economic and military power. In Europe, mass emigration helped spur socio-economic development in Nordic states. Between 1860 and 1914, roughly one out of every five Swedes emigrated, principally to the American Midwest. But Sweden had largely closed the socio-economic gap between the UK and Sweden in the meantime. The overall developmental effect in Europe varied. The Iberian countries were much less affected by mass emigration and their development lagged.

Transatlantic migration constituted the key dynamic in the first period of globalization. But the uneven distributional economic effects of international migration, among other factors, helped generate growing political opposition to immigration in the United States. The Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 dramatically curtailed international migration to the US in the interwar period. And other states of the New World largely emulated the closing of the Golden Door. France would become the leading land of immigration during the 1920s.

The present: Origins of the Age of Migration

After the destruction of World War II in Europe came the beginnings of regional integration, a long-term process made possible by the US security guarantee through NATO. In the United States, the Golden Door began to reopen, a process culminating in the 1965 Amendments to the INA. Hatton and Williamson identify five developments which helped trigger a second period of globalization which has brought about what Stephen Castles and I call The Age of Migration.

First, by the 1970s, most Western European countries had became at least de facto lands of immigration. Relatively few West Europeans continued to emigrate, although the 1965 Amendments in the US were still largely intended for Europeans. Successive German governments would continue to declare that Germany is not an immigration land. It would take till the twenty-first century and a Red/Green coalition for the government to embrace reality. Lingering illusions from the guestworker policy era largely explain the decades-long disconnect.

Bearing in mind the French tradition of admitting immigrants for demographic purposes, what was striking about mass migration to Western Europe between 1945 and 1975 was the unplanned outcome of mass settlement and family reunification. Max Frisch’s aphorism nicely sums up a very long and complicated history – “We asked for workers, but human beings came”.

A second key transformation occurred in Latin America. Circa 1970, Latin America became a net exporter of people, mainly to the United States because of a growing socio-economic gap. Repressive governments also played a role. More recently, Latin Americans have begun to move in large numbers to Southern Europe, a trend triggered in part by migration policy developments in countries like Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Thirdly, Africans and Asians began to migrate internationally in large numbers. There was relatively little Asian and African migration during the earlier phase of globalization. Most Africans faced severe poverty constraints which even today help us understand why most international migrants from Africa migrate chiefly to other African countries. But by 1970s, Black African migration was quite extensive in Western Europe, particularly in France.

Fourthly, by the 1970s, the Persian Gulf-area states had emerged as major importers of migrant workers. Arab foreign workers initially predominated but recruitment of Asian workers steadily increased, in part due to political considerations.

Finally, the status quo in Eastern Europe began to change. German Ostpolitik began to open the door to emigration. A process that accelerated in the 1980s as flows of Poles, in particular, to Germany grew. Poles benefited from protection against return to Poland. After 1990, East Europeans poured into Western Europe both legally and illegally. But the feared spectre of “new barbarian invasions” from the East did not come about, in large part due to pro-active steps by West European states and what became the European Union. Most recently, the 2004 and 2007 enlargements of the EU have added ten East European states. And there is growing evidence of states like Poland going through migration transition, despite the substantial emigration of Poles, especially to the UK and Ireland.

Preliminary assessment of those enlargements suggests significant positive developmental effects for both the EU-15 core states and the ten states that acceded. The major economic benefits accrued to migrants and their families. The enlargements also had substantial legalization effects for East Europeans illegally residing in the core-15 states or there with temporary legal residency. The enlargement served to close somewhat the socio-economic gap between the core and accessions states.

Stephen Castles and I will maintain in the forthcoming (we hope) fourth edition of The Age of Migration that the current era is defined by six general tendencies:

  1. International migration is increasing in all the world’s regions. While the percentage of international migrants in the world’s population remains roughly constant at between two and three percent, the world’s population continues to grow and will do so for several decades into the future, before peaking at about nine million persons. Most future growth will occur in Africa and Asia. Nevertheless, growth of international migration is not inexorable. Repatriations, for instance, have significantly reduced some refugee populations.
  2. States and governments around the world face increasingly complex challenges in regulating international migration as they encounter, and sometimes precipitate, diverse inflows of migrants.
  3. International migration-related issues are becoming increasingly salient in domestic politics, bilateral and regional relations and at the global level as witnessed by the creation of the Global Commission on International Migration and the convening of a high-level conference on migration and development at the United Nations in 2007.
  4. Women have become more salient participants in international migration. Many international flows are comprised mainly of women, such as domestic workers in the Middle East. And women are disproportionally victims of human trafficking.
  5. More and more states have experienced migration transition, that is, traditional lands of emigration have become lands of immigration. States as diverse as Thailand, Turkey, Morocco, Greece, Italy, Spain, the Republic of South Korea and Mexico have experienced transition during the Age of Migration.

Thoughts about the future of migration and development

Usually understanding the past serves as the best guide to understanding the future. International migration played a central role in the shaping of the modern, Westphalian world in which we still live. It is likely to continue forging and reforging states and societies in the future.

International migration can foster development in both receiving and sending areas, as attested to by the US-Swedish migratory relationship before 1914. But high hopes were attached to the promise of international migration generating sustained socio-economic and political development in the Asian and African hinterlands of West Europe in the 1960s and 1970s but those hopes largely proved misplaced.

Nevertheless, a new optimism has arisen over prospects for migration and development through well-managed bilateral and regional policies. This optimism is linked to more precise understanding of the vast volume of migrants remittances to homelands.

A number of scholars and policy makers have advocated temporary foreign worker admissions policies in OECD democracies as part of a circular migration strategy to promote mutually beneficial development in sending and receiving states. A certain skepticism about such advocacy appears in order.

The historical track record of temporary foreign worker admissions policies in democratic settings can be termed checkered at best. Guestworker, seasonal worker and bracero-style policies had problems and unintended consequences for quite well understood reasons. The Swiss reformed their seasonal worker policy in 1964 to allow those workers who worked five consecutive seasons to adjust to resident status under diplomatic pressure from Italy. The volume of seasonal foreign worker-admissions also became controversial, leading to the divisive anti-Ueberfreudung campaigns of the 1970s which gave way to similarly unsuccessful referenda campaigns to abolish seasonal foreign worker policies as incompatible with human dignity in the 1990s. Swiss seasonal worker policy was not mismanaged. And as late as the 1973 to 1975 period, many seasonal worker permits were not renewed due to the recession, thereby enabling Switzerland to shift some of the costs of the recession to Italy.

Similarly, German guestworker policies generally were well-administered. But there was considerable political sympathy for legally-admitted foreign workers by the 1970s. German courts blocked Conservative efforts to enforce rotation after 1973 as incompatible with the Federal Republic’s legal engagements and responsibilities. This constituted an enormous victory for German postwar democracy that is too little appreciated.

Bracero-policy history between Mexico and the US does not appear to have yielded much evidence of fostering sustainable development in Mexico. US recruitment of temporary Mexican foreign workers dates back to before World War I. Such recruitment helped set in motion large-scale unauthorized migration the US. Significantly more unauthorized Mexican workers were returned to Mexico than legally recruited during the 1942 to 1964 period. The US unilaterally terminated the policy in a period of growing consciousness and concern about civil rights and the effects temporary foreign worker admissions had upon American farm workers.

The evolution of French seasonal foreign worker admissions after World War II somewhat resembled events in Switzerland. Admissions of seasonal workers mainly for agricultural employment crested at about 250,000 per year in 1968 but were steadily phased out afterwards. Significant numbers of seasonal workers became so-called faux saissoniers (or false seasonal workers) and overstayed their visas. Many applied for the recurrent legalizations between 1972 and the 1980s. Seasonal foreign worker admissions continue today but in very small numbers.

Since 1990, a new generation of temporary foreign worker admission policies have emerged in Europe, especially in Southern Europe. The new policies are more narrow-gauged than policies during the guestworker era. The key issue is: Will their outcomes resemble or not those of the guestworker era. Advocates of circular migration policies take an optimistic view.

Spain’s recent bilateral initiatives towards Black African states in Western Africa perhaps best exemplify the optimistic perspective. In return for cooperation with Spain and the EU on management of international migration, including prevention of illegal migration and human trafficking, as well as readmission of citizens illegally entering the European space, Spain will provide for job training and then admit trained and prepared foreign workers for time-bound employment in sectors lacking adequate labor supply such as agriculture.

At first glance, such policies may appear constructive, even progressive. But almost by definition, the legal status of temporary foreign workers is contingent. Usually the foreign workers are tied, as it were, to a particular employer or industry. Of course, there is no incontrovertible way to measure need for additional foreign workers in a given industry, but especially in agriculture. Perceptions of need represent outcomes of political and legal battles usually pitting employers against unions. Usually, employers have their way even with governments of the left which is the case in Spain since 2004.

It is important to point out that there are viable policy alternatives to the circular migration model. Spain could also admit more persons from West Africa with permanent alien resident status. Those Africans admitted would be free to work throughout Spain. Nothing would constrain these workers to become EU citizens but it would be a possibility. Such legally-admitted permanent resident aliens would be free to travel back and forth to their homelands. But many certainly would opt for naturalization.

Here in lies the major advantage of increased admission of permanent resident aliens. Spain and Spaniards would have to accept the likely reality of settlement giving Spanish society and government a strong incentive to foster immigrant integration. Historically, supposedly temporary foreign worker policies have resulted in significant settlement. But states and societies were unprepared for such unexpected outcomes leading to integration deficits and long-term integration issues.

Preliminary analysis of Spain’s temporary foreign worker admission, the so-called contingents suggests that the historic pattern of unexpected policy outcomes will continue. Several contingents served as ways to legalize aliens in irregular status rather to recruit foreign workers from abroad. Perceived unfairness in the administration of the contingents has roiled Spain’s relations with Morocco and several other homelands whose governments feel that more of their citizens should be legally admitted under bilateral agreements. Spanish unions and employers often disagree on how large the authorized contingent should be reminding me of the annual “headaches” that Swiss cantonal and federal officials spoke of in the 1970s and 1980s.

Further enlargement or deepening of the EU and of other regional integration frameworks world-wide also merits consideration. Canada, the US and Mexico could emulate the history of regional integration in Europe. The key problem lies in the dissimilarity between NAFTA and the EU. NAFTA does not have a political project unlike the EC and now the EU. The Security and Prosperity Partnership agreement announced by the three NAFTA heads of state in 2005 may suggest a move in that direction.

However, within each region and globally I discern a need for greater cooperation between more developed and lesser developed states to promote greater socio-economic development. In my eyes, the history of European structural funds designed to promote a more even playing ground within the European space deserves careful scrutiny by the NAFTA partners.

Unfortunately, most OECD members states have ducked negotiations over international migration and development issues. The pattern was set at the 1986 OECD-sponsored conference on the future of international migration. The US delegation, of which I was a member, was instructed to avoid anything resembling North/South dialogue at that conference. The Reagan Administration adamantly opposed Willy Brandt-style North/South Dialogue.

The US position appears to have evolved little ever since. It would take inspired American leadership for the decades-long migration and development stalemate to change. American leaders of either party simply continue to endorse the benefits of globalization and free trade as evidence mounts that it increases socio-economic disparities, both within and between states and societies. The circular migration advocacy risks generating false hopes that bilateral and regional cooperation on international migration will result.

One final point, I think that a new approach to migration and development would serve US interests. The chief threats to US security since the 1970s arose from failed states and the abysmal living conditions of average people in much of the world. After 9/11, I thought a window of opportunity had opened but it has been largely squandered. Nevertheless, successful prosecution of the War on Terrorism requires progress on sustainable development in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere within what Barnet in the Pentagon’s New Map calls the Non-integrated gap area. The important question revolves around the credibility of options proposed to bring about development. The track records of structural funds in contexts of regional integration and of increased admissions of permanent resident aliens appear preferable to the circular migration model.

URL of this page: http://www.udel.edu/poscir/faculty/MMiller/MigrationDevelopmentPastPresentFuture.htm