New trends involving global migration?

In the period to 2030, I expect the powerful motivations that induced people to migrate in last 20 years are expected to persist.  The motivations of migrants will be shaped by both push and pull factors—pressure to exit and attraction of destination countries—resulting in increasing numbers of  migrants going to emerging economies with growing middle classes in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Massive cities with informal economies and technology centers will likely have magnetic-like attraction for both internal migrants and people from poorer countries.

  • Migrants will continue to be pushed from their origin countries by environmental stress, including climate change, by war, civil conflict and crime, and by ethnic rivalries and discrimination.  Survival will motivate many to move, despite marginalization of refugees in destination countries.
  • Migrant motivations also will be powerfully shaped by pull factors, such as the attractions of greater wages, improved life chances, opportunity to better use their skills and education, and chances to influence their origin countries as part of cohesive Diasporas.  People affected by pull factors will range from low-skilled agricultural and service workers to top flight scientists and engineers.  Successful migration experiences of earlier migrants will feed motivations of others to take their chances, especially among women with constrained life chances in their home countries.

It is worth considering seven potential trends involving global migration:

  1. Proliferation of border control and immigrant identification technologies, to track not only flows across borders, but also activities of resident immigrants. Increased use, maintenance of data bases for residents, citizens for access to services.  There will likely be a related increase in opportunities for corruption, cyber intrusions, and false documentation.  Technologies could give governments capabilities they really don’t want to implement, especially for large informal economies.  Workarounds will abound.
  2. Sharp increase in emerging economies as immigrant destinations.  Labor migrants will take advantage of vibrant economic growth and large, urban informal economies, even if the environments portend social stresses.  Governments grapple with how to accommodate immigration as both a source of economic growth and of social tension. Efforts to introduce gradations in immigrant citizenship status (as in Roman imperial efforts to give legal status to peoples from the periphery). Where will middle class interests come down? 
  3. Aging societies will find ways to make labor migration work. Aging populations and mismatches between education and labor demand will make labor migration more important to economic performance. In these aging societies, private sectors will likely sustain and increase demand for migrant labor—for both low-skill and high-skill or professional workers, even if politically and culturally sensitive.  Despite episodic efforts to rein in migration, governments will generally be both unable to withstand private sector influences favoring migration and unable to systematically track and regulate individuals migrants.  Are backlashes inevitable?
  4. Intensified debate over status of labor immigrants and refugees in advanced social welfare states. We should expect increased social mobilization, legal maneuvering and NGO activities over rights and obligations of immigrants.  How immigrants relate to preexisting social contracts will become an increasingly important issue.  Will private sectors that need labor mount campaigns to support immigration and even immigrant rights?
  5. Tensions, frictions between government jurisdictions over migration. We should expect to see divergent goals and incentives of national and provincial or local governments, with increased efforts of urban jurisdictions to extract revenue from informal economies with extensive immigrant participation. Different jurisdictions will bear different kinds of costs for migration. We are likely to see increased attention to the obligations of residency, as opposed to citizenship, with lots of contention over which part of society can articulate such obligations.  Educational standards for new migrants will likely be contested.  Could inconsistencies between jurisdictions persist for years?
  6. Increased recognition by national and sub-national governments of reputational advantages of having immigrant rights and “the right to have rights” (Arendt), at least for the highly skilled.  National reputations will be a determinant of flows and, recruitment of talent and could increasingly seen as a factor in economic performance.  Can we expect a global market for highly skilled, mobile people?
  7. Increased government-to-government cooperation over labor migration. We could see some nascent global governance mechanisms, and increased incentives for governments to bind themselves in bilateral or multilateral institutions, conventions or protocols, in order to (1) gain leverage with domestic constituencies over migration issues, and (2) gain reciprocity from signatory nations. Implementing and monitoring such agreements will be difficult, contentious, and touch sensitivities regarding sovereignty.  Would brain drain or brain gain be among the first issues to be addressed?

Robert O. is one of the Research Directors in the National Intelligence Council’s Strategic Futures Group, with a portfolio covering governance, democratization, and migration.