Immigration: World Differences (ARI)

Immigration: World Differences (ARI)

Resumen en Inglés

Theme: This analysis focuses on some of the existing strategically important differences in global immigration.

Summary: International migratory movements have always been a part of human history but today more than ever we are witnessing an increase in the intensity and a growth in the complexity of this phenomenon. The aim of the present analysis is not to provide an answer to the great immigration problems of our day but to consider in a descriptive manner how international migration is shaped, with the aim of providing insights into some very important differences with respect to immigration on a global level.

Analysis: A significant part of current migration can be explained as a phenomenon caused by economic factors, or economic factors in combination with social and political factors, such as the lack of freedom in regimes with low levels of democracy. In other words, a large part of the phenomenon is likely to be a response to ‘push’ and ‘attraction’ factors. The great advantage of a mainly economically-driven immigration phenomenon is that it is relatively unproblematic. It is true that immigration can create tensions. We have become used to seeing disturbances of some sort and of varying degrees of seriousness in practically every receiving country. Most salient are perhaps the recent events in countries such as France, the Netherlands and Denmark. Nevertheless, I would still like to argue that economic or labour migration is characterised by the fact that it is being produced in response to a demand for immigrant labour on the part of the receiving countries, the result being that immigration is likely to create greater economic growth than if there were no immigration. In addition, immigration improves the outlook for the migrants, and normally countries of origin are rewarded when their diasporas send remittances home. In other words, once immigrants gain access to the labour market in the host country, immigration is probably a win-win situation for all sides.

The affirmation that economic migrations are not very problematic does not imply that the phenomenon is without its difficulties. It is probably true to say that sooner or later it is very likely that immigration-receiving countries will come to terms with present integration, but there are significant problems looming on the strategic horizon.

In the short term, from a strategic standpoint, the main problem of massive economic migration, such as the current immigration to Spain and the US, for example, is the way migrants gain entry to the country. Do they do so by legal or illegal means? There are no difficulties with the former, but the latter exposes us to certain security risks. A high level of illegal immigration implies inadequate entry controls into the country, which is playing to the advantage of anyone engaged in terrorism, organised crime or trafficking.

In the short and medium term, we should not ignore that the phenomenon has the potential to become a strategic risk/problem with international ramifications. The incessant arrival of immigrants from Africa to Spain and other EU countries bordering the African continent last year is an unequivocal sign that African immigration should be taken more seriously, and that our approach to African immigration currents has to be revised. It is very likely that the migratory crisis experienced in 2006 was due to an increase in African pressure to emigrate. As I have pointed out elsewhere, economic and demographic data for Sub-Saharan countries indicates that it is very likely that we are only at the threshold of a migratory movement that could become one of the largest in history. Nor can we rule out that if African immigration is on the rise there is a potential that African immigration flows might be partly uncontrolled.

Finally, since 2001 the religious element and the cultural notation attached to different religions have risen to the forefront of public debate about the pros and cons of international migration. It is not stated openly, but the debate really boils down to engineering immigration opportunities from the right type of countries of origin. This type of problem could have long term strategic risks embedded in it. We are still at the early stages of the debate, but in looking at immigration statistics it seems that there is reason to be concerned about the religious dimension of international migration in so far as there are already large differences between the receiving countries with respect to this dimension. A large part of the present analysis will look at this problem in a descriptive fashion.

To sum up this far, immigration in the western world is currently on the rise across virtually all western countries. What is less clear is how immigration currents are being shaped and how this might come to affect intra-western society’s affairs. The chances are that if immigration is by and large a heterogeneous phenomenon across western societies, immigration might become a serious dividing factor instead of bringing us closer to each other. This would be particularly true in immigration situations in which there is a potential for an exodus due to uncontrolled root causes in the countries of origin (the situation in sub Saharan Africa are an example of this), since not all countries would be affected equally by such a phenomenon, at least at the beginning of a potential exodus. Likewise, this is also true in situations where there is a deep religious divide in migration currents to western societies.

We will now look more closely at how immigration into western societies has been shaped. This is done in a descriptive manner. That is, the aim here is not to explain the migration phenomenon and the mechanisms that might be causing any observed anomalies or differentials in international migration currents. Instead, the aim is to look at the complex reality of the immigration phenomenon with a view to stimulate a debate about how international migration currents are directed at present.

International South-North Migration: The Two Sides of the Atlantic
From 1960 to 2005, international emigrants world-wide increased from 75 million to 191 million, a figure equal to 3% of the world’s population. In the case of the US migration is mainly vertical, from the south of the American continent. Latin American immigration to the US is striking not only because of the size of the flows but also because of the size of the stock of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries in the Americas. The US population currently totals over 300 million and the stock of people born in Latin America and resident in the US stands at more than 18 million, or 6% of the population. If immigration is measured in terms of ethnic groups rather than country of birth, over 40 million people in the US define themselves as Hispanic, Latino or Chicano, a figure equal to 14% of the total US population. Mexico is the main provider of immigrants to the US, but there are signs of an increasing diversification of countries of origin, with significant currents from Central and South America. In recent years the rapidly rising immigration in the US from Latin American countries has made immigrants from Latin America the country’s largest ethnic minority, overtaking African-Americans for the first time in US history.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe has been a constant receiver of immigration since 1950. However, immigration is much more heterogeneous in Europe than in the US. The main reason for this is that Europe is made up of smaller nation states that have all applied a different approach to the phenomenon.

Northern Europe (Ireland, the United Kingdom, Finland and Sweden) has been very dynamic in migration terms; Central Europe (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Austria) has been the main destination for immigration into Europe; the Mediterranean countries (Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece) have undergone a radical transformation, with a shift from having been sources of emigration to become the destination of migrants. The change is very dramatic. Since 1997, Spain has received more immigration on a yearly basis than any other EU country.

The economic upturn of the 1980s and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union are amongst the factors that have determined migratory patterns in Europe. Both phenomena produced an increase in migratory flows towards Western Europe of migrants largely from the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union and Turkey. In recent years, the flow of migrants from North Africa has also increased, although in France’s case it has been a very significant phenomenon during long periods of the last century. According to Eurostat estimates, in 2004 the stock of foreigners in the EU stood at almost 25 million, around 5.5% of the total population. In absolute terms, most of them resided in Germany, France, Spain, the UK and Italy. The Turks are the most numerous immigrant group in Europe, with a significant presence in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. But then again, Turkey is also the largest country after Russia in terms of population that has land borders with the EU.

To what extent does south-north immigration differ from one side of the Atlantic to the other? Given that it is a very complex phenomenon it is difficult to undertake a comparative analysis that might provide us with a straightforward answer to this question. Nor can we avail ourselves of full information in view of the fact that immigration is often characterised by irregularity and illegality, as well as high volatility. Despite the difficulties involved in measuring the migratory phenomenon, the World Bank, in cooperation with the University of Sussex, has produced a matrix of bilateral migration stocks based on the UN’s assessment of world migration in 2005 that facilitates the task of analysing migratory flows world-wide.

The information shown in Table 1 is drawn from this source. I have aggregated the data so that it now reflects the stock of immigrants from 11 regions in Canada, Japan, the US and the EU-27 plus EFTA. The information in Table 1 is complex and might therefore be difficult to interpret. In order to make it easier for the reader and to increase the comprehension of the subsequent analysis, I shall give the following example: Canada has a stock of North African immigrants of 98,233 people; this corresponds to 3% of Canada’s total stock of immigrants and 2.1% of the total emigration from North Africa to any of the destination countries shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Immigration stock by region of origin in Canada, Japan, the US and EU-27 plus EFTA

Immigration originating from:Country/Region of Destination
Northern Africa98,2331,877204,6204,352,1434,656,873
(% column)(3.0%)(0.1%)(0.7%)(17.7%)(7.7%)
(% row)(2.1%)(0.0%)(4.4%)(93.5%)(100.0%)
Southern Africa82,1981,042130,369903,7241,117,333
(% column)(2.5%)(0.1%)(0.4%)(3.7%)(1.9%)
(% row)(7.4%)(0.1%)(11.7%)(80.9%)(100.0%)
Sub-Saharan Africa246,11111,592653,9962,203,5113,115,210
(% column)(7.4%)(0.6%)(2.2%)(9.0%)(5.2%)
(% row)(7.9%)(0.4%)(21.0%)(70.7%)(100.0%)
Central America + Mexico126,5842,67612,655,060148,81512,933,135
(% column)(3.8%)(0.1%)(41.6%)(0.6%)(21.5%)
(% row)(1.0%)(0.0%)(97.8%)(1.2%)(100.0%)
The Caribbean304,4856644,918,617652,2655,876,031
(% column)(9.2%)(0.0%)(16.2%)(2.7%)(9.8%)
(% row)(5.2%)(0.0%)(83.7%)(11.1%)(100.0%)
South America223,216364,8912,197,9872,434,6755,220,769
(% column)(6.7%)(19.0%)(7.2%)(9.9%)(8.7%)
(% row)(4.3%)(7.0%)(42.1%)(46.6%)(100.0%)
Eastern Europe239,0005,3811,223,9575,327,2756,795,613
(% column)(7.2%)(0.3%)(4.0%)(21.7%)(11.3%)
(% row)(3.5%)(0.1%)(18.0%)(78.4%)(100.0%)
The Middle East + Turkey281,4009,626989,4824,803,7736,084,281
(% column)(8.5%)(0.5%)(3.3%)(19.6%)(10.1%)
(% row)(4.6%)(0.2%)(16.3%)(79.0%)(100.0%)
Eastern Asia723,1791,239,7382,351,003698,1905,012,110
(% column)(21.8%)(64.6%)(7.7%)(2.8%)(8.3%)
(% row)(14.4%)(24.7%)(46.9%)(13.9%)(100.0%)
South-East Asia516,310251,4923,504,2531,293,9055,565,960
(% column)(15.5%)(13.1%)(11.5%)(5.3%)(9.2%)
(% row)(9.3%)(4.5%)(63.0%)(23.2%)(100.0%)
Southern Asia483,95529,6241,566,2131,726,3153,806,107
(% column)(14.6%)(1.5%)(5.2%)(7.0%)(6.3%)
(% row)(12.7%)(0.8%)(41.1%)(45.4%)(100.0%)
(% column)(100.0%)(100.0%)(100.0%)(100.0%)(100.0%)
(% row)(5.5%)(3.2%)(50.5%)(40.8%)(100.0%)

By studying the migratory phenomenon shown in Table 1 we are able to make several interesting generalisations. First, of the 60 million emigrants from the 11 regions considered, 50% are located in the US, 40% in the EU, 5% in Canada and just over 3% in Japan.

The region generating the most emigration (without taking into account the population size of each region) is Central America, including Mexico. Of the almost 13 million Central Americans who have emigrated, 98% chose to go to the US. Central American immigration in the US is highly significant as it represents over 41% of the latter’s total stock of immigrants. It has the highest concentration, without comparison, with all the regions of origin included in the Table.

The Maghreb represents the other extreme in terms of the concentration of immigration. Of the 4.65 million Maghrebis who have emigrated, 4.3 million, or 93%, reside in the EU. Even so, in contrast to Central American immigration, the fact that the concentration of North African immigration in the EU is so significant does not make it the region of most numerous emigration to the EU. North African immigration only accounts for 17.7 % of EU’s total immigration whereas the Middle East accounts for 19.6 %. Nevertheless, the concentration of Middle East immigration is lower, at only 79 % compared with the 93 % of North African immigration. That is, in absolute terms Middle East immigration into the EU is more significant than North African immigration. However, and as we would expect, the main ‘sending’ region is still Eastern Europe, and this despite the fact that the EU has twice enlarged itself eastwards in recent years and thereby reduced the number of non-EU Eastern European countries.

However, no doubt the most important conclusion to be drawn from the observed data is that the EU is currently hosting roughly 80 % (but probably more if we control for religious diversity in Sub-Saharan Africa and southern Africa as well as Asia) of the existing Arab/Muslim immigrant stock in western societies. It is impossible to tell what could be the long term consequences of this uneven distribution, but considering that the more serious world crises since September 11 have involved the Arab/Muslim world on one side and western societies on the other, we should not underestimate the potential for a growing imbalance in the foreign policy interests of the US and the EU over the longer term as a direct result of current immigration trends.

A more general observation is that immigration in the EU is much more heterogeneous than immigration in the US. It is interesting to note that, in terms of origin, Canadian immigration and EU immigration have more in common with each other than with US immigration. As regards the immigration received by the US, the share of Spanish-speaking immigrants is extremely high. According to the available data, 65% of all immigrants in the US are of Latin American origin. The numbers speak for themselves, and it is easy to draw the conclusion that such concentrated immigration has the potential of causing a significant cultural impact on the country. It is also interesting that South American immigration is evenly distributed between the US and the EU, in the latter case exclusively as a result of the recently high levels of South American immigration to Spain.

Another factor to consider from Table 1 is the importance that must be attached to geographical proximity in migratory decisions. On the one hand, the EU is the destination of choice for 78% of East Europeans, 79% of Middle Eastern migrants and 93% of those from North Africa. Meanwhile, the US is the destination of choice for 98% of Central Americans (including Mexicans). Finally, on the other side of the world and despite not being a prominent immigration country, Japan has an immigrant population which comes almost exclusively from East Asia. Canada, the country furthest away from the ‘supplier’ countries, is the one with the greatest degree of heterogeneity as regards the origin of the immigrants it receives. That is, there is a clear tendency for host countries/regions to receive most of their immigration from locations that are close by.

To illustrate these differences we can turn to Figure 1, which shows the existing differences between immigration into the US and the EU. The differences are easily discernible. Immigration into these giant receivers is complementary, insofar that if the US receives significant immigration from one region of origin, Europe receives a lower level of immigration from that very same region. The Figure also shows the greater diversity in the origins of Europe’s immigrant stock. The explanation for this characteristic appears to be related to the geographical proximity of sending and receiving countries. In other words, an explanation for the destination of migrants (but not of their reason for migrating) is geographical proximity, which is a factor that might or might not be subsequently accentuated by the social networks facilitating the initial contact with the receiving country.

The fact that geographical proximity seems to be so important for explaining immigration could be related to the fact that large-scale immigration is partly the result of irregular immigration. Or, to put it slightly differently, for many immigrants it is probably less of a problem to cross the Rio Grande or the straights of Gibraltar than it is to pass immigration controls at Kennedy or Barajas airports.

Conclusion: The aim of this paper has been to describe some of the main features of the migratory scene in the Atlantic region. We have seen how the migratory phenomenon has taken shape on the two sides of the Atlantic, and how, despite being a phenomenon with many similarities, there are also significant differences between types of migration, especially as regards country of origin.

In view of the fact that, on the one hand, the migration phenomenon in the EU and the US tends to be characterised by a high level of homogeneity as regards country of origin and, on the other hand, by the fact that there is a considerable difference in the countries that send migrants to the EU and the US, we can pose the following questions:

·         What are the mid- and long-term advantages and disadvantages of the current development of migratory flows?

·         Is it preferable to achieve a high level of heterogeneity as regards the countries of origin of immigrants (as in Canada’s case), and, if so, why?

·         What long-term consequences could result from the entry to the EU of a large majority of Muslim migrants (over 80%)?

There is no way at present to know the right answers to these questions. However, this does not imply that we should just ignore the existing differences and problems that are embedded in international immigration currents. On a global level there is much to gain from an open debate about the direction of international immigration currents and what their consequences might be. It is not just religious issues that are at stake and that need to be discussed in a more straightforward manner. The fact that Europe is by far the largest stakeholder with regard to African immigration is a further complication. Africa has the potential to develop into a very serious migration problem by any measure, from trafficking and organised crime to large-scale population movements. To cushion its exposed situation as regards many sending countries, from the Europeans perspective it would probably be wise to diversify world migration to a larger extent than is the case today. The question is how to achieve this. A further problem is the existence of intra-EU differences with respect to international immigration. However, this will be the subject of a forthcoming analysis.

Rickard Sandell
Senior Analyst, Demograhy, Population and International Migrations, Elcano Royal Institute