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Man has always migrated. The mobility of the species has gradually populated our planet, with humans now spread across the globe. Traditionally, up until the first half of the 20th century, migration flows went south to north. However, since 1950 these movements have been somewhat reversed. Demographers draw a distinction between a foreigner – a notion that takes into account nationality – and an immigrant – a notion that refers to the country of birth.

Author / translator Andrea Bandelli

Man has always migrated. The mobility of the species has gradually populated our planet, with humans now spread across the globe. Traditionally, up until the first half of the 20th century, migration flows went south to north. However, since 1950 these movements have been somewhat reversed. Demographers draw a distinction between a foreigner – a notion that takes into account nationality – and an immigrant – a notion that refers to the country of birth.
It is now estimated that there are 200 million immigrants around the world, just 3% of all human beings. Some leave their country to rejoin their families, others migrate for economic reasons, while many escape their homeland as refugees. Analysing international migration is a good way of assessing the health of societies and their prospects for the future.
These new types of international mobility affect most countries in the world and are a leading preoccupation of many States. Governments are now faced with new economic, social and political challenges. International flows and traffic have become extremely complex. No longer does emigrating simply mean leaving one’s country of origin, while living in a new country does not automatically lead to clear-cut integration or marginalisation. The two-directional flow of migrants is now an inherent component of international migration. The main factors that prompt migrants to move to an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) country on a permanent basis are the urge to reunite with their family and the quest for employment. The OECD represents the governments of 30 countries firmly attached to the principles of democracy and the market economy. In terms of migration policy, OECD countries often tend to select their immigrants, while attempting to bar entry to those in a situation of illegality and implementing measures to attract more highly qualified workers. The governments of OECD countries are also in the process of defining more precisely what they consider to be the rights and responsibilities of immigrants, in particular regarding the role they must take in managing their own integration.

Created 30 March 2010
Last edited 20 June 2018
Topics Mobility, Politics

Policy positions

Policy position 1

The borders of developed countries must be opened fully
Because natural population change is in sharp decline, the borders of OECD (Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development) countries need to be opened to immigrants as quickly as possible, to ward off the demographic catastrophe that is non-replacement of the generations. Financial aid for families would do nothing to increase the birth rate.

Policy position 2

Immigration must have an objective. The borders must be left open to immigrants who have good reason to emigrate
Immigrants should have a reason (a goal) when they decide to leave their country. Their status as refugees must be the result either of political instability, war, famine or natural disasters, or simply the need to escape misery. Developed nations must welcome these refugees for humanitarian reasons and share a little of their wealth.

Policy position 3

Immigrants must be chosen according to strict criteria
Only immigrants with a certain level of economic resources or who work in an economic sector where labour is in short supply (the hotel trade, catering, public works, etc.) should be entitled to enter developed countries. Immigrants seeking to join up with their families should have to undergo DNA tests.

Policy position 4

The borders of developed countries must be closed as quickly as possible
Indeed, a massive influx of immigrants into OECD nations would only serve to aggravate the economic situation in these countries. The borders must therefore be closed and families offered financial incentives to procreate, so as to counter the drop in the fertility rate.

Story cards


I am a human rights activist and a member of the “Terre de Partage” association in Marseille. The aim of our association is to ensure that the arrival and integration of foreigners in France is organised in the best possible way. We demand the immediate and unconditional regularisation of all unregistered immigrants living in France! The vast majority of individuals welcomed into the country have academic qualifications and are in good health, so we must stop viewing immigration as a curse on our societies! Unfortunately, with the new laws on immigration, we are considered as accomplices in illegal immigration. The set- up of a Ministry of Immigration in France will only serve to toughen these measures and increase the repression of immigrants.

Hervé Petitjean

Here in Denmark we welcome more and more immigrants, thanks to a strict but fair policy with regard to foreigners. I am a member of the Danish Parliament and belong to the Danish Liberal Party (Venstre). Last autumn I put forward a draft law on immigration, which was voted in. In 2007 we welcomed 30% more immigrants onto Danish soil than in 2006, the aim being to select those individuals most suited to joining us. The system I proposed has been in place for a few months now. It allows us to manage people who come to Denmark in the best possible way and thus favour a form of immigration that will allow our country to grow, rather than perpetuating the idea that Denmark is a haven for terrorists and Islamic extremists.

Lene Wølberg

I am an anthropologist at the British Museum in London. I studied in Bucharest, Romania, and obtained my PhD here in England. I was warmly welcomed when I arrived, thanks to both my academic training and Britain’s coherent policy with regard to migrants. Around 30% of us at the British Museum are foreigners and it is very enriching to learn about different cultures by meeting people from other parts of the world. However, Britain’s immigration policy favours migrants with academic qualifications or good financial resources, which my brothers and sisters who wanted to join me in London simply do not have.
Thus, they remain in Romania living in less than enviable conditions. I therefore have to travel back and forth to see my family in Romania and I send them money when I can.

Pr. Ciprian Cristoscu

I have had enough of not being able to find work. Turks take all the best jobs here in Hamburg. More and more of them arrive each day with their wives and their many children, and who pays for their benefits? Us, the Germans. We who work all our lives only to be made redundant because the country is doing badly. These foreigners bring with them delinquency, theft, crime... Take this morning for example. I was at the fish market and I saw a man, a foreigner, steel a mackerel from a stall. Is this something we should tolerate? The government are cowards, they do nothing and they don’t have the courage to kick these foreigners out of the country so that we Germans can survive.

Karl Allbüch

The world’s borders are increasingly being reduced to open channels between countries, and this is becoming a real problem in terms of security. In the United States, we have chosen to stamp out illegal immigration. This year, we increased the number of officers patrolling our borders from 18,000 to 22,000. The border region I supervise, the Rio Grande in Texas, is very difficult to monitor because its geography is characterised by the presence of a river. My teams are focused on fighting international terrorism, which is our number one priority. Fortunately, thanks to our government’s policy and the work we do, the risk of terrorism has been drastically reduced over the last few years.

Mike O’Sullivan

I am a demographer at the Instituto Nacional de Estastitica in Madrid. My work focuses on the theme of migrants. Over the last few years we have observed an increase in the number of migrants coming to Europe. This migration is vital to the economic health of our countries. Without it, we would die a slow death! Immigration is therefore beneficial not just for the migrants who find work in Europe, allowing them to feed their families, but also for our Western societies, which can continue to prosper as a result. Unfortunately, when these immigrants arrive on our shores they are often treated poorly and are usually underpaid and exploited by unscrupulous bosses: this needs to stop.

Dr. Helena Valdez

I am Korean, but I live in Japan in a Korean community that has a great deal of clout here. There are some 900,000 Koreans in Japan. I was born here after my parents emigrated from North Korea to escape Soviet oppression. I teach young Koreans living in the country. We generally stick together because the Japanese view Koreans in a negative light and there is considerable political tension between our countries. We are often the first accused when a crime is committed, and genuine mistrust and hatred is sometimes directed towards Koreans in Japan. For example, we avoid getting married to Japanese people, because it is just not accepted by society here.

Karl Allbüch

In Port au Prince, poverty is growing day by day, and I only have $12 a month to live on. How can we stay here? We are not animals! I tried to flee by boat with my family during the riots of 2004. But we were stopped by the US Coast Guard, who imprisoned us at their base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Detention conditions were horrendous, but they eventually sent us back to Haiti. A few of my friends were not so lucky. Their boat capsized and they were eaten by sharks. The Americans and even our Caribbean neighbours have shut their borders, which totally contravenes international law on the protection of refugees.

Maria Boldega


What is an immigrant?

An immigrant is a person born abroad and who does not reside in their native country. Immigrant status is permanent: an individual continues to be a part of the immigrant population even if they have been granted the nationality of the country that has welcomed them. What is the difference between an immigrant and an emigrant?

What is the migration balance?

The migration balance is the difference between the number of people who entered the country and the number of people who left the country over the course of the year. This concept is independent of nationality.
Can the migration balance be used to counter a low birth rate?

What is the Schengen area?

The Schengen area includes 27 EU Member States, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. The area was created as a result of the Schengen Agreements. These agreements authorise people to travel freely and also serve to harmonise the checks carried out on travellers within the area of these States. In your opinion, should we return to a system of greater border restrictions within the Schengen area, to prevent illegal immigration?

Man is difficult to displace.

Many researchers have highlighted the fact that man emigrates much less than economic and demographic models predict. Because he is attached to his loved ones, language and country, and because human capital is not sufficiently standardised to be easily transferable, man has a thousand reasons not to migrate.
What is it, therefore, that prompts man to emigrate?

The dream and the reality.

A European survey showed that while many of the inhabitants of emigration countries flirt with the idea of emigrating to the North (proportions wary between 20 % and 40 %, depending on the country), very few actually plan to do so within two years (less than 5 %) and only a tiny minority have actually started to make preparations.
What are the obstacles to emigration?

Immigration and the labour market.

Immigrants, women and the young in particular, find it more difficult to enter the labour market than nationals. The participation rate of young foreign men is 14% lower than that recorded for nationals in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and more than 12% lower in France. The difference in the case of women is even more marked, reaching 34 % in the Netherlands. Should we restrict the number and type of jobs accessible to immigrants?

Migrants around the world.

At this early stage of the 21st century, there are estimated to be 190 million international migrants, i.e., individuals who have lived abroad for less than a year. The figure was 75 million in 1965, 105 million in 1985 and 120 million in 1990.
To what events could you link this increase in the number of migrants?

The current migration system.

Today, migratory trends around the planet are shaped by vast systems revolving around the hubs of globalisation that are North America, Western Europe and Japan, a number of Middle-Eastern States blessed with significant oil resources, as well as the new economic powers of Southeast Asia and the Republic of South Africa. Do you think a demographic imbalance can trigger conflicts?

Skill-exporting countries.

Globalisation and the development strategies of large firms have generated fresh international mobility within the most advanced economies (North America, European Union, Japan, etc.). The global circulation of skills and professionals is one of the rising forms of international migration, to which more and more Southern countries contribute (Indian IT workers, for example).
Are the countries of the South now suffering from “brain drain”?

Transit countries.

Turkey, Mexico, Malaysia, Senegal and Morocco are examples of countries where flows of migrants exist alongside flows of non-nationals transiting through. The Mexico-USA border and the Mediterranean and Malacca straits, the crossing points for these transit flows, are subject to considerable pressure as a result.
What are the economic, human and political consequences for regions crossed by flows of refugees?

The labour market and globalisation.

Migration evolves in parallel with the labour markets and globalisation. A foreman from a company in Indiana relocates to China to train factory workers on new production methods; a professor from Johannesburg decides to move to Sydney and then commutes to Hong Kong where he works as a teacher; a nurse trained in Manila has a job in Dubai.
What are the consequences of globalisation on the labour markets of emigration and immigration countries?

Oil resources and immigration.

Certain countries with small populations but vast oil resources have a large foreign population and, in some cases, immigrants there are actually in a majority. These include: the United Arab Emirates (90%), Kuwait (72 %), Qatar (64 %), as well as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Brunei and Libya, where the proportion of foreigners in the total population is estimated at between 25 and 40 %.
Are these countries losing their identity?

The counting of immigrants in Europe.

The registration of immigrants is based on a minimum period of stay, which varies from country to country. For example, it is one year in the UK and Sweden, six months in Italy and three months in Belgium. In Germany and Spain, after a few days in the country one is counted as a migrant, resulting in a higher official number of immigrants.
But is this because of how the statistics are compiled or because the policy attracts more immigrants?

Refugee numbers around the world.

The UN estimates that 190 million people live outside their country of origin - 155 million in developing countries and 75 million in the developed world. “South-South” migration is as frequent as “South-North” migration. It should be noted that the countries of the North are also points of departure: for example, France has 700,000 emigrants, termed “expatriates”.
What motivates expatriates from Northern countries to leave?

An isolated case?

On 15 February 2008, John Maïna, a young Kenyan aged 19, hanged himself in his apartment. He arrived in France on 20 March 2006 and asked for asylum three days later, but his request was rejected twice. According to associations in the field, John had left Kenya to flee the Mungiki sect, which he was forced to join at the age of 17. With the new restrictions on asylum rights in Europe and the USA, is it still possible to claim political asylum?

Who are migrants?

It is never the poorest who migrate, as they usually do not have the means to migrate. International migrants generally have an average income. Furthermore, in the 1990s, migrants with higher education accounted for almost half of all new international migrants aged 25 or above in OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.
Is immigration generally viewed as a curse in the media? Why do you think that might be?

The oldest population in the world.

21% of the Japanese population is over 65 while just 13.6 % is under 14. Japan is therefore the country with the oldest population in the world, ahead of Italy and Germany. The Japanese government recently passed new measures in an attempt to counter this demographic decline, including greater benefits for families.
In your opinion, are financial incentives the only way of curbing falling birth rates in the countries of the North?

What is the right of asylum?

Asylum is the protection a State grants to a foreigner who has been or may be persecuted by the authorities in their own country. On 28 July 1951 the Geneva Convention defined refugee status and the conditions under which the right of asylum could be obtained. Are the conditions that govern the right of asylum always fully adhered to nowadays?

The Geneva Convention.

This defines a refugee as being “any person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
Should this convention be revised to include, for example, climate refugees?

Political parties against immigration.

Almost all European Union countries have political parties that are completely opposed to immigration and campaign for the EU’s borders to be closed. Among others, these include the Northern League in Italy, the British National Party in the UK, the National Front in France, the National- Democratic Party in Germany and Flemish Interest in Belgium.
Should these political parties be banned?


The term “communalism” is used, in a negative sense, to describe any form of ethnocentrism or sociocentrism, implying a tendency to remain closed in on oneself. “Communalism” is defined by its critics as a socio-political project aimed at controlling the opinion and behaviour of all those who belong to a “community” per se.
Is communalism an obstacle to integration?

Fear of others.

Immigrants and foreigners generally feed our fear of others. We are afraid of anything we do not know. Man rejects differences and the unknown. It is this fear that fuels racism and xenophobia. By getting to know others, we can accept or reject them, but we do so from a position of knowledge.
Are you yourself afraid of the unknown?

Ethnic conflicts.

In recent times, conflicts between ethnic groups have plagued the countries of the South, especially in Africa (the massacres in Somalia being one example), and this will remain the case in the coming years. These conflicts are often due to a division of land that is inconsistent with the geographical distribution of the different ethnicities. Is there any possible solution to these conflicts?

Colonisation and immigration.

Over the course of the 19th century, European countries colonised a vast number of populations, countries, nations and continents, mainly to exploit their natural resources. This colonisation was accompanied by numerous exactions, including slavery, which, alas, was widely used in the colonies for many years. Would it not be fair today to allow the descendants of slaves to travel freely across the borders of their former colonisers?

Immigration as an opportunity.

Natural population change at EU level does not currently enable the generations to be replaced. The fertility rate in the EU is 1.48 children per woman, way below the replacement-level birth rate of 2.1 children per woman. Two solutions are available: to encourage women to have more children (through financial incentives), or to open our borders and compensate for this natural deficit with the migration balance.

Counting immigrants.

France has the most liberal statistical population monitoring system in Europe, an honour it shares with the United Kingdom. In neighbouring countries, the system often conditions access to school and social protection. It allows tabs to be kept on all households, including those of immigrants. In France, the cross-checking of files is not permitted, to protect individual privacy.

Immigration and the employment market.

Since the European Union’s enlargement in May 2004, few EU countries (e.g. the UK, Ireland and Sweden) have opened their employment markets to nationals from the new Member States. Between May 2004 and December 2005, 345,000 workers from the new Member States were registered in the UK. In Ireland, 83,000 nationals from the new Member States were registered between May 2004 and May 2005, which represents 4% of the country’s active population.

DNA testing.

A draft law in France provides for the use of DNA testing when reuniting immigrant families. Initially applied on an experimental basis, the law should come into force in early 2010. The plan has caused uproar among associations involved in these issues, which claim that it will stigmatise immigrants.

Immigration and integration.

Many countries have adopted measures geared towards attracting highly qualified immigrants and foreign students. These measures can include compulsory language tuition (Denmark and the Netherlands), help with finding work, initiatives to favour ethnic diversity within companies and to fight discrimination (France) and the principle of equal opportunities (Belgium, Finland and Sweden).

Spain, Europe’s doorway to immigration.

Spain has a huge illegal immigration problem, particularly in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and in the Canary Islands, which are significant entry points for immigration to Europe. Remember that Spain accounts for 38.5 % of the annual increase in the number of immigrants in the European Union.

Emigration: an obstacle to the development of the new Member States?

Since the fall of communism, a large number of workers from Eastern Europe have chosen to emigrate to the wealthy countries of Western Europe, on a quest for much higher wages. Romania is no exception to the rule. Its citizens often move to the West, sometimes to Germany or the UK, but mainly to Spain, Italy and France, because of their common Latin roots and linguistic proximity.

Students are also immigrants.

Some countries, Australia, Canada and France in particular, have put in place policies aimed at attracting foreign students and, once they have completed their studies, helping them extend their stay and facilitating their access to the labour market. Between 2001 and 2003, the influx of foreign students increased by more than 36% in the UK, 30% in France and 13% in Australia. Over the same period, this influx fell by 26% in the United States.

Immigration policy in Europe.

A number of Western nations have simplified their asylum-seeking process while seeking greater cooperation with other countries in the fight against illegal immigration. Several European nations, including Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, have introduced or reinforced laws to reduce the ease with which family members can join up with immigrants already settled within their borders.

The Turks of Germany.

In 1961, Turkey and Germany signed a convention on labour recruitment. Between 1961 and 1973, the German economy enticed around 710,000 workers over from Turkey. According to a survey by the Centre for Turkish Studies, around 2.1 million people of Turkish origin lived in Germany in 1999. Together, they form the largest group, accounting for 28.8 % of the foreign population. By the end of 1999, 340,000 Turks had obtained a German passport.

Historical migration 1.

Memories of the migration that took place in the past remain fresh. They are sometimes painful, like the slave trade, a “silent migration” that led to the deportation of over 20 million Africans to the American continent and the Arab world. But large waves of emigration from Europe to the “new world” (51 million people emigrated between 1846 and 1939) and the territorial colonies made the old continent the largest departure point in history.

Historical migration 2.

Many of today’s migratory currents can be traced back in history, as in the case of British emigration to North America and Australia, from the Maghreb and French-speaking Africa to France, from the Commonwealth to the UK and from the Philippines to the USA. This same rationale, founded on the historical and cultural ties forged by colonisation, today prompts Russian speakers from former Soviet nations in central Asia to return to Russia.

Climate refugees.

There is a new type of refugee in the last years: the climate refugee. Pushed out of their country by climate change, they generally find refuge in neighboring countries. The primary cause of this emigration is the rising water levels of coastal regions in Southeast Asia. An increase in the number of such refugees is expected in the coming years. It should be noted that they are not covered by the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees.

“Refugee-producing” countries.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of refugees in 2006 stood at 30 to 35 million. Over the last decade, Africa has been the continent most affected. In the Caucasus, constant tension and numerous crises continue to fuel this fresh flow of refugees. The Balkan regions of Europe have paid the highest price for the break-up of Yugoslavia (5 million people displaced in total).

The United States: the number one destination country.

In terms of resident population, or human stock, the United States continues to exercise its traditionally strong force of attraction on the rest of the world and was the leading destination country for migrants in 1999, with 28 million residents born abroad, i.e., 10 % of the American population.

Countries with a positive migration balance.

At the top of the table of countries with the highest positive migration balance over the decade 1990-2000 we find the United States (1.1 million per year on average), Germany (359,000), Russia (320,000), Canada (141,400) and Italy (116,100). France has one of the lowest balances, with 55,000 per year.

Legislation in the United Kingdom.

Professionals such as entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, engineers, IT workers and financiers, can enter the country without a job offer and bring their family with them. But non-EU workers with more lowly qualifications must come in response to a specific job offer, for a period of time set in advance and with the guarantee that they will leave at the end of the contract. The law also provides for the fingerprints of applicants to be recorded.

Legislation in Germany.

German law has defined the travel visa as being an autonomous visitor’s permit. For longer stays, a distinction is still drawn between the visitor’s permit (valid for a limited period) and the residence permit (valid for an indefinite period). When entering Germany for the first time, a national visa is vital. Once in Germany, this can then be converted into a visitor’s or residence permit, after which the individual is given refugee status.

Legislation in Spain.

The Zapatero government regularised some 700,000 illegal immigrants between February and May 2005. Some of the countries in the Schengen area, such as Germany, criticised this measure, as immigrants who are issued documentation by Spain can then travel freely within other member countries.

The political situation in North Korea.

Economic stagnation and famine have hit the country heavily. The stories told by refugees are horrifying. North Korea issued a plea for international aid in 1997. The UN still provides food aid and the famine should be contained by now. But according to observers the victims over the last 3 years are between 900,000 and 3.5 million. The circumstances for North Koreans have barely improved and the country remains one of the world’s poorest.

Italy and the “boat people”.

Once again, the Italian authorities have carried out mass deportations of immigrants who crossed the sea to the Island of Lampedusa, including potential refugees. This is the third time in six months that Italy has openly breached international conventions on the status of refugees. Worse still, these individuals are deported to Libya, a country renowned for its regular human rights infringements.

Legislation in the United States.

The United States grants around 675,000 visas a year to immigrants, but these are limited to 20,000 per country. The rule dictates that requests be processed in chronological order. Because of the country’s tradition of birthright citizenship, any child born on American soil can be declared a US citizen. However, marrying a US national alone does not automatically give a person American nationality.

The political situation in Haiti.

Haiti, a former French colony, became independent in 1804. Since then the country has experienced every kind of political regime without ever putting in place a democratic system. In 1987 Parliament ratified a constitution replacing that of 1963 by former dictator François Duvalier. Despite the constitution, Haiti continues to have chronic political instability and constant internal clashes that prompt thousands of people to flee the country.

2030, a demographic Big Bang.

Researchers from the Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat) have stated that over the next thirty years, the growth of the active population will slow down in every region of the world. Much greater investment is going to be needed if less developed regions are to take advantage, in the coming decades, of the opportunities handed to them by the demographic situation.

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