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Effects of Globalization on Migration

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3743 words Published: 30th Jul 2021

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In the twenty first century, international migration touches the lives of more people than ever before. With more than 160 million people estimated to be living outside their country of birth, almost no country is untouched by international migration or is immune to its effects. With poverty, political repression, human rights abuses, and conflict pushing into more and more people out of their home countries while economic opportunities, political freedom, physical safety, and security pull both highly skilled and unskilled workers into new lands, it is believed that the pace of international migration is unlikely to slow in future.

Recorded human history is dotted with ‘ages of migration’. From the Greek colonies and roman military conquests through the Byzantine and ottoman empires, and from the European colonisations to the great migrations of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, migration has been consequential to civilizations as few other large social phenomena have (Spencer, Sarah).

Very few countries remained untouched by migration. Nations as varied as Haiti, India and the former Yugoslavia feed international flows. The United States receives by far the most international migrants, but migrants also pour into Germany, France, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Some countries, like Mexico, send emigrants to other countries, but also receive immigrants- both those planning to settle and those who are on their way elsewhere.

So migration of people to countries has occurred all through history and it is by no means a new phenomenon. What is new is the changing nature of migration in this era of globalization. In this globalize world, where everything seems to be global, migration is also changing its nature and forms which it takes.

The buzzword globalization, like a tidal wave, has carried with it many social and economic dynamics that are now defined in terms of globalizing tendencies. International migration is no exception to this. But what exactly globalization has done to migration is a legitimate and important question. For many, international migration has become global, in so far as globalization means greater circulation of goods, people and capital and also greater velocity in world politics. Globalization has transformed the nature of international migration not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively. Globalization has triggered greater mobility, and there are qualitative changes in migration dynamics brought forward by the diversity of regions and people now involved in the process of migration.

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Supply side factors: – War and large scale disasters, whether natural or man made, are obvious migration triggers as people flee for their lives. Beyond them, the roots of international migration can be found in the quest to protect oneself and one’s family from sustained physical jeopardy and to escape dramatic declines in economic opportunities that have become chronic. The latter cause of migration is qualitatively different from the search for economic improvement, which is a constant feature of migration (Spencer, Sarah).

According to Spencer, two elements within these two broad causes are likely to remain important drivers in the next two decades. The first is political, social and cultural intolerance; at the extreme, gross, group based violations of human rights. The second is the systematic failure of governments to redress issues of cumulative disadvantage: the various forms of economic exclusion and ethno-racial, religious or linguistic discrimination that systematically disadvantage certain segments of a population. Both of these migration drivers are always present, to a greater or lesser extent.

She also talks about three additional causes which require separate mention because they have recently gained in both virulence and importance. The first is outright ethno racial and/or religious conflict in which forcing the targeted group to abandon the contested area is not simply a by product of the conflict but a major policy objective. The second involves the deterioration of ecosystems to the point of making life unsustainable- prime instances are endangered water security and extensive degradation in water quality, the contamination of basic foodstuffs and the consequences of desertification. The third concerns the flight from various forms of natural and man made disasters.

Demand side factors: – There are various factors affecting migration like demographic factors, economic factors etc. Because of low rates of native population growth across the advanced industrial world, migration is already a large demographic force. Between 1985 and 1990, international migrants accounted for about one quarter of the developed world’s population growth. That figure grew to around 45 percent during the period 1990-1995: a function of increased immigration and relentlessly low fertility (Spencer, Sarah).

Worldwide fertility rates are falling, although developing countries continue to see rapid population growth. In most industrialized countries, fertility levels are well below replacement rates. In Europe, the aver age number of children born per woman is 1.4; Italy’s fertility rate is 1.2. Countries with declining fertility face the likelihood of a fall in total population, leading some demographers to see a looming population implosion. Such nations can also expect an aging population, with fewer working-age people for each older person. Although immigration will not solve the problem, it will help ease labour shortages and redress somewhat the aging of the society (Martin, F. Susan).

Demographic trends also help explain emigration pressures in Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Asia, where fertility rates are high. Rapidly growing societies often cannot generate enough jobs to keep pace with new entries into the labour force. Growth may also cause environmental degradation, particularly when land use policies do not protect fragile ecosystems. Natural disasters also wreak havoc on densely populated areas in poor countries (Martin, F. Susan).

Economic factors also influence the migration patterns. Most theorists agree to these factors responsible for migration. Susan explains that Economic trends influence migration patterns in many ways. Multinational corporations, for example, press govern to ease movements of executives, managers, and other key personnel from one country to another. When labour shortages appear, whether in information technology or seasonal agriculture, companies also seek to import foreign workers to fill jobs.

According to Susan, The growth in global trade and investment also affects source countries. Economic development has long been regarded as the best long-term solution to emigration pressures arising from the lack of economic opportunities in developing countries. Almost uniformly, however, experts caution that emigration pressures are likely to remain and, possibly, increase before the long-term benefits accrue. Wayne Cornelius and Philip Martin postulate that as developing countries’ incomes begin to rise and opportunities to leave home increase, emigration first increases and declines only later as wage differentials between emigration and immigration countries fall. Italy and Korea, in moving from emigration to immigration countries, give credence to that theory.

Geopolitical changes since the Cold War era offer both opportunities and challenges for managing international migration, particularly refugee movements. During the Cold War, the United States and other Western countries saw refugee policy as an instrument of foreign policy. The Cold War made it all but impossible to address the roots of refugee movements, which often resulted from surrogate conflicts in Southeast Asia, Central America, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. Few refugees were able or willing to return to lands still dominated by conflict or Communism. With the end of the Cold War, new opportunities to return emerged as decades-old conflicts came to an end. Democratization and increased respect for human rights took hold in many countries, as witnessed in the formerly Communist countries of East Europe, making repatriation a reality for millions of refugees who had been displaced for years (Martin, F. Susan).

Sociological explanations of migration focus on the importance of cultural and social capital. Cultural capital refers to knowledge of other societies and the opportunities they offer, as well as information about how to actually go about moving and seeking work elsewhere. Clearly, globalization helps make this cultural capital available by beaming images of Western lifestyles into the most remote villages. Improved literacy and basic education also contribute to the ability to move. Social capital refers to the connections needed to migrate safely and cost-effectively. It is well known that most migrants follow ‘beaten paths’ and go where their compatriots have already established a bridgehead, making it easier to find work and lodgings, and deal with bureaucratic obstacles. Older migration scholars spoke of ‘chain migration,’ while in recent years much emphasis has been put on ‘migration networks’ and the way these develop as links between communities at home and in destination areas. These networks are much facilitated by the improved communications and transport technologies of globalization, and are therefore gaining in strength and salience. Networks are a further factor that helps sustain and transform migration when the original cause of a movement is removed. For instance, when the German government stopped labour migration from Turkey in 1973, flows continued and grew in the shape of family reunion, asylum-seekers and illegal migrants which all used transit paths and community infrastructures established in the previous period (Martin, 1991).

So, most of the theorists and scholars have agreed to some common factors leading to migration. The most obvious and popular reason given – the pull from higher wages in labour receiving countries. So the push factors in this case are high levels of unemployment and poverty in source countries which push the decisions of natives to move from their country of origin to one having labour opportunities with higher wages.

Also, in some cases, networks of friends and relatives, already working in destination countries serve as sources of information and anchor communities for newcomers. So lured by friends and relatives and social network migration can take place.

Also, it is not only these factors which cause labour migration, but it is in the interest of countries to promote migration. Labour sending countries promote migration because they have some motives. First is the massive domestic unemployment and second is earning of foreign exchange. Labour sending countries promote migration, as this gives some relief in terms of employment as these countries especially the developing countries which have problems of high unemployment and poverty. Aspirations of educated workers for higher wages also lead them to other countries. Sometimes, it is the students who go abroad for study purposes and settle there, as work opportunities and higher wages attracts them.

Secondly, migration also serves as source of foreign earnings. Contribution of worker remittances to foreign exchange earnings is the major benefit that is received by labour sending countries. This could be one reason why countries may favour migration and support it.

So, migration is not a new phenomenon and so the factors are also not new. What is new is the nature and forms which migration is taking in today’s global world.


Globalization is a major driving force of international labour migration. In words of Stalker: –

“In a world of winners and losers, the losers do not simply disappear; they seek somewhere else to go”. (Stalker, 2000)

It stands to reason that globalization with its associated liberalization policies resulted in a massive increase in mobility of labour across borders as in the case of capital and technology. Castles (1999) maintains that globalization tends to erode the sovereignty and autonomy of the nation-state and that international migration is an integral part of globalization. Globalization has made migration much easier through better communications, dissemination of information through mass media and improved transport, among others. It is the increasing trade and investment flows in many regions, which facilitated interest and awareness in migration.

“The recent expansion of the global communications network – telephone connections, satellite dishes and video rental stores – has already had a profound effect on the consciousness of the world’s less prosperous societies. Horizons have been broadened, expectations raised and cultural differences diminished. The images conveyed by such media may be largely false. Nevertheless, they convey a potent message about the advantages experienced by people living in the developed states”. (UNHCR, 1995)

Globalization forces have reinforced the movement of skilled workers who move with FDI flows and multinational investments. Professional managers, highly skilled persons and technicians are welcomed by many countries to attract foreign investment.

Globalization has also increased economic disparities between countries. Stalker (2000) argues that flows of goods and capital between rich and poor countries will not be large enough to offset the needs for employment in poorer countries. For instance, “the social disruption caused by economic restructuring is likely to shake more people loose from their communities and encourage them to look abroad for work.” (Stalker, 2000).

On the “dark side of globalization”, some have argued that globalization contributes to higher trafficking and smuggling of persons across borders with the proliferation of transnationals crime syndicates. (Linard, 1998).

Some theorists and scholars have argued that globalization also reduces migration. Growth in trade can reduce migration through the creation of additional employment and higher growth in labour-sending countries. Increased investments by multinationals in labour-sending countries can create jobs and incomes in the home country reducing emigration pressures. Another possibility opened up by globalization forces is trade in services. “The increased tradability of skill- and knowledge-intensive services opens up new opportunities for high-wage jobs in the migrant-sending countries, and can be expected to induce skilled workers to stay in their home country” (Linard, 1998). The phenomenal growth in software exports from India is a case in point.

But despite some differences, all major theorists by analysing the trends lead to a similar conclusion, that migration is increasing in the global world of today and it is likely to grow in near future.


Two main models of migration and incorporation dominated academic and policy approaches in the late twentieth century: first, the settler model, according to which immigrants gradually integrated into economic and social relations, re-united or formed families and eventually became assimilated into the host society (sometimes over two or three generations); second, the temporary migration model, according to which migrant workers stayed in the host country for a limited period, and maintained their affiliation with their country of origin. Globalization, defined as a proliferation of cross-border flows and transnationals networks, has changed the context for migration. New technologies of communication and transport allow frequent and multi-directional flows of people, ideas and cultural symbols. The erosion of nation-state sovereignty and autonomy weakens systems of border-control and migrant assimilation. The result is the transformation of the material and cultural practices associated with migration and community formation, and the blurring of boundaries between different categories of migrants (Castles, Stephen, 2002).

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The systemic role migration plays in the modern society can be seen as a constant, but its character and forms changes in the context of economic and social shifts and development in technology and culture. So, the specific characteristics of migration changed in the current conditions of globalization. Globalization is not just an economic phenomenon: flow of capital, goods and services can not take place without parallel flows of ideas, cultural products and people. These flows tend increasingly to be organized through transnationals networks of the most varied kinds, ranging from intergovernmental organizations and transnationals corporations through to international NGOs and global criminal syndicates (Held et al., 1999).

Globalization undermines many of the core features of the nation-state. Castles states that International migrants have, by definition, always crossed national borders. But in previous times the assumption has been either that they would permanently move from one nation-state to another (permanent settlement migration), or that they would return home after a period (temporary labour migration). In either case, the sovereignty or power of the nation-state was not questioned. Under conditions of globalization, such expectations lose their validity.

  • Migration tends to increase and migrants to become more diverse in social and cultural characteristics. States do their best to encourage certain types (skilled and entrepreneurial migration) and stop others (unskilled labour migration and asylum-seekers) but find it hard to make clear distinctions and to enforce rules.
  • New developments in information and transport technology increase the volume of temporary, repeated and circulatory migration.
  • Increasing numbers of migrants orient their lives to two or more societies and develop transnationals communities and consciousness.
  • Such trends are linked to the increasing strength of informal networks as a mode of communication and organization which transcends national borders. This can undermine state control policies and reduce the efficacy of traditional modes of migrant incorporation into society (Castles, 2000).

In the last half century, three types of primary migration have been most common: permanent settlement migration, temporary labour migration and refugee movement.

Highly-skilled migration is the type of migration currently most popular with governments of receiving countries. Since the 1980s, the United States, Canada and Australia have set up privileged entry systems to attract entrepreneurs, executives, scientists, professionals and technical specialists. More recently, Western European and some East Asian countries have followed suit (Findlay, 1995). Attracting Indian IT professionals has become a global competition, while the health services of countries like Britain could not run without doctors and nurses from Africa and Asia. This type of migration can represent a ‘brain drain’ – that is a transfer of human capital from poor to rich countries – but may also bring about technology transfer and cultural innovation for areas of origin. Since poor countries continue to turn out more graduates than they can employ, while rich countries continue to prune their education budgets, such migration looks certain to grow (Findlay, 1995).

Low-skilled migration was crucial to post-1945 industrial growth in most rich countries, but is now generally rejected on the grounds that it is economically unnecessary and socially harmful. NICs continue to import unskilled labour, often for construction or plantation industries. However, this often takes the form of systematic use of irregular migrants or asylum seekers, whose lack of rights makes them easy to exploit (Castles, Stephen; 2000).

Under conditions of globalization, certain new types of migration are emerging, or older types are becoming more significant:

  • One new type is the astronaut phenomenon, in which whole families move to countries like Australia and Canada for reasons of security or lifestyle, while the breadwinner returns to the country of origin for work, commuting back and forth across long distances. This type became prominent with regard to Hong Kong in the period preceding re-integration into the People’s Republic of China (Pe-Pua et al., 1998), but continues today affecting increasing numbers of countries.
  • Return migration, though obviously not new, seems to be growing in volume as a result of trends towards temporary or circulatory migration. Return migrants are important agents of economic, social and cultural change, and increasing attention is being paid to their possible role in development processes (Castles, 2000).
  • Retirement migration is an emerging type of mobility closely linked to improvements in transport and communications. Increasing numbers of people from rich countries with relatively high living costs and unattractive climates are seeking to spend their twilight years in more con- genial surroundings. Western Europeans are moving to Southern Europe (King et al., 2000), Japanese to Australia and New Zealand and North Americans to Latin America and the Philippines. This has considerable cultural impacts and also provides the basis for new service industries (Castles, 2002).
  • Finally posthumous migration – a phenomenon that reflects the cultural and psychological complexity of the migratory experience. Many migrants make plans to have their bodies returned to their native soil for burial (Tribalat, 1995:109-11). Even if the dream of return in old age proves a myth, at least the bond with the homeland can be re-asserted after death. Again, improvements in transport – not to mention refrigeration technology – are crucial (Castles, 2002).


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