Global Mobility Today
With more to come in 2020, last year represented a crucial milestone in the world’s adaptation to migration as a permanent condition of global life. There will always be ebbs and flows, but no longer an on–off switch.
If anything, we must expand our horizons to account for and categorize the growing varieties of migration encompassing the movements of talent, labor, wealth, refugees, and other groups whose behavior reflects shifting realities on the ground.
Migration, as with almost everything else, is a function of supply and demand — and, increasingly, it is accepted that more migration creates more demand, stimulating badly needed economic growth. As the world economy heads into a synchronized slowdown, we must view migration as part of the solution, not the problem.
A growing sense of pragmatism is revealed in the past year’s gradual convergence between East and West on migration issues. In 2019, it was noted that Western politics remained negatively obsessed with migration — both in terms of numbers of migrants and political decision-making over migration— while Asia in particular has been more open and pragmatic.
The present circumstances suggest the emergence of a set of policies and practices being adopted worldwide that take a less politicized and more structured approach to migration, and 2020 may prove decisive in determining whether important countries can shift migration from politics to policy.
As the US nears full employment, there has been a recognition that H1-B visa issuance continues to be an engine of investment and innovation. The reelection of Canada’s liberal government under Justin Trudeau portends a continuation of the country’s massively expanded annual rate of migrant inflows. Whereas Canada’s approach resembles the UK’s Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, the UK itself continues to struggle with Brexit and its impact on migration. It seems likely that the slowing economy and lack of single market access will continue to deter significant new foreign investment and inbound migration. At the same time, the education market has remained resilient as US–China trade and visa tensions and the pound’s devaluation have made UK tuition more affordable for foreigners. There is therefore a consensus that foreign students are critical for the UK economy, and that view is likely to hold.
In continental Europe, the diminished migrant inflows across the Mediterranean have enabled a steadying of politics in core powers such as Germany, while in southern Europe changes in leadership in Greece and Italy have brought about a new focus on essential structural economic reforms rather than the political scapegoating of migrants.
The Arab world and Africa will continue to pose risks emerging from both the economic and environmental arenas. The renewed waves of protests across the region such as in Lebanon and Iraq are a reminder that fundamental governance challenges have yet to be systematically addressed and are potentially just a trigger away from unleashing a new migrant wave.
Asia remains a dynamic theater and laboratory for international migration. The US–China trade war has accelerated the shift of Western investment out of China towards Southeast Asia, bringing a new wave of foreign talent into ASEAN countries that have been opening to greater migration through streamlined visa and residency policies.
Despite the political turbulence and climate volatility that will continue to provide unpleasant surprises and sudden surges in migration, it is the growing acceptance of these and other realities that is conditioning governments to appreciate that migration is a force greater than each of us. The solution to migration is not resistance or mitigation, but pragmatic adaptation. It has been win–win for all of history, and will continue to be in the future as well.