Global Mobility Today

Migration has become an ever more central issue in world affairs, both a cause and a consequence of other major themes on the global agenda, such as economic growth, political instability, and climate change. We live in a world where all major issues, including migration, have become by definition cross-border.

Fiscal crises and high unemployment have pushed southern Europeans to northern Europe, the Gulf cities, and the Far East, while state failure in the Arab world and Africa has drawn political and economic migrants to Europe in droves. The more intense these challenges have become over the past year, the more the world has had to proactively develop coordinated and pragmatic migration policies, and the same will be true in the years ahead.

European politics continued to be dominated by migration-related rhetoric in 2018, with Brexit moving forward despite mounting evidence that the UK’s National Health Service and other public institutions are suffering manpower shortages. In Germany, the Christian Democratic Union suffered badly in multiple provincial elections at the hands of the anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), even though net new refugee inflows have been drastically reduced. Sweden and Italy also experienced populist political turns, while 2019 will witness elections for the European Parliament that are already being billed as a referendum on European migration policy.
In America, the Trump administration’s continued reduction of the inflows of both skilled migrants (through the H-1B program) and refugees and asylum seekers remains a core part of the president’s political agenda.

But the situation in Europe and America should not cloud our vision of the long-term demographic realities that all but necessitate that Western societies absorb more migrants, on whom their aging populations, diverse industries, and tax bases depend. Indeed, America’s and Britain’s loss is proving to be Canada’s and Australia’s gain, as they and others maintain openness through transparent migration programs.

The world has had to proactively develop coordinated and pragmatic migration policies, and the same will be true in the years ahead.

Furthermore, major regions such as Asia are becoming ever more pragmatic in their migration policies. The aging societies of Northeast Asia — Japan, China, and South Korea — are all importing more laborers and talented migrants than ever before, both from one another and from the younger societies of Southeast Asia. China’s Thousand Talents scheme, Thailand’s entrepreneur visa, and similar initiatives from Qatar to Singapore show Asian states sustaining a high comfort level with mutually beneficial economic migration.

Migration, then, is an exemplar of a broader ideological divergence that contrasts the approaches of engagement and isolation. Consider how with respect to Iran, Russia, and North Korea, the US has sought sanctions as the primary instrument of leverage, while Asian and most European nations prefer engagement.

But these geopolitical tensions will not be resolved by competing approaches working at cross-purposes. In matters of diplomatic tension, climate change, counter-terrorism, and organized crime — and most certainly migration — pragmatic coordination is the lesson to be learned from the preceding year and, hopefully, to be applied in the year ahead.

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