The process of globalisation was built upon a number of elements. These included the relatively free flow of goods, capital, information and technology — also, but to a limited extent, of people — across international borders, significantly affecting the way the world does business. The process picked up steam beginning the late 1980s and held until the early 2000s. It was, however, interrupted by what economists call the Great Recession. This resulted in a severe economic slowdown across the globe that, in turn, led to a sharp increase in unemployment. Unlike most other recessions, when the recovery came it did not restore economic and social status quo. This had political consequences.
In June 2016, the British electorate voted to move their country out of the EU. The vote for ‘Brexit’ was largely influenced by the arrival of tens of thousands of East Europeans — in particular the Poles — into Britain. Those who favoured Brexit wanted to regain the control of their government on the country’s borders.
While the East Europeans entered Britain legally, that was not the case with many from Mexico and Central America who had entered the US. There were estimates that some 11 million Hispanics had entered the country illegally. They were mostly doing jobs that would not be done by most Americans. That said, there was an impression among many in the US rust belt that had suffered severe de-industrialisation that the job loss in their areas was because of illegal migration. Candidate Donald Trump’s promise that he will send the “illegals” back to the countries from which they had come won him the support of the rust belt and put him into the White House.
These two separate trends relating to the movement of large number of people from poor to rich countries were reinforced by another development. The civil wars in North Africa and the Middle East hurt many communities. Millions died and millions more were displaced. A large number of these people headed to Europe. In 2016, more than a million people sought asylum in Germany, a country that was initially more welcoming to the refugees than other European nations. But there were serious political consequences of this flood of migrants. In many European nations, extreme nationalism and xenophobia convulsed the political systems. There was great fear that in the presidential election in France, Marine le Pen, the leader of an extremist party, may win the contest. That did not happen but it is not clear that the xenophobic tide in Europe has been turned back.
Various gradients create the incentive to leave home and migrate. Among them are the prospects available in the destination countries. Demography also plays a role. Countries with high rates of population growth move towards those that have lower rates. Many European nations have reached the stage of zero growth; some, like Germany, now have declining populations.
Those who opposed the entry of immigrants did so for a number of reasons. If those coming in were non-white — as was mostly the case — anti-migrant sentiment was motivated by racial concerns. Religion also played a part. Most of those who sought asylum in Europe were Muslims, attempting to escape from exceptionally brutal civil wars that destroyed their home countries. There was also the fear that immigration would be economically costly for the host countries. However, some of these concerns were unfounded. One important case is that of Canada that could serve as a good case study of the benefits migrants bring to the host population. “Yet when it comes to immigration, Canada’s policies are anything but effete,” wrote Jonathan Tepperman, the managing editor of the highly respected magazine Foreign Affairs. “Instead they are ruthlessly rational, which is why Canada now claims the world’s most prosperous and successful immigration population.”
The numbers tell the tale. In 2016, Canada admitted more than 320,000 immigrants, the most on record. The country has the highest immigration rates in the world defined as the number of newcomers per head of the population. This rate is three times that of the US. More than 20 per cent of Canadians are foreign born; that is almost twice the proportion in America. But the Canadians are not unhappy with their situation. A recent poll shows that 82 per cent of the native population has a positive view of immigration. Two-thirds see multiculturalism as one of the most attractive features of their country. Ever since the mid-1960s, the majority of immigrants entering Canada were admitted on economic grounds. They were evaluated under a nine-point criterion that ignored race, religion, ethnicity but put emphasis on education, skills and language. The result is that half of all immigrants entering the country have college degrees while the proportion in the US is just 27 per cent. Immigrants entering Canada are more successful than those going to the US. One-fifth of them are likely to own their own homes.
How could this positive experience of a country that has attracted millions of mostly South Asian migrants inform the making of the global public policy? South Asian nations should join hands to bring about a change in the growing anti-migration sentiment in the West. These countries have benefited a great deal from the migration of their citizens to the Middle East, Europe and North America. Working together, they should dispel the notion that the countries that keep their doors open to migration will gain rather than lose.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2017.