Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Global Immigration: Help Wanted, but Don’t Ask Us for Any

Reading Time: 3 minutes

(A fuller version of this article will appear in the forthcoming SIPA News magazine.)

The occasional explosion of violence between native born-French and Northern African immigrants or the recent riots between African immigrants and Italian citizens in Calabria, Italy remind us that immigration is not just a U.S. phenomenon.  (The violence also reminds us that for all the ugliness of U.S. public opinion or U.S. policy toward immigrants, the U.S.’s anti-immigrant backlash is relatively tame in comparison.)   The pull of labor markets and the desire to seek a better life remains strong across the world.

The problem is that the pull for jobs and the policy to facilitate immigration and integration do not always match.  Perhaps more problematic is that the principal engine for workers to cross borders (the businesses that employ them) remain largely unwilling confront the contradiction between need for and receptiveness to immigrants.  While they may attract them and admit they benefit from them, businesses are too often unwilling to defend immigrants and immigration.

Who Wants Immigrants?  Turns out most of us do.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Migration Barometer1, of the top ten countries ranked by their attractiveness and accessibility for migrants all but two are in English speaking (Australia, Canada, U.S., the UK, and New Zealand) or in Northern Europe (Sweden, Norway, Belgium.)  The outliers are Singapore and Hong Kong, both small economies that have actively sought to bolster their shallow workforce with the skills of immigrant workers.

The barometer is a composite of two indices. The first measures the attractiveness of a country to migrants, looking at economic growth, cultural-historical proximity and quality-of-life factors (quality of public services, access to financial and credit services, civil liberties and ease of remitting money).  The second index measures accessibility for migrants, essentially the countries that are marked by more immigration-favorable policies, including government policy toward migration, ease in hiring immigrants and programs to integrate immigrants.

The countries included in the top ten make sense at one level.  Most of them are developed countries that combine higher rates of growth with generous social safety net programs that promise a cushion to immigrants as they adjust.  Countries farther down the list, such as Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Japan) are curious exceptions.  In these cases, factors such as GDP growth and quality of life measures are relatively on par with the upper ten. Where they diverge largely is on their accessibility for migrants. On this single scale, Germany, Italy, Austria, France,, and Japan rank significantly (and in the case of Japan, abysmally lower) than their counterparts and identified needs for immigrants.

All of this would make sense if it matched these economies’ need for immigrants.  To measure this the EIU looked at the replacement rate of the labor markets, the old-age dependency ratio, the natural increase of workers entering the labor market, and employment ratio, pension liabilities, and productivity.

What this roughly translates to according to the baromoter: fifteen of the top countries that most need immigrants to replenish an aging labor population and state coffers for social outlays are some of the least welcoming in their immigration laws.

Now this wouldn’t matter if there were an active private sector—the primary beneficiary of immigrant labor—were leading the charge to correct this imbalance.  But it isn’t.

And this, in fact is the subject of my next post…which will follow when the SIPA News article appears.

*Christopher Sabatini is Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly and Senior Director of Policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas. He is a regular blogger on AmericasQuarterly.org.

1. Full disclosure: I’m on the peer review panel for the EIU study along with: Frans Bouwen, The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration http://www.thehagueprocess.org/ ; Dr. Graeme Hugo, University of Adelaide, Australia; Benjy Meher, International Business Leaders Forum http://www.iblf.org/ ; Robe Wilke Meins, International Fund for Agricultural Development http://www.ifad.org/ ; Dr. Demetrious Papademetriou, Migration Policy Institute http://www.migrationpolicy.org/ ; Dr. Dilip Ratha, The World Bank; Donald Terry, Boston University School of Law; Nicolette Van Excel, Business for Social Responsibility; and Jeremy Prepscius, Business for Social Responsibility http://www.bsr.org/ .


Christopher Sabatini is the former editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and former senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas. His Twitter account is @ChrisSabatini

Tags: global labor markets, global migration, Immigration, US immigration reform
Like what you've read? Subscribe to AQ for more.
Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Sign up for our free newsletter