Migration and Remittances
Around 250 million migrants currently live outside their countries of birth, making up approximately 3.5 percent of the world population. Despite the widespread perception of a global migration crisis, this ratio has stayed remarkably stable since the end of the Second World War and lags well behind other major metrics of globalization – international trade, capital flows, tourism etc. A more remarkable statistic is that refugees, at around 15 million, account for 6 percent of the migrant population and only 0.2 percent of world population. In other words, we can fit all refugees in the world in a city with an area of 5000 square kilometers – roughly the size of metropolitan Istanbul or London or Paris – and still have some space left over.
That international borders limit migration is obvious. But why should provincial or state borders prevent people from moving within a country? After all, most countries do not impose restrictions on mobility like the “hukou” system in China. Yet, in an article forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Geography, we find evidence of “invisible walls” between Indian states (Kone, Zovanga Louis; Mattoo, Aaditya; Ozden, Caglar; Sharma, Siddharth. 2017). Indians, particularly men seeking education and jobs, display a puzzling reluctance to cross state borders.
Co-authors: Sari Kerr, William Kerr, and Chris Parsons
Highly skilled workers play a starring role in today’s knowledge economy. They make exceptional direct contributions, including breakthrough innovations. As teachers, policy makers, and entrepreneurs they guide the actions of others. They propel the knowledge frontier and spur economic growth. In this process the mobility of skilled workers, within and across national borders, becomes critical to enhancing productivity. Using newly available data, a recent paper by Kerr, Kerr, Özden, and Parsons reviews the landscape of global talent mobility and discusses the causes and consequences of highskilled migration.
Much attention has been paid to understanding the worldwide distribution of human capital and how global migration flows further tilt the deck against poor countries. The migration patterns we see today are the result of a complex tangle of firms and other employers pursuing scarce talent, governments trying to manage these flows through policy, and individuals seeking their best options given the constraints imposed on them. The central outcome, however, is clear: the flows of high-skilled migrants are very concentrated, both within and across national borders.
There are about 245 million migrants worldwide – around 3% of the world population. Roughly one-fifth are tertiary educated. Middle-income countries have a smaller proportion of immigrants than high-income countries (about 1% versus 12%). But for a number of middle-income countries with more immigrants than others, there is uneasiness about relying on unskilled foreigners as they strive to leap from low-wage labor and imitation to high-skilled labor and innovation. There are palpable concerns in Malaysia, for example, with some 2.1 million registered immigrants – about 7% of its population - and likely over 1 million undocumented immigrants. Things reached a crescendo early last year when all new hiring of unskilled foreign workers was suspended as the Malaysian government re-evaluated the management and need for foreign workers. The freeze was subsequently lifted for select sectors amid complaints of labor shortages.
A generation ago, the World Development Report 1984 focused on development challenges posed by demographic change, reflecting the world’s concerns about run-away population growth. Global population growth rates had peaked at more than two percent a year in the late 1960s and the incredibly high average fertility rates of that decade – almost six births per woman – provided the momentum to keep population growth rates elevated for several decades (Fig 1). Indeed, the population and development zeitgeist spawned works such as Ehrlich’s 1968 book “Population Bomb,” which painted apocalyptic images of a world struggling to sustain itself under the sheer weight of its people. The policy discussion of the WDR 1984 reflected these concerns, focusing on how to feed the growing populations in the poorest and highest fertility countries, while also presenting a case for policies that would reduce fertility.