Global Migration Is Reaching a Crisis Point

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Global Migration Is Reaching a Crisis Point

According to a new report from the United Nations, 191 million people now live in countries other than the ones in which they were born.1 The sheer growth in the number of immigrants is accelerating at a blistering pace. Since 1990, the total number of immigrants has grown by 36 million, and one-fifth of them have moved to the U.S.

The UN report found that, surprisingly, the U.S. was not the top destination for migrants in 2005. Europe received 35 percent of them, while Asia was second at 28 percent, and North America was third at 23 percent.

The reason likely has to do with geographic and political barriers more than any preference for European or Asian countries over the U.S. It is far easier to migrate from Poland to France than from China to America.

According to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who presented the report to the UN General Assembly, “International migration, supported by the right policies, can be highly beneficial for the development both of the countries [immigrants] come from and of those where they arrive.”

While the statement that immigration can be beneficial is certainly true, it masks a much more complex issue. In some cases, immigration is beneficial; in other cases, it is not; and in still other cases, it is both good and bad.

Migration can bring advantages to the host country in the form of both skilled and unskilled labor. For example, as we reported in the October 2004 issue of Trends, at American colleges and universities, foreign students receive 40 percent of the advanced degrees in chemistry and biology, 50 percent of the advanced degrees in math and computer science, and 58 percent of the advanced degrees in engineering, according to figures from The National Science Foundation.2 Moreover, the NSF found that three of every four foreign citizens who received their Ph.D.s stay in the United States after graduation.

Also, as we explained in the December 2004 issue of Trends, the openness of our businesses to new ideas has flourished in tandem with the openness of our borders to new immigrants.3 For example, many of the key entrepreneurs behind the Internet boom were born in other countries and then moved to America:

  • Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google, was born in Moscow.
  • Sabeer Bhatia, who co-founded Hotmail, arrived from Bangalore.
  • Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, came from India.

The impact of these and millions of other immigrants on the U.S. economy, the number of jobs they create, and the amount of wealth they generate, is immeasurable...

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