Rethinking Migration: Ian Goldin

September 14th, 2011

Photo credit: Robert Judges

Ian Goldin is the Director of the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, and professorial fellow at Balliol College, Oxford. He has served as vice president of the World Bank and advisor to President Nelson Mandela. His many books include Globalization for Development.

We live in a dynamic age of global integration, where the reconnection and mixture of the world’s people is challenging dominant norms and practices in many societies. Disintegration and integration are simultaneous and interwoven. Cultural codes adapt. New economies emerge. Innovation prospers. Social institutions struggle to adapt.

To many, the challenges associated with migration are characteristic of our age of postmodernism, multiculturalism, and aspiring cosmopolitanism. Some are nostalgic for an illusory past when people had more in common. Outsiders have always encountered opposition from their adoptive societies. Nevertheless, the direction of history points to the persistent expansion in the boundaries of community. Our cultural and political frontiers have gradually receded.

In the current period, “migration” is defined as cross-border movement, and it has come to be seen as something to be managed—a cost to be minimized rather than an opportunity to be embraced. My view is that it is a key driver of human and economic development and that our future will be strongly influenced by policies regarding migration. How governments craft and coordinate migration policy will determine

whether our collective future is defined by a more open and cosmopolitan global society or one that is unequal, partitioned, and less prosperous. Public debates about migration are limited by a lack of perspective of its historical role, contemporary impacts, and future prospects.

Let’s shift discussion on international mobility away from narrow national-level immigration debates, toward a more global view of migration. The terms “immigration” and “immigrant” can obscure more than they reveal, because they imply that people move once, permanently—from outside the country to inside—when migration for the most part is temporary, repeated, or circular. This perspective also ignores the dynamism of human movement: countries that accept large numbers of migrants also typically send similarly large numbers across their borders. Migrants are uncommon people, and they often move several times in search of opportunity and safety. Viewing cross-border movement simply in terms of immigration limits a broader appreciation of how networks and economies function in an increasingly integrated world.

I question the received wisdom that an increase in the flow of international migrants is undesirable. The rapidly growing field of multidisciplinary scholarship on the dynamics, flows, and impacts of migration makes the case that current ad hoc regulations are poorly suited for a world economy that thrives on openness, diversity, innovation, and exchange.

Five Principles

We propose five key principles that should guide engagement with migrants and migration by governments and international organizations:

1. Extend transnational rights.

2. Promote social and economic advancement for migrants.

3. Widen the umbrella of legal migration.

4. Combat xenophobia and migrant abuse.

5. Improve data collection.

A global migration agenda need not be advanced only by official agencies. It should also include businesses, labor unions, diaspora groups, religious communities, and civil society groups. These objectives reiterate recommendations made elsewhere, and there is particular resonance with some of the proposals made by the Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM). Together, they touch on policy areas that require reform in the medium term if the ideal of freer movement will be achievable and sustainable in the long term.

Excerpted from EXCEPTIONAL PEOPLE by Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan. Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.

Extra! Ian Goldin discusses the dangers of globalization and technological advances that are often dismissed in this TEDTalk below.


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