MEXICO CITY—A surge in global migration at the end of the 20th century shows no sign of letting up—but is keeping populations from declining in Europe, stimulating economic growth in the United States and providing a much-needed source of foreign income for poor nations, according to a U.N. report released Monday.
The study also urged governments to re-examine their national policies as most countries are currently looking to control who and how many people immigrate, while the economic and social rewards of migration depend on integrating new arrivals and providing clear rules of transit.
“We cannot ignore the real policy difficulties posed by migration,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote in an introduction to the study, which examines the socioeconomic impacts of migration worldwide. “But neither should we lose sight of its immense potential to benefit migrants, the countries they leave, and those to which they migrate.”
Migration growth during the last decades of the 1900s was weaker relative to overall population than the first strong wave of global migration at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, when migrants flocked to the Americas.
But more people are living outside their country of origin than ever before—surpassing 175 million worldwide in 2000, said Hania Zlotnik of the Populations Division of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, who traveled to Mexico to present the study.
Joseph Chamie, head of the Populations Division, told a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York that migrants represent 3 percent of the world’s population, with high proportions in the United States and Persian Gulf countries like Kuwait.
“This issue will be increasingly important economically, socially and politically because many of the migrants will be gaining voting rights,” he said. “As we have seen in the United States, the growing population of Hispanics was an important voting group” and migrants will also become important in European countries.
In the United States, the number of immigrants increased from about 13.5 million in 1910 to 35 million in 2000.
Recent migration also involves more countries and is playing a significant role in demographic change in the European Union, where the population would have declined between 1995 and 2000 without new blood from abroad, the U.N. study found.
Rich, developed countries are seeking greater control of immigration as they target migrants with special skills, said Hania Zlotnik, who presented the study for the Population Division of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
“More countries are saying that they want to lower immigration, and more countries are having policies controlling the qualities of who comes in,” Zlotnik said.
The focus on recruiting skilled labor presents a threat to small developing countries, specifically in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The report also noted the importance of cracking down on smuggling and trafficking of migrants and ensuring respect for human rights.