Why you should care
Because there are lots of things worth freaking out about. But growing migration isn’t one of them.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (no judgment), you know by now that we are living in a time of unprecedented migration. And that trend shows no signs of slowing. Everybody agrees — the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations, the World Bank. Except it’s not true. At least, not completely.
What these alarming estimates forget to take into account is population growth. If we adjust the numbers as a percentage of the total population, it turns out migration worldwide has actually remained pretty much at the same level for the past five decades. And what’s that magic number? Around 2 to 3 percent, according to Determinants of International Migration, a research group at the International Migration Institute at Oxford.
Saying we are for or against migration is like saying we are for or against agriculture.
Hein de Haas, University of Amsterdam sociology professor
This will be disappointing to fearmongers trying to pedal the “we’re getting invaded” narrative, but also to globalization idealists who predicted that the advent of the Internet and cheaper means of transportation would lead to a surge in people migrating. What the data shows, however, is that the vast majority of humanity prefers to stay at home regardless of how easy it may be to move. “The media portrays migration as a mass escape from poverty, but it’s actually those with the most means who tend to migrate, while 97 percent of us stay where we were born,” says Diego Acosta, a senior lecturer in European and migration law at the University of Bristol.
Of course, what has increased in the past few years is the number of refugees, coming mostly from Syria. But even then, asylum seekers continue to make up less than 10 percent of all migrants. The current number of arrivals to Europe is not that unprecedented when compared to the million people who fled the Balkan wars in the early ’90s. So why does it feel as if migration is on the rise? Well, that’s likely because the type of migrant has changed. For many decades, Western countries were a large source for emigration. But now, they have become the destination to a growing number of Asians, Africans and Latin Americans. So from a Western-centric view, it’s easy to assume migration is increasing, when what’s actually happening is the profile of the migrant has changed.
While this magic 3 percent does not mean that migration doesn’t pose challenges, it makes the future of human mobility look much less daunting. As Hein de Haas, professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam, puts it, “Saying we are for or against migration is like saying we are for or against agriculture.” Regardless of smartphones or climate change, migration movements appear disappointingly predictable.