International Migration and Globalization: Global Trends and Perspectives

International Migration and Globalization: Global Trends and Perspectives
Author: Aleshkovski, Ivan A.
Almanac: Globalistics and globalization studiesGlobal Transformations and Global Future.

The author analyzes the impact of globalization on the transformation of international migration flows. The author considers the characteristics of the global trends within international migration, namely: a growing scale of the international migration, a geographic expansion of international migration, qualitative shifts in the structure of migration flows, determining role of economic migration, permanent growth and structural intricacy of irregular migration, increase of forced migration, increasing role of international migration in demographic development, and a dual character of migration policy. The author also points out that only a reasonable migration policy can provide a legitimate field for international migration and rational use of migrants' skills.

Keywords: international migration, globalization, labour migration, irregular migration, forced migration, demographic development, migration policy.

In the second half of the twentieth century the humankind experienced an insurmountable and irreversible power of globalization processes, which influenced all spheres of social life and created a global system of interdependency between countries and nations.

This growing interdependency is related to:

• development of integration processes and expanding economic interdependency between national economies;

• growing gap in the levels of economic development between developing and developed countries caused, inter alia, by the demographic factor;

• improvement of communication facilities and the transport system, which allows information, goods and people to move freely and quickly even between territories that are located very distantly from each other;

• activities of international institutes and transnational corporations that engage employees from different countries and promote their movements across the borders;

• social connections that develop as a result of international migration and interracial marriages, in particular, and promote formation of the global system of mutual aid.

Globalization processes within impetuous changes in global political and economic systems have abruptly intensified global migration flows and have led to dramatic shifts in global migration trends that are resulting in the formation of a new stage of migration history of the mankind.

We summarized those trends in our works in the 1990s and 2000s (see Iontsev 1999; Aleshkovski and Iontsev 2008; 2015; Aleshkovski 2016) and by now, they have become well-formed. The most significant among them are the follows:

– an unprecedented growth of the international migration flows and formation of ‘nation of migrants’;

– a geographic expansion of international migration flows due to involvement of practically every country of the world in migration flows;

– qualitative changes in the structure of international migration flows in compliance with the requirements of globalizing labor market;

– determinant role of economic migration, primarily labour migration;

– sufficient growth and structural intricacy of illegal migration;

– a growing scale and geographic expansion of forced migration;

– growing importance of international migration for the demographic development of the world, countries of origin and destination;

– dual character of migration policy at global, regional and national levels.

Growth of the International Migration Scale

The collapse of the USSR and emergence of separate independent states in its place, important political and social changes in the Eastern Europe, the collapse of Yugoslavia and prolonged conflict between the Serbians and Albanians, the crisis in the Persian Gulf, civil wars in Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan, conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – all these and other events of the 1990s and 2000s set in motion vast and often uncontrolled international migration flows and made the international migration become one of the most important global phenomena, which had an influence on the world economy and, respectively, on globalization.

The scale of international migration allows us to define it as a phenomenon with a global impact. According to the United Nations Population Division estimates in 2015, more than 244 million people live outside their country of birth, 57 per cent of the total number of international migrants live in more developed regions. Currently, international migrants make up nearly one of every 32 people in the world, almost one of every eight people in the developed regions and nearly one of every 65 people in developing regions. Collectively, international migrants could now constitute the world's fifth most populous nation if they all lived in the same place – after China, India, the United States, and Indonesia (UN 2015b, UN 2015c).

One should note that these figures do not include illegal immigrants whose number according to different estimates amounts from 10 to 15 per cent of all international migrants (from 24 to 36 million people) and international tourists whose number exceeded 1,200 million. If we add together 150 million labour migrants with their family members, more than 10 million seasonal and frontier workers, and no less than 65 million forced migrants (refugees, displaced people, asylum seekers, ‘ecological refugees’, etc.), we will have the total number of people who are involved in international migration in this or that form which amounts to over 1.5 billion people. If we add together all the categories of migrants then every fifth Earth's inhabitant appears to be an international migrant. This brings up the idea of the so-called ‘nations of migrants’ that can be compared by its number with the population of the largest nations of the world (Aleshkovski 2016).

In fact, the fate of the ‘everlasting exile’ mythical Ahasverus is not just a myth but a real destiny of many people wandering over the world in search for better life, knowledge, for the world's progress in culture and science, for the rest and cure etc.

As it can be seen from Table 1, in the last half a century there have been significant changes in the regional distribution of international migration flows. If in 1960 the majority of international migrants (57.2 %) located in the developing regions, now more than 57.6 % of international migrants have settled in the developed regions. The most perceptible changes have been observed in Europe and North America where over the period from 1960 to 2015 the number of international migrants has increased by 5.3 times and 4.3 times respectively. Currently, the region with the largest number of international migrants is Europe (more than 76.15 million people in 2015), followed by Asia (75.08 million people) and North America (54.49 million people) (UN 2015с).

Table 1. International migrant stock at mid-year by major area, region

Major Area, Region


















Developed regions









Developing regions




































Latin America and the Caribbean









Northern America


















Source: UN 2006b; 2015c.

The important indicator reflecting the ratio of international migration, is the growing share of international migrants in the total population of the receiving states. In 1960, there were 27 countries in the world where the percentage of international migrants was up to 10 %, while in 2015 the number of such countries reached 92, and in 16 countries the share of international migrants in total population exceeded 50 % (UN 2015c).

Between 1960 and 2015 the share of migrants in the total population increased most significantly in the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf: in Bahrain from 17.1 % to 51.1 %, in Kuwait from 32.6 % to 73.6 %, in Qatar from 32.0 % to 75.5 %, in the UAE from 2.4 % to 88.4 %, in Saudi Arabia from 1.6 % to 32.3 % (UN 2015c).

Thus, international migration flows in the contemporary world became global phenomena and this affects all spheres of life of the global community, and international migration became one of the key factors of social and economic development of states.

Geographic Expansion of International Migration Flows

Nowadays, migrants live almost in every country of the world (UN 2016). Even such ‘closed’ states as Northern Korea or Cuba are getting more and more proactive in the migration processes considering that emigration is much more strictly controlled there than immigration, as opposed to many other countries.

It should be noted that in spite of the fact that the majority of international migrants originate from developing countries, the contemporary migration flows do not have only ‘South-North’ or ‘East-West’ vectors. Nearly half of all reported migrants move from one developing country to another and approximately the same amount move from developing countries to the developed ones. In other words, the number of migrants who move from ‘south to south’ approximately balances the number of migrants who move from ‘south to north’.

In the 21st century, all countries and territories of the world are, in one way or another, countries of destination for some migrants. The era of fast transportation throughout the world affects every country, and international migrants appear everywhere. According to the UN Population Division, in 2015 the only sovereign state in the world, where the number of international migrants was less than 1,000 people, was the Republic Tuvalu (its population is less than 10.5 thousand people) (UN 2015c).

In 1965 there were 41 countries with the number of migrants exceeding 300 thousand people, while in 2000 the number of such countries grew to 66, and by 2015 it reached 81; moreover, in 37 countries the number of international migrants exceeded 1 million persons, while in ten countries it was more than 5 million persons. At the top of the list are the USA (46.6 mln persons), Germany (12.0 mln persons) and Russia (11.6 mln persons) (see Table 2).

Table 2. Countries hosting the largest numbers of international migrants, millions



















Saudi Arabia




United Kingdom










Saudi Arabia




United Kingdom








Source: UN 2006b, 2015c.

Thus, over the last 60 years the shifts in the global migration situation were primarily related to considerable changes in geography of international migrant flows as well as to the increasing number of countries involved in international migration processes.

Qualitative Shifts in the Structure of Migration Flows

The profound changes that happened in the world in the second half of the twentieth century are rooted in the development of the post-industrial sector of economy and associated transformation of the demands at global labor market, as well as liberal reforms and democratic shifts in the post-communist and developing countries. This encouraged a qualitatively new stage in the development of international migration. In what follows we point out the key changes in the patterns of international migration.

Shift from Permanent to Temporary Migration

The existing data do not provide reliable information on temporary migration flows and for the most part temporary movements are not recorded in the statistics, whereas detailed information on temporary migrants is not regular. Meanwhile, surveys conducted in some countries of destination and statistics on travelers prove that in the recent five decades the number of permanent (or long-term) migrants has been gradually increasing, however, the number and frequency of short-term movements were growing much faster.

Among all the forms and types of international migration, the labor migration has been growing most rapidly during the last decades. This happens due to the spreading and greater availability of transport which facilities migration and ‘reduces’ the distance between countries and continents. In this situation a temporary work abroad is more preferable than emigration since it incurs fewer material and non-material costs.

On the other hand, globalization of the world labor market demands a more flexible behavior from migrants and this can be partially guaranteed by labor migration. The involvement of foreign workers on a temporary basis also corresponds to the goals of immigration policy in developed countries which are the ‘globalization elite’ and in many respects define the terms for other countries to participate in globalization.

Shifts in the Qualitative Structure of Migration Flows

In developed countries' labor markets which determine the direction and intensity of international labor migration flows, a constant demand for foreign labor is observed at two qualification ‘poles’: low-level workers and labors skilled in technologically advanced jobs. At the same time, the demand for foreign labor in countries of destination tend to evolve towards more qualified labor force, while the receiving countries strenuously encourage qualified immigrants in the branches and sectors of a national economy that face labor deficit.

The shifts in the qualitative structure of migration flows mean, first of all, an increasing number of skilled professionals among international migrants. This trend is closely related to the probably most painful phenomenon in international migration known as ‘brain drain’ which is a non-return migration of highly skilled specialists – scientists, engineers, physicians, etc. (including potential intellectuals such as students, post-graduate students, and trainees). The policy specifically aimed at attracting skilled personnel from other countries is widely used by developed countries, especially by the USA.

On the other hand, low- and non-skilled migrants face new barriers that hamper their access to the countries of final destination. Thus, there simultaneously operate the still preserved push factors in less developed states and the pull factors in receiving countries. As a result, the receiving states have to develop guest workers programs for temporary attraction of low-skilled migrants (ILO 2004: 127–151).

Feminization of Migration Flows

It is traditionally considered that males constitute the major part of international migrants. Females, if they took part in international migrations, used to be the male migrants' family members. But starting from the early 1990s the researchers noticed that currently more and more women migrate not in order to join their partners, but in the search for the jobs in countries where they hope to be better paid in comparison to their home country. In 2015, the share of women among international migrants in the developed countries exceeded 51 per cent (totally in the world – 48 per cent). The share of female migrants is the largest in Nepal (69 per cent), Moldova (65 per cent), and Latvia (60 per cent) (UN 2015b).

In many respects, the above-mentioned fact is connected with structural modifications in the global economy, which accompany globalization processes. The development of the services economy encourage the increasing role of this sector in the structure of the developed countries' labor market (textile industry, leisure industry, social service, sex services, etc.) and constantly growing need in female migrants including those occupied in unqualified jobs.

The Determining Role of Economic Migration

The international migration flows emerge under the influence of different factors, among which economic factors are of primary importance. The growing role and scale of economic migration (first of all, of labor migration) is the most stable and long-lasting trend of international migration. It gained a crucial impetus from the expansion of capitalist economy and commercialization of labor. In terms of global economic globalization the most important issue consists in the formation of the global labor market which operates via export and import of labor resources and has developed to an unprecedented scale.

Despite the fact that one can hardly estimate the general scale of international labor migration flows since far from all the countries monitor the labor migration and a considerable number of labor migrants are illegal; thus, the international labor migration appears to be of a considerable scale indeed and moreover, it turns to be a growing trend.

Table 3. Distribution of migrant workers, by broad sub-region, 2013

Broad sub-region






Northern, Southern and Western Europe



Eastern Europe



Northern America



Latin America and the Caribbean



Sub-Saharan Africa



Northern Africa



Central and Western Asia



Arab States



Eastern Asia



South-Eastern Asia and the Pacific



Southern Asia



Source: ILO 2015a: 16.

According to recent ILO estimates, in 2013 there were 150.3 million migrant workers in the world compared to 86 million in 2000 and 3.2 million in 1960. Almost half of migrant workers (48.5 per cent) are concentrated in two broad sub-regions: Northern America and Northern, Southern and Western Europe. These sub-regions together make up 52.9 per cent of all female migrant workers and 45.1 per cent of all male migrant workers (ILO 2015).

Despite the fact that migrant-workers make up less than 4.2 per cent of the total number of economically active population of the developed countries, the role of labor migration for many receiving countries is much more significant. It is necessary to note that many countries are simultaneously host and home countries. For example, Canada is a traditional country of destination for migrants, but it also sends a great number of workers, especially high-skilled, to the USA (ILO 2004).

We define the following three key factors determining the expansion of international labor migration and the latter's increasing role (IOM 2006: 18):

– the pressure of the changing demographic situation (first of all, the population ageing) and labor market needs in developed countries;

– the pushing demographic factors in developing countries and growing differences of income and opportunities between developing and developed regions, along with an increasing gap between the most dynamically developed countries and other developing world;

– established inter-country networks based on family, culture and history.

Remittances are the immediate and tangible benefit of international labor migration. The receiving countries financially benefit from labor migration mainly via receiving tax payments, while for sending countries the financial inflow from migrant workers is more diverse.

Thus, labor migration as a global transference of human capital has become an important factor of development of the global economy and at the same time it is a result and source of increasing interdependence between countries and regions of the world. Considering that people's international mobility in search for jobs will definitely increase in the globalizing world, it is necessary for countries of origin and countries of destination of migrant-workers to develop an efficient and fair management of labor migration (ILO 2006).

Permanent Growth and Structural Intricacy of Irregular Migration

Labor migration is closely related to another contemporary trend in the international migration – to a permanently growing irregular immigration.

There are no reliable data on irregular migrants in the world. According to different estimations, from 10 to 15 per cent of all international migrants stay in the countries of destination in violation of the law. In other words, irregular immigrants are about half of legal migrant-workers, and their number is not reducing despite the restrictive immigration rules and special laws directed against irregular immigration. Moreover, countries where the use of labor of irregular migrants is widely practiced are replenished with developing countries. For example, Mexico, the largest supplier of irregular immigrants in the world, is at the same time a receiving society for about one million irregular immigrants from the countries of Latin America and Caribbean. It should be noted that the development of irregular immigration brings the emergence of new categories and groups of migrants who violate the law (migration laws, labor codes, etc.), both in destination countries and in transit countries (Aleshkovski and Iontsev 2008).

Whatever the routes and means migrants use to enter a destination country and whatever measures are taken to prevent this flow, we think that it is hardly possible to effectively counteract irregular immigration under the existing predomination of capitalistic norms when in receiving countries the employers benefit from the cheap and rightless labor of irregular migrants, so that illegal migrants become ‘pure taxpayers’ beneficial for employers and receiving state. In combination with demographic pressure and economic pushing factors in sending countries, these circumstances make irregular migration in the contemporary world structurally insurmountable.

However, this does not mean that we are unable to restrain the scale of irregular immigration. In particular, this can be achieved via a more effective management of legal migration flows. The most important issue for receiving governments is to realize that irregular immigration is neither a form of terrorism or criminality to fight with by all means, nor should they run to another extreme and open the doors wide for migrants, so that the citizens will have to defend their indigenous rights against undesirable invasion (Aleshkovski and Iontsev 2015).

Increasing Scale and Geographic Expansion of Forced Migration

Forced migration is a full range of spatial movements related to permanent or temporary changes in place of residence caused by extreme factors not depending on people's will (political and ethnically based persecutions, natural disasters, technological accidents, ecological catastrophes, armed conflicts, etc.). Forced migrants include: refugees, internally displaced people, asylum-seekers, ecological refugees, stateless people and others. For most of them, emergency and life-threat push factors are determinative.

Increase in the scale and geography of forced migration is related to the current stage of international relations filled with political tension, wars, ethnic conflicts, and ecological disasters (after Second World War, over 150 global and regional conflicts happened in the world). According to the UNHCR date, by the end of 2015 the global figure of forced migrants was at 55 million, of which 13.7 million were refugees, 32.3 mln internally displaced people, around 1.8 million asylum-seekers and 3.5 million stateless people (UNHCR 2015).

Table 4. Estimated forced migration stock at mid-year by major area, region, 1960–2015, millions

Major area or region



































Latin America and the Caribbean







Northern America














Source: UNHCR 2015.

Therefore, the forced migration as one of essential contemporary international migration trends has gained a global scale.

The Increasing Role of International Migration in Demographic Development

During the major part of the human history the population number primarily changed due to a natural increase of population. The mortality and fertility rates, growing gap in demographic potentials between less developed and more developed nations, as well as globalization of the world economy have resulted in the growing role of international migration in the demographic development of the globe.

Nowadays, international migration is one of the major factors of stabilization of the world population. As for developed states, it is the principal (and in some countries – the only one) determinant of the population growth, while in the developing states it contributes to the decrease in the population growth rate and alleviates ‘population pressure’. Thus, net migration from less developed regions to more developed regions exceeded 100 million persons during the period from 1950 to 2015 (UN 2015b).

Table 5. Indicators of Demographic Development of More Developed Regions, 1950-2015

time periods

Average annual rate of population change

Average annual rate of natural increase

Average annual rate of migration increase





















































Source: UN 2015a.

Considering the global tendency of decreasing population growth rates developing regions are at the initial stage of this decrease while in developed countries the rate of natural population growth is often negative. For this reason, the migration potential in developing countries remains high while developed countries are dependent on immigrants' inflow to withstand local population ageing. Between 1950 and 1955 the migration increase gains only 1.7 per cent of total population increase in more developed regions, and between 2010 and 2015 migration increase gains more than 65 per cent of total population increase (Table 5).

It is important to highlight that international migration is not only a way to increase the whole population number but it also has a positive impact on its age and gender structure, bringing higher reproductive standards.

In the 1990s the latter argument was applied within the ‘replacement migration’ concept which emphasized the potential of international migration from ‘demographically younger regions’ to compensate for negative demographic trends in the ‘older’ receiving states (UN 2000). Whether ‘replacement migration’ is able to solve problems of population ageing in developed countries is a scientific problem which requires further discussion. Taking into account constant negative trends in demographic development (first of all, population ageing) in developed countries, the number of immigrants required to replace them seems too large. There are forecasts that the EU countries, in order to ‘compensate’ for ageing of their labor-active groups, are to ‘import’ annually 12.7 million immigrants until 2050. Russia, in order, to provide a stable number of the labor-age population, is to admit annually (up to median forecast) about 700,000 – 800,000 migrants (net migration) and gradually increase this number up to 1.5 – 1.7 million migrants by 2025 (UN 2000).

In the 21st century the depopulation trends along with population ageing will make international migration a non-alternative factor of the population growth in the majority of developed countries. In this context, one should consider not only the impact of immigration on the population size in receiving countries but the fundamental shifts in reproductive behavior, gender, age, and ethnic structure of the receiving countries' populations due to inflow of immigrants from distant regions.

The Dual Character of Migration Policy

The transformation of migratory streams into a global phenomenon has aroused a significant interest of scientists, officials, politicians, international public organizations and public in the issues of international migration. In its turn, there emerged a necessity to improve the management tools for migratory processes (in particular, to prevent and reduce illegal immigration as well as to protect the refugees and others in need of protection) and to create a system of multi-level governance of international migration (GCIM 2005).

At the present stage the following three levels of international migration management can be distinguished:

– the global (world) level associates with a set of international treaties, agreements and other bilateral and multilateral normative legal acts on regulation of interstate territorial movements of population, and which pursues social, economic, demographic, geopolitical purposes, etc.;

– the regional (interregional) level which is a set of agreements and other multilateral normative legal acts of integration associations, regional consultative processes and forums on migration on regulation of interstate territorial movements of population;

– the national level (level of individual states) which is a set of measures and general principles to guide a government in managing the international territorial movements of population.

The results of our analysis showed that one of the established measures system characteristics in the field of interstate territorial movements of population management became its dual character.

At the current stage of globalization the dual character of migration policy is distinctly noticeable at three levels (Aleshkovski, Iontsev 2015):

the global (world) level associates with contradictions between interests of various agents of international relations system (developed and developing countries, international organizations and certain states);

the regional level (level of integration associations) associates with existing counteractive trends for liberalization of migration regime within integration associations and simultaneous toughening of migration policy towards citizens of third countries;

the national level (level of individual states) represents a contradiction between social, demographic, and economic interests, on the one hand, and national security, on the other hand.

At the same time, the contradiction between migrants and host states as well as between businessmen and society in general, gains a particular meaning. It is especially important to keep this fact in mind since in recent years, in the developed countries the integrating policy for migrants can be implemented both at the regional and national levels.

Global Level of Migration Policy

The core of the international normative framework on international migration is constituted by agreements, recommendations and others legislative acts, which are adopted at different meetings and conferences, conducted under the auspices of the largest international organizations, mainly the United Nations and its agencies (UNFPA, UNCTAD, UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Compendium of Recommendations on International Migration and Development, published in 2006by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Secretariat, defines to what extent the adopted documents should provide guidance to the governments to promote co-development initiatives in international migration management (see UN 2006a: 95–98).

Thus, the conducted analysis showed that resulting documents of conferences and summits contain various recommendations for improving the migration policy. At the same time, one can define the dual character of the approaches to managing the migratory processes at the global level. The duality at the global level proceeds, first of all, from the differing interests of various actors of the international relations system which are often in conflict with each other. For example, there are contradictions between the major countries of emigration and countries of immigration. As a result, many documents and agreements signed at international conferences remain for many years non-consummated or are applied in a limited number of countries since they have been ratified by an insignificant number of countries.

A typical example here is the situation with ratification of international conventions dealing with migrant workers and affecting economic interests of receiving states. For example, by the present time only 26 per cent of countries has ratified the 1949 Convention No. 97 ‘On migrant workers’ of the International Labor Organization, and as many as 12 per cent of countries has ratified the 1975 ILO Convention No. 143 ‘Concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers’. In its turn, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was adopted in 1990, came into force only in 2003, and has been ratified so far only in 24 per cent of countries (UN 2015a; ILO 2015b).

Regional Level of Migration Policy

Regional cooperation for the management of labor migration can be divided into formal mechanisms of regional integration (migration policy as a component of regional integration), regional inter-state agreements (migration policy in the framework of inter-state agreements within a region) and less formal mechanisms, such as regional consultative processes and other informal arrangements.

The dual character of the migration policy is expressed in two aspects. First, under the conditions of actively developing processes of the regional integration in the modern world, we witness liberalization of migration policy, the appearance of ‘transparent borders’ in the framework of regional unions, and freedom of movement for the population and labor force among the member countries across the internal state borders of those unions. On the other hand, many countries adopt increasingly strict measures towards migrants from ‘the third countries’, caused by different aspects of the national security (including a fight against the threats of international terrorism and protection of the national labor markets).

The second aspect is that the interests and goals of integration association, in general, cannot coincide or can even contradict the interests of individual member states. For example, the position of the United Kingdom from the very beginning of its accession into the EU (1973) had a somewhat special limiting character which, afterwards, found its reflection in that it refused to sign the Schengen agreement. Another example is the North-American Free Trade Agreement (USA, Canada and Mexico), giving a lot of a freedom of movement to citizens, including labor migrants between USA and Canada; however, the possibilities of labor migration from Mexico to those countries are significantly limited.

National Level of Migration Policy

In different periods of history, various components of the government migration policy (emigration or immigration) predominate and define the migration policy for a certain period.

In the special periodical UN publication on demographic policy (World Population Polices Database), there is a special chapter on different national government views and state policy on international migration. Currently only 13 per cent of sovereign states do not regulate the scale of immigration, while 45 per cent of countries do not pursue any emigration policy (UN 2013a). At the same time, all developed countries have their immigration policies. Thus, the immigration component prevails in the modern migration policy. Within the framework of this prevailing immigration policy the governments are interested to learn, who the arriving migrants are: the nationality, profession, qualification, age, family status, etc. These characteristics receive special attention taking into consideration the labor market situation, demographic tendencies, as well as national security aspects.

The dual character of the migration policy is expressed in the contradictions of economic, demographic and geopolitical nature. For example, the economic development usually requires liberalization of migration policy, while the interests of national security often require stricter policy, which could be vividly observed after the 9/11 events in the United States.

In conclusion it is necessary to note that we believe that in order to overcome the dual character of migration policy and to benefit and use opportunities provided by safe, orderly and regular international migration as a resource of development one should apply a strategically adjusted approach to international migration management.


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