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Skip to 0 minutes and 11 seconds In the previous unit, we have seen the neoclassical and new economics of migration theories, which look at migrants as people who choose to migrate. In this unit, we will instead look at another set of theories, according to which migration is not a choice, but rather a consequence of structural forces that go beyond individuals’ decisions and pull them towards countries with greater demand for labour. According to the dual labour market theory, in fact, capitalist labour markets are divided in upper and lower levels. Workers in the upper level are high skilled, earn high wages, and have stable jobs. Those at the bottom are low skilled and work for low wages and in difficult, dangerous, and demanding conditions.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds For people in the lower level, it is very difficult to move up and reach the top. This labour market segmentation corresponds to social hierarchy. People in upper positions have a higher social status than people in lower positions, who may be stigmatised. This is among the reasons why national workers tend to abandon low level jobs, thus generating the need for people willing to take them up. Once migrants settle, they move on to better jobs and new migrants are necessary to fill the bottom level jobs. Another important theory that seeks to explain international migration as an inherent feature of capitalism is the world systems theory, which looks at what happens in the labour market globally.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds According to this theory, along with globalisation, capitalist markets have extended to the peripheries, causing that disruption of traditional economies and local resources. Local workers are exploited and become impoverished due to bad working conditions. Thus, they look for job opportunities in more advanced capitalist economies, where workers are better paid. It is as if the whole world was part of the same labour market, with internal divisions between workers in better and worse positions. Global cities, which are the key centres of capitalist expansion in different parts of the world, play a primary role in this approach.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds A global city attracts high skilled people to work in finance, high tech, and administration, but also workers for low skilled jobs that are essential to the functioning of the capitalist global city. Let’s sum up. According to both the dual labour market theory and the world systems theory, the cause of international migration is the structural inequality of capitalist economies. But while the dual labour market theory emphasises the pull factors for migrant labour among advanced capitalist economies, the world systems theory points to the globalisation processes and the way in which the expansion of capitalism to the periphery destroy traditional economies in migrants’ origin countries and push them to migrate.

Migration as a consequence

Here we describe dual labour market theory and world systems theory and how these provide explanations for international migration.

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This video is from the free online course:

Why Do People Migrate? Theories

European University Institute (EUI)