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Global migrations part 2: the contemporary era

This video lecture discusses key ways of understanding contemporary international migration as a global phenomenon
International migrants today are 232 million in the whole world. This is both a small and a large number. 232 million people are a relatively small population compared to 7 billion in the world, but they are big. There can be half of the population approximately of the whole European Union. However, to understand migration, its dynamics, the factors, and the actors that influence it, we cannot speak of international migration in general. That’s why we speak of migration systems. Migration systems are sets of countries, usually several countries of origin with one main country of destination, that have long-term, historical, cultural, and of course economic ties. Like they may have been part of the same empire or the same larger state.
They may have had intensive trade and exchange. They may speak the same language, or actually none of these. A typical example of international economic migration is the one that concerns Mexico and the United States. These are two neighbouring countries with a long land border, which makes cross-border movement, at least in theory, relatively easy. In addition, these two countries have very different levels of socio-economic development. And actually, there’s a certain surplus of labour force in Mexico and the need for workers, particularly in the agricultural sector, in the United States. Through the decades, a lot of Mexicans have gone to the United States to find work. This continues to this day.
Another example, however, of migration movements that we specifically call diasporic global migration, concerns Chinese and Filipinos, who move to different countries in Europe and North America, in Asia, to find better employment and to improve their life prospects. What is typical of those migrations is that they go to countries with which they didn’t have particular relations or particular ties before. And these populations create a rather dense network of associations. They keep their ties of Filipinos or Chinese in different countries. That’s why we call them global diasporic migrations. A third example that we need to pay attention to is when actually it is not people who move, it’s borders. This is the typical case of Russia and the Ukraine.
Russia and the Ukraine were both part of the Soviet Union until 1989. So movement of people between these two countries was internal migration. And actually, a lot of people moved both from Russia to the Ukraine and from the Ukraine to Russia. Nowadays, this is international migration. So we see that it is not just the people who migrate, but it’s also the borders. But what lies behind these different types of movements? How can we explain international migration? We have first to think of the individual migrant– the migrant and their family actually. These are the main actors of migration. They have their own motivations that can be unemployment, poverty, or the desire for a better life.
At the same time, of course, we shouldn’t forget what we call the structural factors– what happens in the labour market. Is there unemployment on one side and a need for labour force on the other side? What are the economic prospects? What is the welfare and education situation in the two countries? This is what we call the push and the pull factors. The push factors are in the country of origin. They make people leave, and the pull factors are actually those that create the opportunities for the migrants to go to the destination. In our explanation, we pay also special attention to the networks.
These are migrant associations, cultural organisations, networks of co-ethnics, but also networks of people at the destination country, which make the migration less costly. Less costly in money, less costly emotionally. Why does international migration start? Why do people move? A first set of theories concerns the individuals and how they make their decisions, what are their motivations. So here we look at the neo-classical economics of migration, which considers the individual as a rational actor that speaks of costs and benefits. We also have however the new economics of migration, which is a theory that concentrates on the household. How is migration a livelihood strategy for the household? Other theories, however, pay more attention to structural transformations, labour markets, relations between countries.
So here we have, for instance, one that we call the world system theory, which look at the capitalist expansion from what is called the core capitalist countries to the periphery. Another theory that speaks of the same issue but focusing on capitalist countries is the theory of dual labour markets or segmented labour markets. This theory says that there is something inherent in the capitalist system that invites migration, and migrants enter at the bottom level of the ladder of employment. It is important to explain also why migration continues. Why after the push and pull factors have more or less disappeared people continue to move? Or also, why do they move from one country of destination to a third country?
Why sometimes they return to their country of origin? Two theories come to help us in this explanation. One is network theory, which speaks of the role of co-ethnic networks, but of networks between migrants and natives. Another theory is the theory that we call institutional theory, which pays attention to the role of international organisations, NGOs, that support migrants and other types of semi-state or private actors. Think about your country. Which of these theories would help explain the emigration or immigration to your country? This is the scope of this course, to help you understand what is happening in your country and in the region of the world where you live. We hope everything was clear.
If you want to find out more have a look at the readings. And enjoy the rest of the course.

In their second video of this course, Anna Triandafyllidou and Sabrina Marchetti explain key ways of understanding international migration as a global phenomenon

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Why Do People Migrate? Theories

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