Migration – what is it for? A lot, in fact

This year will see the return of migrants to Australia. Universities and inner-city apartment markets desperately need international students, most industries are waiting for skilled migrants to solve their current skills shortages, and our current workforce isn’t large enough. to build all the great infrastructure projects that our governments have budgeted for.

This is a good time for us to think about migration from a global perspective. My goal in today’s column is to provide you with some migration-related numbers that you can keep in mind when reading about the subject in the future.

Living in a place like Australia, where a large minority were not born in the country itself, is quite a rare thing. Of the 90 countries that are home to at least 10 million people, only Saudi Arabia (39%) and Jordan (34%) host more migrants than Australia (30%). In case it interests you, out of 149 countries with over a million people, Australia ranks 10th and out of 232 nations (including tiny microstates), Australia ranks 37th.

Overall, migrants are a small minority. Only 3.6% of all human beings live outside their country of birth. However, we are still talking about a large group of around 281 million people. The trend line moved higher and we saw more rather than less migration. Thirty years ago, the world had half as many migrants (153 million, or 2.9% of the world’s population). The world is becoming a more diverse and multicultural place, and even island societies like Japan have recently opened up to migration.

Besides international migration, there is also internal migration. People are moving between cities in their country of birth at higher rates than ever before – in China alone, the number of internal migrants is estimated at more than 150 million.

Internal migration around the world is driven by the continuous urbanization movement from rural areas to cities. The urbanization rate is 56% overall. In China and India alone, hundreds of millions of people will move from small villages to big cities over the next decade. The two largest countries (56% and 33% respectively) still have urbanization rates well below the Australian figure of 86%.

People migrate when they think their life will be better elsewhere. The definition of better varies. Sometimes job prospects drive people to a new place, sometimes it’s curiosity, often it’s love. In the case of refugees, it is the need to get away from a terrible situation.

Looking into my crystal ball, I predict that the global number of migrants will only increase. Global markets and multinational corporations provide more job opportunities for skilled workers; university exchange programs encourage international marriages; climate change is making vast areas uninhabitable for millions of people.

On an aging planet where birth rates are falling rapidly, countries will fight harder than ever to attract young and skilled migrants. I have written previously that overpopulation is not a problem to worry too much about, as the human population will peak in about forty years.

The prosperous countries of the 21st century will attract migrants. Countries with small labor forces relative to their young and old populations will struggle to create enough GDP to finance their aging populations. The relevant measure here is called the dependency ratio and looks at the working age population (15-64) relative to the non-working age population (under 15 and over 65). Compared to Japan, Australia is in a much more comfortable position here.

The integration of migrants into society remains a challenge, especially as certain myths about migration persist. Traffic congestion and rising housing prices are often cited as negative side effects of migration. These are the growing pains that cities go through when they increase their population.

Cities of all sizes can work just fine. The problem in Australia is that for too long we have allowed the number of migrants to increase without keeping pace with investment in infrastructure and housing. To combat the ills of traffic and expensive houses, you have to build things rather than get rid of migrants. We saw it during the pandemic when migrants left the country and yet property prices rose.

As a migrant nation, Australia must focus on integrating newcomers into the social fabric. We have to play the long game here. The integration of first generation migrants is certainly important, but the integration of the second generation is crucial. Migrant children need to socialize in nurseries, kindergartens, schools and sports clubs with children who represent Australia’s rich tapestry.

We need to be much more generous in funding such efforts. Free universal childcare would probably help a lot here, ensuring that children make friends across ethnic lines, while allowing parents to return to work if they wish.

We will see more migrants in Australia – the policies are clear on this. The social integration of migrants and their children must be at the forefront to maintain social cohesion in the country.

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