Saturday, February 11, 2017

Can A President Trump Spark a Massive Increase in South-South Migration?

An immigrant leaves his/her homeland for a reason.  For some, different political and religious beliefs opposed by the ruling establishment force them to seek more tolerant host societies.  For others, familial ties and international romance must be maintained through physical relocation.  But for the vast majority, migration is about economic opportunities, a chance to escape relative poverty by heading toward destinations that offer better-paying jobs and a safer, more orderly, and more entrepreneurial environment to realize unfulfilled dreams of individual prosperity.

For generations, those promised lands were in what geopoliticians called the "global North" and the "global West."  The developed and migration-embracing states of North America and Western Europe were practically the only logical choices that a hopeful migrant would have considered.  They represented an ideology of economic egalitarianism where the new, impoverished immigrant is treated as an equal, a future citizen, and a success story if s/he works diligently and obey the rules.  Migrants bought into the ideology because they assumed it was a social norm, and for immigrant nations like the US, a common experience.

That assumption is in tatters with the election of Donald Trump and political rise of his right-wing anti-immigrant supporters.  The recent attempts to ban Muslim migrants and further scrutinize ones from Latin America no doubt dents the confidence of those with intention to immigrate to the country.  The same pattern is being observed in Europe, where greater political voices of the far right in light of the "native" citizenry's negative experiences with an influx of refugees from the Middle East have led to calls to actively curb multiculturalism in efforts to protect traditional customs and values.

But perhaps more importantly, the potential migrant ought to be turned off by the economic repercussions of increase in anti-immigration tendencies.  Policies that put citizens first would reduce employment opportunities for immigrants, and hostile social attitudes will jeopardize their entrepreneurial projects and even personal safety.  Even if these host societies remain wealthy after the rightward turn, there is simply less guarantee that new immigrants will have the ability to share in the wealth.  Economic pull factors, the biggest draw of migration, become less apparent over time.

As opportunities are reduced for immigrants in US and parts of Europe, wiser migrants certainly would look toward alternative destinations.  Thankfully, they are upon opportune times for this search process.  The "rise of the rest" in the past decades have dramatically increased the wealth of the global East and South, particularly large swaths of Asia.  Standard of living in many areas have caught up with developed Europe, and high growth have brought even more new opportunities for obtaining wealth in ways that a stagnant Europe cannot deliver.  The economic attraction is starting make more and more sense for migration.

And the increase in economic wealth is now being combined with acute labor shortages.  East Asia's low birth rates are sharply increasing dependency ratio and decreasing the total labor force in the coming decades.  Needs for foreign labor, particularly in the service sector (ranging from domestic help to skilled white-collar professionals) that cannot be replaced by automated robotic work, will force even the most reluctant of destinations to open doors for more immigrants.  Such opening will be unprecedented and given continued demographic trends, irreversible,changing local social norms to favor multiculturalism.

Sure, the level of multiculturalism that ethnically homogenous Asian countries can tolerate will likely remain much lower than even in an openly anti-immigrant US, but honestly they probably do not need to be as tolerant.  A reduction in migration from East to West, North to South would also mean a corresponding increase in intra-regional migration, markedly by much greater socio-cultural similarities between the migrants and the majority populations of their host societies.  Similar values and beliefs from the get-go will likely keep resentments and conflicts at bay for more prolonger period of time.

Either way, as new "East-to-East" and "South-to-South" migration patterns emerge, they have the rise of the right-wing anti-immigration folks in the global North and West to thank for hastening their development and cementing their future dominance.  Economic migrants are a high flexible and malleable bunch.  With no burdens for confirming to any social identifies besides that of their homelands, they can go anywhere where opportunities abound.  When the likes of Donald Trump close the doors of immigration, potential immigrants will simply go elsewhere, made possible by the rise of economically dynamic alternative destinations.  

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