Saturday, February 03, 2007

migration in the old world

The Economist recently had a summary of a new World Bank report on migration in Eastern Europe and the former USSR that brought to light some interesting facts. For instance, in the region:

Russia is the main destination for immigrants, surpassed only by America. That is due partly to ethnic Russians returning to the motherland after the break-up of the Soviet Union, but also to Tajiks, Georgians, Moldovans and other non-Slav citizens of ex-Soviet republics moving to Russia in search of work. In the process, Georgia, for example, lost a fifth of its population in the 14 years from 1989.

Also, remittances play an important role in the economies of many countries in the region.

The money-flows from migration—around $19 billion annually, the authors estimate—are surprising too. In some countries they matter more than foreign investment. For example, remittances make up more than a quarter of Moldova's GDP—a figure exceeded worldwide only in Haiti and Tonga. For nine ex-communist countries, remittances provide 5% or more of national income.

And this was interesting:

The final misconception is about what motivates migration. “Everyone thinks it is all about income differentials, but actually it is all about expectations. Even in poor countries we can expect low levels of migration if people think that conditions there will improve,” argues Brice Quillin, one of the report's authors.

From one viewpoint, the huge migration of recent years to western Europe seems unlikely to continue. Populations are declining in all countries (except Albania) in the western half of the post-communist region. That tightens their labour markets and may stimulate migration from farther east. By contrast, populations in the southern states of the former Soviet Union—countries such as Tajikistan—will keep growing until the middle of this century. “If the typical migrant of the 1990s was a Pole moving to Britain, his successor in the next decade may be a Tajik moving to Poland,” says Mr Quillin. Even Turkey, previously a big exporter of workers, now imports migrants.

I’m wondering how continuing migration will affect the “absorption” capacity of the EU—will increased connections between the newer countries in the EU and countries of the former Soviet Union due to increased migration make further eastward expansion of the EU more likely or less likely? Will new immigrant communities in Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, etc. establish voting constituencies to influence politics in their adopted countries, or will they remain excluded from the mainstream? How long will it take for the more established members of the EU to become accustomed to the 25-nation behemoth the EU has become before they are willing to consider adding new members? Maybe if I read the whole report, I would know more about the answers to these questions, but it’s over 200 pages long so I’ll probably remain in suspense.

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