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Top 10 of 2006 - Issue #9 Regional Migration in the Limelight

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Top 10 of 2006 - Issue #9 Regional Migration in the Limelight

Hong Kong is one of the top destinations for Asian migrants.

Not every migrant crosses a vast ocean or flies halfway around the world to reach safety or a land of opportunity. In fact, regional migration has been the major form of migration for centuries, and was noteworthy in North America, Europe, and Asia in 2006.

It is well known that the Mexican foreign born dominate immigration flows to the United States, forming 4.7 percent of the total civilian workforce in 2006, according to the Current Population Survey. But that is only part of the story: 50 percent of legal migration to the United States comes from the hemisphere, and 80 percent of illegal immigration comes from Mexico and Central America.

When the UK and Ireland decided to give labor-market access to citizens of all 10 EU accession states upon their entry in May 2004, neither country expected the unprecedented flows that followed. British researcher John Salt told the Economist this summer that, in absolute terms, the population movement since May 2004 is the biggest single wave of migration in British history.

In Ireland, the estimated number of immigrants hit a record high this year (86,900 from April 2005 to April 2006), with 43 percent coming from EU Member States that joined in May 2004. Of the total, 26 percent were from Poland and 7 percent were from Lithuania.

The UK also saw the number of immigrants from Eastern European EU Member States climb over 50 percent, from 52,000 in 2004 to 80,000 in 2005 according to the National Statistics Office. More Polish citizens — 49,000 — came to the UK for at least a year in 2005 than citizens of any other foreign country.

Perhaps more startling was the Home Office's announcement in March that 345,410 people from the new EU states signed up for the special work registration scheme between May 2004 and December 2005.

Because of the large numbers, both the UK and Ireland have said that citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, which join the EU on January 1, 2007, will have to apply for work permits, a decision the UK will reevaluate after 12 months.

On the other side of the world, migration within Asia has increased dramatically, a trend the International Labor Organization reported this summer. Between 1995 and 2000, 40 percent of an estimated 2.9 million Asian migrant workers found jobs in other Asian countries. In contrast, in the 1970s and 1980s, more than 90 percent of the Asian migrant workforce left the region for jobs in the Gulf countries or in Europe.

New Zealand and Australia both made migration-related announcements during October's Pacific Islands Forum, which adopted an ambitious regional cooperation plan at last year's forum meeting.

New Zealand will allow up to 5,000 Pacific Island workers a year to take on temporary jobs in the country's agricultural sector, a program set to begin in April 2007 (see Ones to Watch: Openness to Migrants). After much debate, Australia decided against a similar plan, instead announcing that the Australia-Pacific Technical College, proposed at the 2005 forum, will be headquartered in Fiji. Last year, Prime Minister John Howard called the college a way to "promote more competitive workforces and enable greater labor mobility between the Pacific and developed economies such as Australia."

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