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Migration Slowing as Recession Bites

Press Release
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Migration Slowing as Recession Bites

WASHINGTON/LONDON – Immigrants are overwhelmingly choosing to stay put in their adopted countries, rather than return home, despite the impact of the economic downturn on employment, a new report by the Migration Policy Institute for BBC World Service, published today, reveals. Migration and the Global Recession reports that some migration flows, particularly illegal migration, are also down as would-be migrants are being deterred by reduced job prospects in countries that would previously have offered them better opportunities.

The report focuses on migration flows to and from the major migrant-destination regions of the world, including: the United States, European Union, Canada and Australia; as well as movement in major migration corridors: the United States-Mexico; United Kingdom-Eastern Europe; Spain-Romania and Spain-Morocco; and Gulf State flows from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Philippines.

The report offers three top-line findings:

  • The recession has dampened the movement of economic migrants to the major immigrant-receiving regions of the world. And, counter to some widely held public perceptions, immigrants overwhelmingly are choosing to stay put in their adopted countries rather than return home despite higher unemployment and lack of jobs.
  • While the overall picture is one of sharp remittance decline, some regions are experiencing remittance increases or are holding steady. Though remittances have dropped globally amid the downturn, they remain an important source of income for immigrant-sending countries as other financial streams, including export revenue and other forms of foreign private investment, have proven much more volatile.
  • The recession has hit migrants and their financial well-being particularly hard, with repercussions not only for the migrants themselves and their households but for immigrant-sending and receiving countries alike.

Other specific findings revealed in the report include:

  • Of the 1.4 million Eastern European workers who came to the United Kingdom between May 2004 and March 2009 from European Union accession countries, almost half had returned by the end of 2008 as a result of the UK economic contraction.
  • Turkey has seen the steepest decline in remittance flows, dropping 43 percent since the start of 2008; but remittances represent only 0.2 percent of gross domestic product, so the effect is far less severe than Moldova, which saw the second biggest drop (37 percent) for a revenue stream that represents one-third of GDP. Bangladesh, meanwhile, has experienced a 16 percent increase in remittances since 2008.
  • Mexican inflows into the United States show a steep decline, falling from 653,000 during the March 2004-2005 period to 175,000 between March 2008-2009, largely driven by reduced economic prospects in the United States.
  • Unemployment rates in Spain (which accounted for fully half of all jobs lost in the European Union during the first six months of the recession) rose for foreign-born workers from 10.2 percent during the fourth quarter of 2005 to 28.4 percent during the first quarter of 2009, while native workers' rates rose from 8.5 percent to 17.4 percent over the same period.

MPI President Demetrios G. Papademetriou, who co-authored the report comments: "With international migration having extended its reach across the globe in the last two decades or so, the recession's savaging of the sectors in which most migrants are employed has meant that more people in more countries have been affected than during any other downturn in most people's memory. Yet so far, and despite a few exceptions, there have been no dramatic changes in the way in which either policymakers or migrants have behaved. Policymakers have made only modest adjustments to immigration levels. And so far, relatively few migrants are going back 'home.' One change is evident nonetheless: In most migration corridors, fewer would-be immigrants are emigrating. Staying put, then, seems to be the firmest interim conclusion one can draw from the available data."

"As for the near to mid-term, and without knowing when employment in the major immigrant-attracting countries will start growing again, it is 'safe' to predict that the need for immigrants across an expanding number of countries is now structural and, as a result, large-scale immigration will resume in the next two to five years," Papademetriou added.

Andrew Walker, Economics and Business Correspondent, BBC comments:
"This report is rich and diverse in detail, but one message stands out. Migrant workers have been especially vulnerable to the global economic storms that were blown up by the financial crisis. They are more likely to lose their jobs and their families at home have paid the price in the shape of less financial support. Many have pulled down the shutters while the storm rages and decided to wait for better times — either at home or, if they have already moved abroad, in their host country. It is also very plain from the report that migration is an increasingly important part of the global economic landscape. Investment moves across borders fairly freely in search of the best opportunities. Increasingly, people want to as well. The pattern depends on where the opportunities are. But when the economy recovers, people will be on the move once again."

The report shows that the effects of the recession are nuanced and varied, depending greatly on the character of the flows (permanent, temporary, illegal and humanitarian); whether they are to or from a destination country; and the region of the world involved. However, a look at some of the major migration corridors suggests that illegal and temporary worker flows are most affected by economic contraction.

Migration and the Global Recession is available at www.bbc.com/Aftershock and here.

Notes to Editors:
If using any of the material from the report please credit: BBC World Service/Migration Policy Institute - Migration and the Global Recession report.

The BBC World Service commissioned the report as part of the new Aftershock season investigating the impact of the global recession, which is broadcasting across the BBC's global news services: BBC World Service, BBC World News and BBC.com during September.

About: Migration and the Global Recession Report:
The BBC World Service report commissioned from MPI explores how the recession has affected the movement of some of the world's 195 + million migrants and the money they send to families at home (remittances) in locations around the globe over the past year.

The 130-page report provides data on migration, remittances, employment and poverty rates for immigrants and the native-born alike; and examines the policy changes some countries have enacted to suppress migrant inflows, encourage departures (including through recent "pay-to-go" plans) and protect labor markets for native-born workers.

The report also examines internal migration in China, and how the recession affected the 70 million rural migrant workers who returned to their hometowns for the 2009 Chinese New Year, in what amounts to the world's largest annual movement of people.

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Michelle Mittelstadt, +1 202-266-1910, [email protected]
Penny Crook, +44 (0)207 557 1142, [email protected]

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The Migration Policy Institute, based in Washington, D.C., is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. For more on MPI, visit http://www.migrationpolicy.org.

BBC World Service is an international multimedia broadcaster delivering 32 language and regional services. It uses multiple platforms to reach 188 million listeners globally, including shortwave, AM, FM, digital satellite and cable channels. It has around 2,000 partner radio stations which take BBC content, and numerous partnerships supplying content to mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices. Its news sites include audio and video content and offer opportunities to join the global debate. For more information, visit bbcworldservice.com. To find out more about the BBC's English language offer and subscribe to a free e-newsletter, visit bbcworldservice.com/schedules.