Top 10 Migration Issues of 2022
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was perhaps the defining geopolitical event of 2022, forcing millions of people to flee to locations around the world. But it was just one of many factors that helped push the number of displaced people globally to record highs, alongside food insecurity, climate change-related natural disasters, and protracted conflict. Meanwhile, changing workforce demands and evolving post-pandemic economic outlooks lured many migrants to new destinations. Governments responded by alternatingly opening and closing their doors, depending on the situation, yet bureaucracies atrophied by nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic often were unequipped to respond to changing dynamics. Our annual list of the Top 10 migration issues of the year takes stock of the multiple and at times contradictory trends in 2022.
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More people streamed across Europe’s borders than during any crisis since World War II following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. As of early December, approximately 7.8 million Ukrainians had been forced elsewhere on the continent, mostly to the European Union, but with 2.9 million heading to Russia. Sizable numbers went farther afield including to North America and even countries with traditionally limited humanitarian protection regimes, such as Japan. Combined with other events in 2022, including conflict and food insecurity in Burkina Faso and post-coup violence in Myanmar, Russia’s invasion pushed the number of displaced people globally above 100 million—up from 89 million the year before.
The response to the crisis, particularly in the European Union, was exceptionally welcoming. While Ukraine is not an EU Member State, its citizens were able to enter the bloc visa-free for up to 90 days pre-invasion, easing the path for millions fleeing violence. Quickly after the war began, EU leaders for the first time invoked the bloc’s Temporary Protection Directive offering displaced Ukrainians residence and rights to work, education, and benefits.
Outside Europe, the embrace was also warm. The United States announced a program allowing U.S. residents to sponsor Ukrainians, resulting in travel authorization for 121,000; permitted approximately 56,000 already in the country to remain under Temporary Protected Status; and granted access to thousands more who arrived seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Canada similarly approved more than 451,000 emergency temporary visas.
This reception was in marked contrast with the generally skeptical and anxious approach often shown to asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Anxiety seen during the 2015-16 European refugee and migration crisis returned in 2022 as a new influx of Afghan, Syrian, and other asylum seekers arrived. Unlike Ukrainians, these migrants mostly did not have legal avenues to enter EU Member States, and often found themselves competing over the same scarce supply of housing and assistance. Many non-Ukrainian arrivals were forced to sleep on the streets in places such as Brussels, as reception centers ran out of space to accommodate them. Combined, the number of new humanitarian migrants in some EU Member States was nearing that of the 2015-16 levels.
With the conflict in Ukraine showing no signs of abating, policymakers, service providers, and displaced Ukrainians alike are left to contend with questions about whether the newcomers are likely to return and how to tackle longer-term integration issues in the interim. Many Ukrainians displaced elsewhere in Europe have tended to find work quicker than previous groups of refugees, but often lower-skilled jobs. One complicating factor is that the population of displaced people is different than typical refugee contexts. Due in part to exit barriers for most fighting-age men, around 86 percent of displaced Ukrainians are women and girls, whereas the gender divide among all forcibly displaced people tends to be about 50-50.
Notably, their legal status is not indefinite: those covered by the EU Temporary Protection Directive hold legal status until at least 2024, U.S. humanitarian parole and Canadian protection lasts for two years, and other countries have their own systems (for more, see Issue No. 6). As displaced Ukrainians contemplate a longer stay abroad and as host communities reckon with long-term integration challenges—on top of, for many countries, escalating numbers of asylum seekers from elsewhere—they do so amid crises around energy and spiraling cost of living, both repercussions from Russia’s invasion that are likely to be felt increasingly sharply through the winter. Whether these factors combine to harden hosts’ attitudes towards Ukrainian newcomers remains to be seen.
Governments across the Americas in 2022 appeared to begin taking a different tack on migration management, viewing increasing hemispheric flows as an issue to be addressed collaboratively, rather than through unilateral actions alone. There was no clearer expression of this sentiment than the adoption of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection in June, with 21 countries from Chile to Canada committing to focus on the root causes of migration, expand pathways for legal movement, work together to combat human trafficking and other dangerous activities, and create an early-warning system for large-scale crises. The declaration is nonbinding, but the signing by the United States and other countries at the least created a platform for joint hemispheric dialogue and action. Similar interest in collaborative approaches was evident in bilateral migration-related agreements signed by the United States with Costa Rica, Panama, and others; between Colombia and Mexico; the three countries of northern Central America; and elsewhere.
This approach was in large part a reflection that migration trends across the continent have shifted, and countries that once were originators for migration now are themselves significant host and transit countries. In part, it underscored the ascension of places such as Colombia, Costa Rica, and Peru as new destination countries, particularly for the vast numbers of people fleeing crisis in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and elsewhere. And for the first time ever, more of the record 2.4 million encounters carried out by U.S. border officials at the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year (FY) 2022, were of individuals from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela than from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Larger numbers of migrants from outside the Americas also passed through, chiefly heading to the United States, including thousands from Ukraine (U.S. authorities recorded more than 25,000 encounters of unauthorized Ukrainians at the southern border in FY 2022, following Russia’s invasion of their country [see Issue No. 1]), South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and other regions.
The movement of Venezuelans was particularly notable, and came partly as a consequence of economic fallout from the pandemic—including inflation rates that hit two-decade highs in Colombia and Peru, where more than half of all 7.1 million displaced Venezuelans live. Through October, more than 148,000 Venezuelans had crossed the treacherous Darién Gap jungle that divides Colombia from Panama, a 37-fold increase over the fewer than 3,000 who crossed in all of 2021. In response, the Biden administration created a narrow humanitarian parole program for Venezuelans arriving by air and who have U.S.-based sponsors, while expelling to Mexico those arriving without authorization at the border. Multiple Latin American countries meanwhile introduced visa requirements for arrivals from Venezuela and elsewhere, sometimes under U.S. pressure.
Following disputed elections in Nicaragua in late 2021 marked by the arrest of multiple opposition candidates, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans fled to neighboring Costa Rica, bringing the number of Nicaraguan asylum seekers there to more than 150,000 by February. Increased numbers also went to Mexico and beyond. Meanwhile, Haiti underwent spiraling violence and instability, compelling many Haitians to emigrate and discouraging those already abroad from returning. And the number of Cubans arriving in the United States without authorization—nearly 225,000 in FY 2022—far surpassed the 125,000 who came during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, a pivotal moment that looms large in the memory of much of the diaspora.
Combined, the developments suggest that the continent is drifting into a more integrated migration zone, in which no country is unaffected by regional movement patterns, and that unilateral visa and migration management policies can have knock-on effects elsewhere. This could spell the beginning of a more collaborative approach to managing migration. Yet it might also prompt new restrictions, as was the case for many Venezuelans in 2022.
East Africa in 2022 suffered the worst drought in 40 years, after five consecutive below-average rainy seasons that scientists have linked to global climate change. Crops withered and animals starved.
When combined with the sharp uptick in food prices that occurred early in the year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the conditions proved disastrous: more than 1 million people were internally displaced by drought in Somalia alone, where UN officials expected to declare a famine by the end of the year. On average, one person was likely to die of hunger every 36 seconds, according to Oxfam. Across the Horn of Africa, more than 37 million people were facing acute hunger, including 7 million children under age 5.
For many, the situation stirred memories of a previous famine in Somalia in 2011, when nearly 260,000 people died, half of them children. Some projections suggest that the current crisis could be more severe.
In Ethiopia, which for most of the year was locked in a bitter conflict between the government and Tigrayan rebels, 534,000 people were displaced by the drought. Meanwhile thousands more migrants entering Ethiopia were headed to drought-affected areas, including at least 69,000 Ethiopians forcibly returned from Saudi Arabia. In March, the Ethiopian and Saudi governments struck a deal to return approximately 100,000 Ethiopians in irregular status, many of whom had been languishing in harsh, overcrowded detention centers.
In some ways, internal displacement can further aggravate humanitarian challenges. The Somali government reportedly delayed formally declaring a famine partly out of fear the designation would prompt large numbers of people to flee rural areas and head to larger cities and towns, where meager social services might be unable to respond and where they might draw aid efforts away from longer-term development and climate resilience projects. In all, nearly 3 million people were internally displaced in Somalia as of August, in addition to nearly 662,000 registered refugees outside the country, mostly in Kenya and Ethiopia.
In some countries, those displaced by food scarcity added to the large-scale protracted displacement that has been going on for years, demonstrating the compounding effect of climate stress and conflict. In many parts of Somalia, the presence of al-Shabab militants hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid. While famines are on the whole much less deadly than in previous decades, events in East Africa in 2022 underscored that the food scarcity remains a deadly threat that can upend societies and displace huge communities.
Issue No. 4: Facing Persistent Labor Shortages and Less Favorable Demographics, Wealthy Countries Yearn for Foreign Workers
Labor shortages in Australia, the European Union, North America, and other traditional regions of immigration have stoked greater demand for foreign workers. The labor issues are to some degree a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic and the one-two punch of scaled-back international mobility and economic restructuring as many native-born workers quit unfulfilling jobs amid the public-health crisis or retired. But there are also longstanding demographic challenges in many countries of the Global North, as fertility rates decline, populations age, and baby boomers retire. These labor shortages are one of the reasons that displaced Ukrainians in the European Union have settled into their new societies quicker than one might have expected (see Issue No. 1).
Several governments in 2022 enacted long-term strategies to recruit immigrants to fill labor gaps. Perhaps no country was clearer about its ambitions than Canada, where more than one-fifth of the population is foreign born. Ottawa in November officially declared a goal of attracting 1.45 million immigrants between 2023 and 2025, doubling down on its efforts to recruit foreign-born workers for health care, manufacturing, and other in-demand fields.
In Australia, which had imposed some of the most restrictive pandemic-related mobility restrictions, the government increased its cap on permanent migrants by 35,000, to 195,000. The new government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is making visa processing a key priority, announcing an AUD $36 million effort to surge staff and streamline processes. The effort was unveiled at an August summit with business and union groups focused on enhancing Australia’s economic competitiveness.
Nearby New Zealand, which has record-low unemployment rates, unveiled a plan to streamline its immigration system and ease residence permits for foreign-born workers in certain high-skill, sought-after sectors. The country also hoped to temporarily double the number of temporary work visas as it bounced back from near-total border closures related to COVID-19.
France’s government meanwhile eyed a plan to legalize irregular migrants who commit to working in sectors with labor shortages. And Germany, which has estimated it needs 400,000 immigrants per year to keep its economy humming, set forth with a slew of legal changes to incentivize migration and plug labor shortages, including by easing access to citizenship.
Efforts were muted in the United States, the planet’s top immigration destination, which granted about 750,000 fewer permanent residence green cards during 2020 and 2021. While legal immigration levels largely bounced back in 2022, the United States has millions of job openings. With Congress largely on the sidelines on immigration policy, the Biden administration announced it would issue nearly 65,000 extra H-2B temporary nonagricultural visas in fiscal year 2023.
Yet recent evidence suggests newcomers might not necessarily immediately slot into the jobs for which they are best suited, leading to possible brain waste. In Canada, for instance, two-thirds of new arrivals hold a university degree, but just 40 percent work in jobs requiring that level of education. A similar situation is true for Ukrainians displaced elsewhere in Europe: Many have taken the first job, rather than the best job that suits their skills and education. Meanwhile, stubborn backlogs mean government bureaucracies might not be equipped to move as quickly as leaders would like (see Issue No. 5). Nations’ post-pandemic labor market needs may be pressing, but 2022 was only the beginning of efforts to address them and the longer-running demographic pressures.
Issue No. 5: Strained Immigration Systems Cannot Keep Up with Post-Pandemic Patterns, Exacerbating Backlogs and Prolonging Delays
Two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, would-be migrants and travelers began eying a return to normalcy in 2022. Yet stubborn backlogs in adjudicating immigration and travel applications hampered movement of all types. In some cases, these challenges were symptoms of the pandemic, which prompted unprecedented closures of consulates, government offices, and a worldwide near-total halt on mobility in 2020. But many administrative pileups have been building for years and came to a head in 2022 as countries seemed eager to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror.
For instance, stubborn case backlogs in Australia meant that 962,000 would-be migrants were stuck in limbo as of May, including nearly 150,000 highly skilled workers. However, the queue shrank in the latter months of the year as the government ramped up its efforts to make the system more efficient (see Issue No. 4).
Similar problems plagued the United States. Although most U.S. consulates had fully reopened for visa processing by late 2022, government officials remained buried under the piles of work that had accumulated in 2020 and 2021. At the end of October, nearly 385,000 applicants for permanent residence were waiting for an interview at a U.S. consulate; in highly congested consulates, particularly in India, people seeking a tourist visa could expect to wait nearly 1,000 days. Meanwhile, 8.8 million applications were awaiting processing as of June, a 54 percent growth over late 2019, pre-COVID-19.
Many humanitarian migrants also faced protracted waits worldwide, contributing to overwhelmed services in Europe and elsewhere. The number of new asylum seekers in the European Union increased to the highest level since the 2015-16 crisis, and nearly 548,000 cases awaited a first-instance decision at the end of December, the most since 2017. These individuals were in addition to those fleeing Ukraine, who largely did not apply for asylum, straining the bloc’s supply of housing and other support.
Meanwhile, resettlement through the formal refugee system remained generally slow. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) oversaw the departure of 47,400 refugees in 2022, higher than the two previous years but less than any pre-pandemic year since 2006.
The United States, typically the world’s top resettlement destination, accepted just 25,500 refugees in fiscal year 2022, among the fewest since its modern resettlement system began in 1980. This was despite the Biden administration’s promise to beef up refugee resettlement and setting the annual cap at 125,000, the most since the early 1990s. The low number is in large part a legacy of the Trump administration, which lowered resettlement to record levels and in the process chipped away at the government’s ability to receive refugees. For asylum seekers within the United States, a record nearly 2 million cases were pending in immigration court at the end of October, delaying protection for many and slowing removal of those who do not meet the threshold for protection.
Farther south, Costa Rica’s efforts at contending with an influx of asylum seekers and would-be applicants, mostly from Nicaragua, led to a backlog that stretched to 250,000 by September.
In the United Kingdom, which saw its highest ever net migration in the 12 months from mid-2021 to mid-2022, the logjams were particularly notable among irregularly arriving asylum seekers, who make up a relatively small share of all migrants but whose numbers have risen and attracted outsized attention. A record 143,400 applicants were awaiting the outcome on their claim as of late November, more than two-thirds of whom had been in the pipeline for more than six months. This logjam is at least in part attributable to slower asylum processing and a record number of people arriving irregularly via small boats over the last two years, including many Albanians since mid-2022.
The Netherlands similarly faced extensive asylum backlogs on par with those from the 2015-16 crisis. Although the number of new asylum claims was lower in 2022 than in those previous years, staff shortages and housing challenges are among the reasons that nearly 30,000 applications were pending as of late November.
In all, the situation underscored an incongruity between nations’ ambitions and their capabilities. Backlogs have made it harder for immigration systems to address labor market and demographic needs as countries seek to move on from the pandemic. Meanwhile, with some countries expressing unease about asylum seekers (see Issue No. 8), rising caseloads and backlogged systems have often meant thousands of applicants were stuck in limbo, relying on government support or living in the country with insecure legal status.
The West’s outpouring of support for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s 2022 invasion came in the form of legal protections and social services—but not, in most cases, formal refugee status. Instead, governments in Europe and beyond offered temporary protection that rarely provides a direct path to permanent residence or citizenship.
In this regard, the approach was an amplification of tools that governments have previously used for Afghans, Venezuelans, and others, and on which they have grown increasingly reliant. In part, it was also a response to a pre-existing reality: unlike Afghans, Ethiopians, Syrians, and others fleeing unrest, Ukrainians were able to travel visa-free to the European Union before the war broke out. In that regard, the EU temporary protections did not create a new pathway but instead allowed displaced people to remain over longer periods without falling into irregular status or have to go through the cumbersome asylum process and navigate overstretched systems (see Issue No. 5).
In the United States, the government has extended humanitarian parole to the vast majority of the 86,000 Afghans evacuated from Kabul since 2021 and likewise did the same in 2022 for approximately 50,000 Ukrainians as of September. This grant places recipients in a liminal space which, as currently structured, does not contemplate their long-term residence; for Afghans, their legal status will expire as early as August 2023. Despite vigorous lobbying throughout the year, Congress has so far declined to take up the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would grant a path to permanent residence.
These and other flexible protection systems, which have the advantage of allowing policymakers in some cases to move more quickly to address crises and with less public resistance, are something of a double-edged sword. While vulnerable people might receive protection quicker than they would otherwise, this legal status is almost always temporary. The alternative, one-off schemes also risk undermining the integrity of the struggling global refugee system if seen as replacements rather than complements to the formal system. And formal legal status, if temporary, might not necessarily reduce an individual’s precarity.
In 2022, some of those perils were drawn into sharp relief for Afghans, who often find themselves on unsteady ground. Those still remaining in Afghanistan faced few legal avenues to escape; of the 50,000 Afghans who applied for U.S. humanitarian parole since international forces withdrew in August 2021, fewer than 10,000 cases had been adjudicated and just 1,000 approved as of August. The United States in October ended Afghans’ ability to arrive via humanitarian parole. Meanwhile, officials were still processing approximately 63,000 Special Immigrant Visa applications in November for Afghans who had worked with U.S. and allied governments, covering an estimated 315,000 applicants and relatives.
Facing limited options, many Afghans have sought to travel irregularly. Afghans were the top national group of asylum seekers in Europe until September, although first-instance recognition rates declined in the early part of the year. Afghans were also among the top groups to arrive irregularly in the United Kingdom via small boats crossing the English Channel. Many came as far afield as the Americas; through October, more than 1,200 Afghans joined the growing ranks of extracontinental migrants crossing the Darién between Colombia and Panama (see Issue No. 2).
Many Venezuelans also faced the repercussions of uncertain status. Colombia in 2022 marked one year of its landmark legalization program offering temporary, decade-long legal status to nearly 2.5 million Venezuelans, who account for about one-third of the more than 7.1 million Venezuelans displaced since 2015. Yet many Colombian institutions have yet to recognize or accept the permit, meaning large numbers of Venezuelans remained unable to access education, health care, or other services. Similar situations played out across Latin America and the Caribbean, where many countries led the way with temporary regularization programs in 2021; a year later three-quarters of Venezuelans were unable to access basic services, food, and housing.
For migrants in distress, the grant of unconventional and novel protection measures is surely welcome. But lacking a path to permanent status, these permits may feel limited as conflicts and crises from Afghanistan to Ukraine to Venezuela become increasingly protracted.
Devastating floods subsumed large portions of Pakistan in 2022, blanketing one-third of the country and affecting more than 33 million people in the nation’s worst disaster of its kind in recent history. At least 1,700 people were killed, hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes, and an estimated U.S. $40 billion in damage was done by the unprecedented rainfall. Among those affected by the flooding were some of the estimated 3 million Afghans in Pakistan.
Pakistan was not alone. For multiple years, flooding and other natural disasters have outpaced conflict and violence as the leading cause of displacement, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. In 2022, several episodes spurred large-scale population movements.
Since the middle of the year, the worst flooding in a decade displaced more than 1.4 million people in Nigeria and killed at least 500, while destroying vast swaths of farmland and buildings. Flooding affected 27 of Nigeria’s 36 states and was partly a consequence of heavy rainfall.
Elsewhere in Africa, at least 2 million people were affected by flooding that affected two-thirds of South Sudan following record rainfall. 2022 marked the fourth year in a row that floodwaters inundated the world’s youngest country, which only recently emerged from a bitter civil war that has prevented its ability to invest in infrastructure and social supports. South Sudan remains Africa’s largest refugee crisis, with nearly 2.3 million humanitarian migrants abroad plus another 2.2 million internally displaced persons. In addition to death and destruction, the repeated damage to roads and bridges has hampered organizations’ ability to provide aid. The repeat years of flooding mean that for many people in places such as the northern Sudd wetlands, prolonged displacement could become permanent.
In response to episodes such as these, the international community in 2022 edged towards bolstering countries’ ability to respond to people impacted by climate change. At the annual UN climate summit, COP27, participants reached a landmark agreement to create a “loss and damage” fund for developing countries impacted by climate change. While critical details are yet to be resolved, the fund has the potential to serve as a vehicle by which wealthy countries of the Global North, which are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions, can help bolster defenses and rebuild vulnerable countries. Money to build sea walls, establish early-warning systems, and other protections might help people ride out future extreme weather. It might help others recover after displacement.
And in May, Argentina adopted a new humanitarian visa pathway for people from the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico who were displaced due to natural events. The policy pairs the pathway with a community sponsorship system and offers legal residence for up to three years. In doing so, Argentina joined a small group of countries to formally explore new legal avenues for people displaced by natural disasters and repercussions of climate change, something most nations have been reticent to do (a memorable 2017 experiment by New Zealand to grant 100 “climate refugee” visas per year was quickly abandoned in large part because Pacific Islanders were uninterested in the status). The move underscores the recognition that climate change is impacting human movement and suggests some governments are interested in responding.
The United Kingdom’s unveiling in 2022 of a controversial and much-criticized policy to send irregularly arriving asylum seekers to Rwanda represented a watershed moment for the disintegrating territorial asylum regime, which ensures individuals fleeing persecution have a right to seek protection in another country, even if they arrive irregularly. The plan, immediately tied up in legal challenges, would redirect asylum seekers who arrive in the United Kingdom to Rwanda, where their case would be reviewed and, if approved, they would be able to settle there. The United Kingdom had committed to paying Rwanda at least GBP 120 million for economic development and growth, plus the costs of the program.
The scheme resonated widely. Since London announced its plan, Denmark has crept towards a similar plan with Rwanda, while Austria pushed other countries to follow suit. Neither country has made significant movement on the front, yet the future of the UK-Rwanda deal might reasonably be viewed as a test case; if courts ultimately allow it to proceed, others might look to it as a model.
If designed to discourage irregular arrivals, the announcement of the new policy was not effective. More than 33,000 people were detected arriving by small boat through September, more than the 28,500 in all of 2021 and much higher than the 8,500 in 2020. As a result, the United Kingdom reached a separate migration management agreement with France later in the year, under which it will pay 72 million euros to increase security patrols on France’s northern beaches, among other efforts to halt asylum seekers and others from crossing the Channel.
In the United States, the Biden administration flipped its approach to the controversial Title 42 border expulsions policy implemented by its predecessor in the name of public health. While going to court to end the policy, which bars access to asylum and was activated by the Trump administration in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden administration later in 2022 embraced it to prevent the arrival of rising numbers of Venezuelans (see Issue No. 2). It also at the same time established a narrow humanitarian parole program for up to 24,000 Venezuelans, provided they arrive by air and have a U.S. sponsor. For an administration that had defined itself in part by its contrast with the immigration restrictions of its predecessor, the move marked a significant change and suggested that Trump-era moves to bar asylum seekers’ access, once seen as extreme, were becoming mainstream. Even as the Biden administration prepared for the court-ordered end of Title 42 towards the end of the year, it was reportedly contemplating similar efforts to limit asylum applications at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Chile’s efforts to deter Venezuelan arrivals by expanding a guarded trench along its northern border with Bolivia became a point of contention as the country grappled with increasing arrivals. Many Venezuelans also faced alleged pushbacks in Guatemala, visa requirements throughout the continent, and other barriers to hinder their movement.
Across the Atlantic, the European Union’s border agency Frontex came under harsh light in 2022 for alleged illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers. Senior staff at the agency were involved in covering up pushbacks that occurred in 2020 along the Greece-Turkey border, according to an explosive report from the bloc’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF. In April, in the midst of the watchdog’s investigation, the Frontex director resigned, ending a seven-year leadership that had been repeatedly marked by controversy.
In July, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the Greek Coast Guard for a 2014 incident in which 11 Afghan migrants died off the coast of the Greek island of Farmakonisi, claiming authorities could have done more to protect them. Yet reports of pushbacks along the Greek-Turkish border have persisted.
Barriers to asylum, heightened border enforcement, and offshoring systems all predated 2022. But in retrospect, the pandemic and uneven recovery in 2022 may be seen as factors that set the stage for governments to wholeheartedly embrace these types of restrictive policies.
Elections in several countries in 2022 underscored the widespread appeal of nationalist politicians who have used immigration as a wedge on their path to victory. In Europe, the trend was most visible in Italy and Sweden, where far-right parties notched major victories. Giorgia Meloni became Italy’s prime minister in October, after her Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, won the most votes in the national election. Meloni made opposition to irregular migrant arrivals a centerpiece of her campaign and early tenure, refusing port access to multiple humanitarian rescue ships and in the process stirring tensions with neighboring France.
In Sweden, the rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats, now the parliament’s second-largest party, underscored voters’ simmering frustration with immigration policies that had marked the country as a humanitarian haven, receiving more asylum seekers per capita in 2015 than any other country. Backed by the neo-Nazi-linked Sweden Democrats, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of the Moderate Party has pledged to reduce the number of asylum seekers his country will accept and make their residence temporary.
Across the continent, populists on the right have been resurgent. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won a fifth term in office in April as voters embraced his professed neutrality about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and resistance to immigration. The European Parliament later declared that Hungary could no longer be considered a democracy. In Denmark, Social Democrats held on to power in part by embracing a more restrictive approach to immigration, including possibly relocating asylum seekers to Rwanda (see Issue No. 8). In France, right-wing leader Marine Le Pen lost the runoff election to Emmanuel Macron in April, but the record support she won from 41 percent of French voters marked a watershed moment for her movement, founded on a platform of nationalist, anti-immigration rhetoric.
Elsewhere, the situation was slightly more mixed. The Americas saw a wave of leftists entering office with divergent approaches. Colombian President Gustavo Petro rebuffed entreaties from Venezuela to return political opponents even as it seeks to normalize relations with Caracas. The land border between the two countries opened for the first time in seven years in September, yet passage across it remained slow.
In Peru, the government of President Pedro Castillo—who in December was ousted from power and arrested after unsuccessfully trying to dissolve parliament—took a more aggressive approach, blaming migrants largely from Venezuela for crime and plotting steps to expel them for low-level infractions. Chilean President Gabriel Boric has faced pressure amid rising irregular migration in his country’s north; while declining the hard-nosed approach advocated by his 2021 opponent José Antonio Kast, he nevertheless continued efforts of his predecessor, including deploying the military at the northern border and implementing a 2021 reform that could tighten immigration.
In Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, the narrow political redemption of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva may represent a break from the immigration skepticism of ex-President Jair Bolsonaro. And U.S. Republicans’ muted gains in Congress will keep President Joe Biden’s Democrats in charge of the Senate, even while almost surely closing the door on the possibility for significant immigration legislation in the next two years.
Combined, the results suggest a somewhat mixed picture. While the populist, immigration-skeptic right seems to be rising in Europe, new leftist leaders in Latin America are less uniform on the issue. And the labor demands of Australia, Canada, countries in Western Europe and elsewhere have in some cases prompted an embrace of the foreign born, at least for highly educated workers (see Issue No. 4).
Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine triggered new animosity for many Russian emigrants, both those who ventured abroad years ago and the more recent exodus of those protesting the war or fearful of military conscription.
Sentiments were most pointed against wealthy oligarchs who for years have taken up residence and stockpiled assets in EU Member States, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries. Governments seized billions of dollars of assets, levied sanctions on those believed to be in league with the Russian government, and even forced the sale of a top-tier British soccer club. Meanwhile Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta rolled back their golden passport programs offering citizenship to wealthy investors—many of whom were Russian.
Most sweeping were the actions by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland—which together account for four of the five EU Member States bordering Russia—blocking entry to Russian tourists. The controversial move was criticized by some as punishing individuals for the behavior of their political leaders, and a proposal to ban Russians across the European Union was shut down by other Member States. In the six months between the beginning of the invasion and the Baltics’ imposition of border restrictions, more than 928,000 Russians reportedly crossed into Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland.
Many affluent Russians went to the Middle East, particularly the United Arab Emirates, which declined to impose sanctions and in 2022 became the top destination for millionaires globally. “Dubaisk,” as some have termed the country’s most populous city, largely welcomed the arrivals with open arms, seeming glad that its neutral position vis-à-vis the war might benefit its efforts to become a global financial and leisure hub.
Debate over Russian migration ramped up again following Moscow’s September implementation of a partial draft to support its faltering military campaign, which prompted hundreds of thousands of young men to flee. They went primarily to Central Asia, in a reversal of typical post-Soviet migration flows. Several hundred thousand arrived in Armenia, seemingly intending to wait out the current hostilities, although the country of 3 million is likely not equipped to accommodate them for a protracted period. Two men even crossed the Bering Strait and landed on a remote Alaskan island where they sought U.S. asylum.
In Central Asia, where Russians can often travel without a visa, the mass influx overwhelmed local officials and prompted ambivalent responses among local communities. While Russian arrivals often promised a cash infusion, they also drove up the cost of living in places hard hit by post-pandemic inflation spikes and stirred uncomfortable memories of the Soviet era. Central Asian migrants often face discrimination in Russia, and now that the tables had turned many struggled with whether to roll out the welcome mat.
Also, Russians’ profiles changed as the months passed. Earlier arrivals tended to be educated tech workers and other middle-class Russians, who were greeted more warmly, such as with the introduction of a new “digital nomad” visa in Kyrgyzstan. But those who came after the draft announcement tended to be less well-off and hailed from more remote locations. Governments were in a delicate position: eager not to upset Moscow, they were also mindful of locals’ anxieties.
As could potentially occur with Ukrainians who have sought shelter in EU Member States, tensions may escalate as the Russian newcomers’ stay endures—particularly if there are perceptions of increased competition for jobs, housing, and services (see Issue No. 1).