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South-South migration: is social cohesion at risk?

The global eastward and southward shift in wealth especially in the 2000s has contributed to modifying the geography of international migration. The drop in the cost of international transport, the improvement and accessibility of information and telecommunication technologies, and the income growth in many fast-growing economies have combined to reduce the financial constraints required to emigrate, thus enabling potential migrants to move to more distant destinations and in greater numbers. In this changing geography, South-South migration is due to occupy a prominent place. Apart from the major oil exporters, which have traditionally attracted foreign workers, new industrialising countries have become centres of labour attraction.

Shifting wealth, shifting migration flows

Migration flows are dominated by a few major corridors (Table 3.1). With almost 12 million Mexican migrants living in the United States, the Mexico-US corridor is the largest. But most top corridors (11 out of 20) concern South-South migration, mainly in Asia, while only two corridors correspond to North- North migration (Puerto Rico to the United States, and the United Kingdom to Australia). India is involved in six of these corridors either as a country of origin (in three cases to other developing countries, in one case to a developed economy) or as a country of destination (in two cases).

Table 3.1. Top 20 migration corridors (excluding transition economies), 2010

millions of migrants

South-South flows

South-North flows

North-North Flows

1

Mexico ^ US

11.6

2

Bangladesh ^ India

3.3

3

Turkey ^ Germany

2.7

4

China ^ Hong Kong, China

2.2

5

India ^ United Arab Emirates

2.2

6

China ^ US

1.7

7

Philippines ^ US

1.7

8

Afghanistan ^ Iran

1.7

9

India ^ US

1.7

10

Puerto Rico ^ US

1.7

11

West Bank and Gaza ^ Syria

1.5

12

India ^ Saudi Arabia

1.5

13

Indonesia ^ Malaysia

1.4

14

Burkina Faso ^ Cote d'Ivoire

1.3

15

UK ^ Australia

1.2

16

Viet Nam ^ US

1.2

17

Pakistan ^ India

1.2

18

El Salvador ^ US

1.1

19

Malaysia ^ Singapore

1.1

20

India ^ Bangladesh

1.1

Note: Main corridors in transition economies are Russia-Ukraine (3.7 million migrants), Ukraine- Russia (3.6 million), Kazakhstan-Russia (2.6 million), and Russia-Kazakhstan (2.2 million).

Source: World Bank (2010).

A growing number of developing countries receive more immigrants than they send. Table 3.2 classifies net immigration countries in the South according to their income group and their speed of growth.3 The income level of receiving countries does not seem to play a prevalent role here, since 40% of the countries of net immigration are low-income economies (14 out of 36). By contrast, the rate of growth matters, as 29 of the net recipients in the South are classified as either affluent or converging economies (i.e. high income countries or those with a per capita growth rate over the decade twice that of OECD rates). This confirms that beyond the wage gap between countries, migrants are attracted by current job prospects.

Table 3.2 also includes sectoral categories such as major manufactured goods and oil exporters. In this respect, labour demand for oil production is a significant driver of South-South migration. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for instance, have many more immigrants (7.3 million and 3.3 million, respectively, in 2010) than emigrants (187 700 and 55 900), and the foreign population amounts up to 70% of the labour force in some Gulf countries. Altogether, 8 out of 37 net immigration countries are major oil exporters, 5 of them being both high-income and affluent economies. Exporters of manufactured goods, such as Hong Kong, China and Singapore, also attract foreign workers, although not in the same proportion as oil producers.

Table 3.2. Main net immigration countries in the South, 2010

Income group 4-speed world

High

Middle

Low

Affluent

Bahrain (O)

Brunei (O)

Hong Kong, China* (M) Kuwait* (O)

Macao Oman (O)

Singapore* (M)

Saudi Arabia* (O)

UAE* (O)

Converging

Argentina Venezuela (O)

Botswana Costa Rica Iran (O, R) Jordan* (R) Lebanon (R) Malaysia (M) Maldives Namibia South Africa* Syria* (O, R) Thailand (M)

Chad (R) Djibouti (R) Gambia Ghana* Nepal Nigeria (O) Rwanda Tanzania (R)

Struggling

Gabon (O)

Cote d'Ivoire*

Poor

Comoros Kenya (R) Malawi

Solomon Islands Zambia (R)

Notes: * Top ten net immigration countries (in volume); (M): major manufactured goods exporters (manufactured products represent more than 50% of total exports); (O): major oil exporters (oil represents more than 50% of total exports); (R): major asylum countries (refugees represent more than 20% of immigrants).

Sources: The four-speed-world classification comes from OECD (2010); income groups, oil and manufactured goods exporters correspond to categories coined by the UNCTAD (2010); migration and refugees data come from World Bank (2010).

The fact that South-South migration outnumbers South-North stocks does not mean that going to another developing country is always the first choice of migrants from the South. In many cases, the choice is not theirs to make. Administrative barriers in developed countries are so high, even for high-skilled workers, that most would-be migrants have no other option than to try their luck in other developing countries. In addition, the financial cost of moving to distant richer countries prevents most candidates from the South from doing so (de Haas, 2011; Martin and Taylor, 1996). This explains why South-South migration often corresponds to movements between poor countries.

As shown in Figure 3.1, while emigrants from middle and high-income countries mainly move to developed economies, migrants from low-income developing countries have a developing country as their first destination. In 26 out of 40 cases, the first destination is another low-income country.

Figure 3.1. First destination of migrants from developing countries

by income group, 2005

Source: Authors' calculations based on Ratha and Shaw (2007).

 
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