Introduction Introduction Chapter 5 Chapter 5
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Chapter 1 The Good, The Bad, The Promising:
Migration in the 21st Century

A World on the Move

Unequal Opportunities in a Globalizing World

Between a Rock and a Hard Place:Irregular Migration

Forced Migration: Refugees and Asylum-seekers

Harnessing Hope: International Migration, Remittances and Developent

Burden or Boon? Impact on Receiving Countries

Migrant Health

Beyond Difference: Living with Diversity

Burden or Boon?
Impact on Receiving Countries

Migration can bring both benefits and costs to receiving countries depending on cultural, social and economic context. The three most frequently voiced complaints related to economic concerns are: immigrants take jobs away from the local population; they drive down wages; and they are a heavy burden on the country's social welfare system.(95)

Empirical evidence to support each of these complaints is weak or ambiguous–at least at the aggregate level. The overall impact of migration on the employment and wages of the native population is modest, whether migrants are documented or undocumented, temporary or permanent.(96) This is because migrants tend to fill jobs that residents do not want. Migration inflows tend to affect low-skilled residents the most, who are more likely to directly compete with migrants who possess similar skills and educational background.(98) Added competition can keep wages down and may retard investment in more productive technologies. But many argue that the threat to employees working in blue-collar occupations is no worse than that caused by the introduction of cheap, labour-intensive imported goods.(97)

The common assumption that migrants rely heavily on public welfare but pay relatively little in taxes and welfare contributions also fails to hold up to empirical scrutiny in most cases.(99) A 2005 study, for example, found that, although immigrants account for 10.4 per cent of the US population, they consume only 7.9 per cent of the country's total health-care expenditure and 8 per cent of government health-care funds.(100) The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)(101) and, more recently, the European Commission (EC) maintain that migration contributes to overall growth, greater productivity and higher employment-for everyone.(102)

Beyond labour, wage and welfare issues, the demographic realities of ageing in developed countries have also put international migration in the spotlight. A year 2000 study undertaken by the UN Population Division on "replacement migration"(103) maintains that the majority of receiving countries are in what is known as the "the second demographic transition." This phase is characterized by low fertility and thus, by low or negative population growth, which then leads to a higher proportion of non-working elderly people compared to a younger, more productive population.(104) Many of the world's more prosperous nations, particularly Japan and countries in Europe, are experiencing below-replacement fertility, reduced entry of young people into the labour market and, thus, accelerated demographic ageing.(105) Report authors calculate that slow-growing countries would need to acquire significantly more migrants in order to offset population decline and decreases in the working-age population, while also maintaining current ratios of workers to the over-65 population.(106)

Although it raised much-needed public awareness of the perils of population ageing, the publication sparked an uproar–both in political and academic circles.(107) Critics argue that migration is not necessarily a panacea for fertility decline because, from a demographic standpoint, it can only prevent the ageing of a country's population through unprecedented, unsustainable and increasing levels of inflow.(108) From a social standpoint, the volume of migration necessary to replace the declining population is beyond what any developed country would seriously consider.(109)

The controversy over "replacement migration" would appear to be, in part, a reflection of the strong emotions that multiculturalism and the prospect of massive immigration generates in many countries today. Most low-fertility countries have come to accept some immigration as economically useful, but are concerned with preserving cultural identity. Nevertheless, countries with ultra-low fertility such as Germany, Italy and Spain–and potentially several other countries-are facing a radical decline in population.(110)Dealing with it will require different approaches, within which migration could play an increasing, though not decisive, role.