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International Migration

Professor John Salt is Director of the Migration Reseach Unit, based in the Department of Geography, University College London.

Of what significance is migration in planning terms?

We can interpret planning in economic, social, environmental, town and country planning etc terms and at various geographical scales. International migration is important in all. At the national level net migration is bigger than natural change and affects total population and labour force size, planning of government investment and allocating of funding to regions and local authorities and provision of housing. It has important regional implications because immigration is concentrated in London and South-east England and some other local authorities, mainly large cities. It is a major variable element in projections of population and public service provision such as health care and education. Plans for the expansion of the NHS assume continued recruitment of foreign doctors and nurses and local education planning frequently has to take account of pupil mobility in schools which affects funding and educational performance.

What are migration studies used for?

Studies may be both quantitative and qualitative or a mixture of the two. They tell us things like how many people move, where from and to; what sort of people they are and why they move; how integrated they are and indicate degrees of social cohesion and exclusion. All these are important in guiding policy makers and, more fundamentally, tell us about the nature of the society in which we live. Studies have both a direct and indirect policy input. Through the analysis of patterns, trends and processes they provide essential background information for the formulation of policy. For example, before establishing a common European migration policy it is necessary to know something of the diversity of the migration streams affecting individual countries. Research studies are also used to provide evaluations of specific policy measures, such as the dispersal of asylum seekers around the UK. Migration studies are also valuable to employers, trade unions and others, for example in relation to the recruitment of foreign workers and the identification of human rights abuses.

What is the relative importance of monitoring, predicition and 'control'?

These are all interrelated and support each other. Because international migration fluctuates and is open to sudden changes in scale and nature, continuous monitoring is essential. This may be carried out at various levels: some by international bodies such as OECD (which produces an annual report) or the EU (which collects statistical information through Eurostat and is in the process of setting up a European migration observatory); some nationally, usually by central statistical offices or government departments, some local. Monitoring is necessary for prediction. All states produce regular population projections (every two years in the UK) and up-to-date migration data are essential for this. States also monitor migration along different ‘routes of entry’, such as labour, family reunion or asylum. Increasingly we talk about migration ‘management’ rather than control. In effect governments work with other agencies (like employers, trade unions, transport companies) to select and manage flows of people across their borders. In reality, few governments can ‘control’ their borders, especially where these are long and difficult land perimeters.

What impact do you think the announced proposals of President Bush (concerning green cards and visas) have on 'global' population movements?

Immigration into the US, with permanent settlement and issue of a green card, is well established. It works on the basis of a preference system last changed in 1990. Other visa categories are for temporary residence fluctuate in programme numbers, usually for economic reasons. The measures recently announced mainly affect short-term visitors and some temporary migrants. Their effects on migration per se are likely to be small. For example, there will not be much effect on illegal migration from Latin America as long as US employers are able to continue hiring illegal workers. It is too soon to say if there will be major effects on visitor movement to and from the US. What may occur is a shift towards a greater amount of screening of passengers before travel, not just between the US and other countries but more generally. Overall, the Bush proposals will probably not have much effect elsewhere unless there are more atrocities. So far, few other countries have introduced such stringent travel measures as the US.

John was interviewed in October 2003

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