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LCC International University > News and Events archive > A Look at International Migration through the Historical Events

A Look at International Migration through the Historical Events


Migration has been present since the beginning of history, and over time it has been problematized and politicized. A lot of misconception exists in the different opinions about the patterns, causes of the migration, the main facts and myths related to international migration, as well as its consequences. According to the World Bank Organization, a person’s life chances are more than 50% determined by which country they are born in, so no wonder so many people choose to migrate. Recently, Dr. Eglė Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak, lecturer in the International Relations and Development department at LCC International University, has discussed international migration, the reasons behind migration, and different outcomes.

For decades, Eurobarometer has been measuring the concerns of Europeans, distinguishing the biggest issues the European Union is facing. In the spring of 2015, even before the refugee crisis was declared, migration came to the top of the Eurobarometer list and stayed there until 2020. Now, as the pandemic took over the number one spot on the list, migration dropped slightly down, but it remains among the top three concerns for the European Union.

Politicization is inseparable from many misconceptions about international migration all over the world. One of the most common misconceptions is an overestimation of the actual numbers of migrants, not only in the European Union, but all over the world. A good example is Russia. According to the Migration Data Portal, an average respondent believes that a quarter of the population in Russia is composed of migrants, when in reality it’s only 8% of the population. This type of misconception poses a question - why is it the case that some people think the figures are larger than they are? In reality, the proportion of migrants has hovered around a few percentage points of the world’s population since the turn of the 19th-20th century. Worldwide surveys show that approximately every sixth person would like to migrate, but don't have the opportunity. It can be due to their resources, or refusal of the intended country. However, intentions of migration make it seem like migration is more prevalent than its real numbers indicate. Furthermore, since the current migration is more diverse, it is more noticeable to the natives’ eye. Another key factor that could determine the misconception of migration is its portrayal in the media, which often presents a distorted picture, focusing on the three C’s – crime, crisis, controversy, and research shows that people who watch more news are more afraid of immigration, even if they have not encountered any migrants themselves.

Analyzing the patterns of migration over the years, it is important to look back and acknowledge that, in reality, migration has been taking place throughout human history, the largest numbers of migrants being when Europeans moved to the Americas. There were also large flows of population when European Russians moved to colonize Siberia and Central Asian countries, as well as the transportation of millions of enslaved people from Africa to the Americas. “A lot of confusion comes from the overwhelming focus on the developed countries, thinking that Western countries face the most immigration. That is not the case,” according to Dr. Eglė Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak. It is important to remember that migration comes in waves. Certain historical events shaped the pattern, but it has stayed relatively steady over the years. The first wave of globalization and hence migration took place in the second part of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century. Such developments as steamship travel and the invention of vaccines determined one of the first migration waves of the surplus European population to the Americas. The time in-between the two World Wars had a slight turndown in the flows of migration due to the Great Depression and the economic downturn that diminished the need for foreign workers, combined with strongly discriminatory measures against certain ethnicities. After the Second World War, we faced the second great wave of migration comprised of two key flows. The first one refers to displaced persons, what we today call refugees and asylum seekers. When people started running away from the Red Army in Eastern Europe, at that time, most Western countries did not accept these refugees, with some later regretting the decision to turn them away and thus pushing them into the settler countries like the United States, Australia and Canada. After the killing of many young men during the Second World War, the West realized they were in great need of labor force, and started inviting “guest workers” (Gastarbeiters) from places like Turkey, Indonesia, and North African countries, mostly based on colonial relationships. It was expected that these people would leave after a few years, however, the courts acknowledged the workers’ right to family life, and many of them brought their families and got settled in Western Europe for good. Other relevant events in the migration thread were the 1970s oil crisis, caused by the war between Israel and Arab states of the Persian Gulf, bringing a worldwide economic downturn and thus slightly lowering the immigration levels, and the end of the Cold War increasing migration due to the fall of the Iron Curtain plus the flows of refugees due to the unfrozen ethnic conflicts etc. “A lot of historical events have affected the movement of the migration flow, but the percentages have not changed significantly over time,” per Dr. Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak.

Today, migration continues on national and international levels. Currently, Asia is the number one continent, overtaking Europe and having 31% of the world’s immigrants. Talking about emigration, Asia once again takes the top, but a large part of them stay within Asia. Overall, migration between developing countries has recently become larger than migration from the poorer countries to the richer ones. To understand and measure migration, the number of migrants and the proportion of migrants have to be distinguished. In terms of proportion, in the absolute majority of the countries, out of all educated people living in the country, a larger proportion of people choose to leave that out of the non-educated people living in the country, however, in terms of raw numbers, low-skilled migration is larger. The greatest emigration rates have been found in small countries and island states, and mostly the reasons are limited opportunities for personal development.

There are five main explanations of migration. The first one is neoclassical theory, meaning the basic understanding of economics that people make decisions based on cost-benefit analysis. This regards the wage levels, employment opportunities, chances of pursuing a better career. According to this theory, migration cannot be stopped, unless all the world’s economic situation equalizes. The second theory is called the dual/segmented labor market theory, stating that migration happens due to the developed countries’ need for cheap labor. This brings us to consider the refusal of the local people to do the jobs that they perceive to be beneath them, and the companies’ reluctance to raise the wages at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy, since all other workers would demand higher wages as well. The third explanation is the new economics of migration, which says that people are not atomized individuals who simply calculate their own costs and benefits, rather, families make decisions together and may send a member abroad in order to diversify the sources of income. This is done in order to minimize the risks, since people take into account not just wage levels, but also the need for social security and welfare state characteristics, for example, access to healthcare. The last explanation of migration believes that colonialism is the main cause. The infrastructure of previously colonized countries is built for the exploitation of natural resources and shipping them to the Western world, displacing a lot of local people from their traditional positions without providing a replacement. In this way, a lot of the immigration countries have caused the immigration themselves through the interference in the regions.

Many people still believe that migrants steal their jobs and live off state welfare (which is a contradictory statement in general). In reality, migration has a slight negative effect only on the wages of the poorest people, minimum and below minimum wage. Furthermore, the question whether migrants become contributors or burdens on the host country depends on that country’s policies. For example, if asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their application is being processed, they are less likely to start working afterwards – the integration window really matters. Furthermore, the most beneficial migrants would be young adults who come for economic reasons, yet they have a much harder time getting into the desired destination country than, for example, family migrants who are less likely to become economically productive. Many immigration countries have a low natural birth rate, meaning that, without migration, they will begin to shrink and the population might decrease so much that there won’t be enough people to pay taxes or take care of their pensioners and retirees. Brain drain is also a huge problem, meaning that well-educated people leave their countries, providing brain gain to other countries. It's no wonder that we have a very mixed bag in the world: in some countries, immigration is problematized, in others emigration and the loss of the population are problematized. But can it ever be resolved? Numerous aspects of countries’ political life, such as capitalism, liberalism, and democracy, play a huge role in complicating migration regulation. They form the “impossibility triangle” which involves businesses that require cheap labor, human rights that require accepting humanitarian and family migrants, and politicians who pay attention to the usually anti-immigrant public opinion. In the end, we have countries pushing migration away from themselves and onto each other, as is the case with the regulation of asylum seeking in the European Union. Since public opinion matters so much, it is important to acknowledge that it is mostly shaped by the media, which in turn mostly takes its cues from politicians, and that is where most of the misconceptions come from. It is crucial to understand the issues inherent in certain situations that have been shaped by decades or even centuries of historical events, but in the end each of us can make a difference, and an environment like LCC creates unique opportunities for high quality contact with people from different countries, as well as education, which are the most important factors in improving the awareness about the facts rather than the myths regarding migration. 


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