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Early humans spanned the globe in ways that are still unclear to us, but we do know migration has been a constant feature of human history. Colonization, trade, military action, and slavery became important drivers of migration with the rise of agriculture and settled states. In the last two centuries, long-distance labor migration has grown enormously, giving rise to laws that attempt to regulate human mobility.
- Early Humans
- Domestication, States, and Migration
- Mass Migration from 1840 to 1940
- Migration Since World War II
Humans are a mobile species. The spread of Homo erectus out of eastern Africa from 4 to 1 million years ago, and the subsequent spread of Homo sapiens that began within Africa by at least 100,000 BP (before the present) and departed Africa by 60,000 BP are the clearest examples of this. Our ability to relocate and adapt to new surroundings is inseparable from our rise as one of the dominant life forms on the planet. Our knowledge of these early migrations is sketchy. It relies on painstaking research in archaeology, linguistics, and genetics. Many of the results are still tentative, complicated by the fact that languages, genes, and material culture may or may not have moved together.
Scholars offer several theories to explain human migration from Africa. Early accounts of the journey out of Africa proposed that humans followed large herds of grazing animals directly overland into Europe and across Central Asia. But the fact that humans arrived in New Guinea and Australia about 50,000 BP suggests another movement across the tropical belt, perhaps hugging the coastline with the help of rafts. This hypothesis can be further investigated with underwater archaeology, because sea levels have risen and most of what was the coastline of 50,000 years ago is now underwater. Similarly, the only clear archaeological evidence to date the migrations into the Americas is from 14,000 BP, found in what is now Chile, about as far distant as can be from the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska that is presumed to be the route by which humans arrived in the Americas. Most scholars hesitate to date the arrival in the Americas much earlier than this material evidence. But some linguists and geneticists have suggested that the migrations may have begun as long as 35,000 years ago. Whatever the earliest date of arrival, it seems reasonable to suggest that migrants arrived in the Americas via several waves rather than just one, culminating in the most recent waves across the Atlantic from Africa and Europe over the past 500 years, and from Asia over the past 150 years.
As our knowledge grows, it appears increasingly likely that early migrations were not just a single wave that slowly spread across the Earth, but a complex pattern of multiple directions, reversals, and replacements. This is most apparent when we look at scattered pockets of isolated groups around the world, whose languages have no common origins with any of their contemporary or known historical neighbors. Examples include the Basques in northern Spain, the Yeniseians in northeast Siberia, and the peoples speaking North Caucasian and Kartvelian languages between the Black and Caspian seas. These groups are likely the remnants of early populations that resided in these areas before the arrival of newer migrants anywhere between 35,000 to 10,000 years ago. Unsurprisingly, little is known about the origins of these earliest populations. They may have moved across Eurasia directly from Africa. They may have radiated from a hearth of early humanity in the Caucasian mountains and eastern Anatolia. Some scholars have even speculated that the isolated languages they spoke are part of the Dene-Caucasian language group, which includes Chinese and Tibetan. This would push the origins of their languages to the Southeast Asian highlands, followed by a subsequent dispersal that moved north across Eurasia. Similarly, the later migrants that displaced these earlier populations might not have come directly from Africa but from the area that is now North Korea and Manchuria, where the Eurasiatic languages may have originated as many as 35,000 years ago. With the help of technologies such as skin rafts, Eurasiatic speakers migrated across the northern latitudes all the way from northern Canada to Ireland. These migrants included Indo-European, a sub-group that eventually generated yet more waves global migration that often displaced the speakers of Eurasiatic and Indo-European languages who had arrived earlier.
The causes and organization of those early movements is also unclear. Contemporary hunter-gatherers live itinerant lifestyles, but are largely confined to specific and relatively familiar territories, in part because of the pressures of the settled states around them. In conditions of relatively unpopulated frontiers, what would lead humans to spread out to new lands and learn the new technologies necessary for survival in those lands? Did entire communities move in search of food, space, or a spiritually benevolent environment? Or did isolated individuals or break-off groups leave their home community and eventually create new communities on their own or through bonding with other such individuals? If so, were such individuals compelled to leave their homes, or were they the young adults in search of wealth and adventure that have predominated among migrants during periods of written history? Did they, as is the case with many more recent migrants, originally intend to return to their home communities only to find this goal impossible to achieve? Did these new communities grow through the help of migration from other communities through marriage, capture, and voluntary movement? And, when peoples moved into places that were already inhabited, as must be assumed under models of multiple waves of migration, did they displace, live next to, merge with, or become subsumed into the preexisting communities? Presumably, specific mixes of all these possibilities happened at different times and places.
Domestication, States, and Migration
The domestication of plants and animals over the past 13,000 years has changed the patterns of human mobility. The change was not sudden: itinerant hunter gatherer groups still exist to this day, and many peoples have mixed residence in agricultural villages with foraging and hunting excursions that could last anywhere from days to months. But by 3000 BCE new regimes of human mobility had clearly emerged. Animal husbandry and agriculture were each associated with their own forms of movement. Animal domestication was associated with pastoral nomadism in many parts of the world, in which small groups followed and led flocks to grazing grounds along seasonal circuits. Agriculture, on the other hand, increasingly tied people to single locales. But it also facilitated the rise of large states, and new forms of mobility through military action, colonization, trade, and labor migration.
The spread of these technologies was often associated with the expansion of linguistic groups, even if not necessarily with all of the speakers of those languages. The spread of Indo-European languages during the three millennia after 3000 BCE from their homeland north of the Black Sea across a region spanning from Ireland to northern India was often linked to horse domestication, and possibly to the chariot. Bantu languages started in what is now Nigeria and spread to the southern and eastern parts of Africa from 3000 BCE to 500 CE, often in association with new agricultural technologies. Austronesian languages began their spread from southeastern China through much of maritime Southeast Asia in 3000 BCE along with technologies such as rice agriculture, the stilt house, and pottery. By the time these migrations reached their farthest destinations in Hawaii, New Zealand, and Madagascar less than a thousand years ago, however, many of these technologies had been lost, with the notable exception of their formidable maritime skills based in the outrigger canoe. In all of these cases except the Polynesian islands, it remains uncertain to what extent the mobility was one of expansion into relatively unsettled areas, the conquest and replacement of previous populations, or of some mix of peoples, technologies, and languages moving across existing communities.
These technologies also facilitated the rise of military formations. The effects of the military on mobility could take many forms: the recruitment of soldiers, prisoners, and laborers for army service and public works; the movement and resettlement of administrators, craftsmen, and occupying armies to conquered lands; the establishment of military colonies and frontier garrisons; the creation of refugees; the forcible transfer of villages and populations; and the transport of prisoners to provide public spectacle in important population centers. Some of the more well-known migrations of the past 2,000 years are associated with military conquest and colonization. These include the spread of the Greeks as far as Afghanistan behind the conquests of Alexander in the fourth century BCE; the Arab expansion of the seventh and eighth centuries that brought Islam in its wake from Spain to the borders of China; the Viking conquests in Europe from the ninth to eleventh centuries, and the Mongol conquests of much of Asia in the thirteenth century. Although in all of these cases (except perhaps the Mongols) the conquerors left an enormous cultural and linguistic legacy, but were not necessarily the majority of migrants themselves. The bulk of the people who moved may actually have been soldiers, craftsmen, traders, and refugees of other ethnicities who were compelled to move or who took advantage of opportunities in the newly expanded political spaces. The historical record often overlooks these migrations of the conquered and conscripted , although the Jewish exiles to Egypt and to Babylon, and their later global Diaspora from these destinations and from their homeland, are perhaps the most well-known of all migrations.
The rise of states, empires, and nomadic peoples also facilitated the rise of mobility for the sake of long-distance trade. Powerful states were able to regulate the trade routes, create an elite with a demand for luxury goods, and mobilize resources necessary for long trading expeditions. The skills and knowledge of nomadic peoples in Central Asia, Arabia, and the Sahara in navigating the vast expanses were a crucial part of these trade routes. Long-distance trade also led to the creation of trade diasporas, peoples linked through bonds of family, ethnicity, and common commercial interest who managed the purchasing, financing, transportation, and retailing of goods across these distances. The spread of major world religions and exchange of artistic forms also followed these routes. At the same time, growing commerce and trade encouraged short-distance migration, especially to growing cities, periodic markets, and for seasonal agricultural labor. The transportation routes themselves became a major cause of migration, requiring the labor of numerous porters, animal drivers, guides, guards, and sailors. For more skilled professions, sometimes entire villages or itinerant castes and groups would specialize in the training of certain crafts such as stonework, acting, or construction, and travel the circuits from markets to manors to practice their crafts.
States could also fear unregulated mobility. The gradual suppression of nomadic peoples from 1500 until the twenty-first century is one example of this. But states also tried to manage the mobility of settled people within their borders. This rarely happened in the form of immigration laws and border control as we know now. Rather, states were more concerned to control domestic mobility and stop exit, thinking that a large population tied to the farms and fixed sites of craft production, and easily located for the sake of military service, was a source of wealth and power. In practical terms, individual towns and villages actually devised and enforced these regulations more than states. The local communities knew who was and was not an outsider, and could more effectively administer discriminatory taxes, residence permits, vagrancy and poor laws, quarantines, naturalization procedures and other regulations designed to differentiate subjects from aliens, and the different kinds of rights that were distributed to different groups.
These processes of power and mobility converged in the rise of slavery into one of the major forms of human mobility until the late nineteenth century. The rise of military formations that could be used for raids and capture, the wealth of agricultural states, the formation of settled agricultural families, and the rise of property laws and long-distance markets all facilitated the rise of slavery around the world as a means of both coercing and financing human mobility. The forms of slavery varied enormously, from de facto adoption into families to brutal labor exploitation on plantations and mines. But the relationship of slavery, markets, military, and states was a firm one.
All of these forms of mobility converged into one of the greatest migrations of human history, the conquest and repopulation of the Americas, which also provide a convenient illustration of the varied effects of migration. The movement of over 10 million African slaves from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries was the greatest human relocation to date. The genetic impact of these migrants on the American population is undeniable, yet their linguistic and cultural impact is scattered and diffuse. The cultural and linguistic impact of the 3 million Europeans who arrived in the Americas before the 1820s is much more pronounced. But this, too, was subject to variations. In much of what is now Latin America, European genes are mixed with indigenous American and African through mestizaje. And, while European language and culture clearly dominates, African and indigenous American influences are prominent in many regions. Total migration before 1820 to North America and the southern cone of Argentina was much less than to other parts of the Americas. Yet the destruction of the native population was much more complete and the great majority of culture, language, and genes have come from Europe. This, of course, was largely an effect of the new waves of mass migration that began in the nineteenth century, a subject addressed in the following section.
Mass Migration from 1840 to 1940
Global migration boomed after the 1840s. This is especially true of long-distance migration facilitated by the growth in trains, steamships, airplanes, and other inexpensive and rapid transportation technologies. But shorter distance migration also grew, in conjunction with unparalleled urbanization and commercialization. These developments were inseparable from industrialization, the expansion of global markets and the concurrent massification of production, mobility, and consumption. People were drawn to jobs in factories, plantations, mines, and cities, and to distant frontiers where they provided food and resources to supply the growing industrial centers. The fields of Siberia and North America, the mines of South Africa and Manchuria, the rice paddies of Thailand and Hawaii, the rubber plantations of Malaysia and the Amazon, the factories of Chicago and Manchester, the canals of Panama and Suez, the entrepots of Singapore and Shanghai, the service jobs of New York and Bombay, and the oil fields of Qatar and Venezuela have all drawn migrants as key nodes in an expanding global economy.
Much of this mobility was the continuation and expansion of practices that had been going on for centuries: travel for trade and business, the colonization of agricultural lands, the movement of soldiers and sailors, and the constant ebb and flow of forced and free labor to plantations, mines, factories, and domestic service both far and near. But the explosion in quantity was also a transformation in quality. These migrations were increasingly free, less linked to the military, and dominated by labor migrants looking for work. Many migrants also intended to make temporary journeys to earn money and resources that could be used to support their families back home, although these intentions often changed with time. Over the course of the twentieth century, migrations were also increasingly shaped by management and purification of national populations in the form of border controls and refugee movements.
After the 1840s, it becomes easier to specify the directions and quantities of migration. Long-distance movement increased more rapidly than world population from the 1840s to 1930, with only brief fluctuations due to the depressions from the 1870s to 1890s and World War I (1914–1918). It averaged 3.2 million migrants a year from 1906 to 1914, with transatlantic migration reaching a spectacular peak of over 2.1 million in 1913. After World War I, migration hit new peaks of 3.3 million a year in the late 1920s, with migration to Southeast Asia peaking at 1.25 million in 1927, and migration to northern Asia peaking at 1.5 million in 1929. The Great Depression put a stop to much migration, with the significant exception of the command economies of Japan and the Soviet Union, where coercion, government promotion, and relatively strong economies produced rates of up to 1.8 million migrants a year into northern Asia in the late 1930s. Long-distance migration did not again regain these per annum rates in comparison to world population until the 1990s.
Migrants who traveled by ship before World War II were counted at ports and in ships’ logs, thus providing excellent data for estimates of transoceanic migration. Government frontier settlement programs such as the movement of Russians to Siberia, have also left behind some excellent data. Such estimates usually obscure return and repeat voyages. But they nonetheless allow for reasonable estimates of major long-distance and trans-oceanic migration flows.
At least 170 million long-distance (transoceanic and trans-Siberian) voyages took place from 1840 to 1940. These migrations can be divided in to three main systems: 1) 55–58 million migrants from Europe and the Middle East to the Americas; 2) 48–52 million Indians and South Chinese to Southeast Asia and areas bordering the Indian Ocean; and 3) 46–51 million North Chinese, Russians, Koreans and Japanese into central and northern Asia, especially to Manchuria and the southern portions of Siberia. The majority of long-distance migration from 1840 to 1940 can be divided into three main systems. In addition, about 2.5 million East Asians and Indians moved to the Americas, about 8 million Europeans moved to Africa, Asia, and Australia.
Over 65 percent of the transatlantic migrants went to the United States, with the bulk of the remainder divided between Canada, Argentina (which had the largest proportion of foreign-born residents), Brazil, and, to a lesser extent, Cuba. Over half of the emigration before the 1870s was from the British Isles, with much of the remainder from northwest Europe. After the 1880s, regions of intensive emigration spread south and east as far as Portugal, Russia, and Syria. Up to 2.5 million migrants from Southeast Asia also traveled to the Americas, mostly to the frontiers of western North America or the plantations of the Caribbean, Peru, and Brazil. Half of this migration took place before 1885, after which the decline of indentured labor recruitment and the rise of anti-Asian immigration laws began to take effect.
Migration to Southeast Asia and lands around the Indian Ocean and South Pacific consisted of over 29 million Indians and over 19 million Chinese, with much smaller numbers of Japanese, Europeans, and western Asians. Most migration from India was to colonies throughout the British Empire. Less than 10 percent of this migration was indentured, although much of it was undertaken with assistance from colonial authorities, or under some form of debt obligation under kangani labor recruitment systems. Over 2 million Indians also migrated as merchants or other travelers not intending to work as laborers. Migration expanded with the increasing restriction of indenture contracts in India after 1908 and the abolishment of indenture in 1920. Nearly 4 million Indians traveled to Malaysia, over 8 million to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), over 15 million to Burma (now Myanmar), and about a million to Africa, other parts of Southeast Asia, and islands throughout the Indian and Pacific oceans.
The vast majority of Chinese migrants came from the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. Fewer than three-quarters of a million of them signed indenture contracts with European employers, including a quarter million to Latin America and the Caribbean before 1874, a quarter million to Sumatra from the 1880s to the 1910s, and a smaller number to mines, plantations, and islands scattered throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans. Many more Chinese worked for Chinese employers under various forms of contract and debt obligation, wage labor, and profit sharing. Up to 11 million Chinese traveled from China to the Straits Settlements, although more than a third of these transshipped to the Dutch Indies, Borneo, Burma, and places farther west. Nearly 4 million traveled directly from China to Thailand, between 2 and 3 million to French Indochina, over a million to the Dutch Indies (for a total of over 4 million if transshipments from Singapore are included), fewer than a million to the Philippines, and over half a million to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and other islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
In the north of Asia, the Qing dynasty (1644– 1911/12) government’s gradual relaxation of restrictions against movement into Manchuria after 1860 and the emancipation of serfs in Russia in 1861 set the stage for more massive migration. Both governments actively encouraged settlement with homesteading policies in the 1880s, each partly inspired by the desire to forestall territorial encroachment by the other. Railroad construction in the 1890s further strengthened the migrant flows. Between 28 million and 33 million Chinese migrated into Manchuria and eastern Siberia, along with nearly 2 million Koreans, and more than a half million Japanese. Another two and a half million Koreans migrated to Japan, especially in the 1930s. At least 13 million Russians moved into Central Asia and Siberia over this period. In addition, up to a million northern Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese migrated to a diverse range of destinations, including much of the Americas, Hawaii, Southeast Asia, South Africa, and Europe.
These long-distance movements created a significant shift in the distribution of the world’s population. All three major destination regions experienced massive population growth, with their populations increasing by factors of 4 to 5.5 from 1850 to 1950. (See table 1.) These rates were over twice that for world population as a whole. Growth rates in the sending regions were lower than world population growth, and less than half the rates in the receiving regions. Taken together, the three main destination regions accounted for 10 percent of the world’s population in 1850 and 24 percent in 1950.
Table 1. World Population Growth by Regions from 1850 to 1950 (in millions)
Source: McEvedy, C., & Jones R., (1978). Atlas of world population history. London: Penguin.
Emigration rates were uneven within particular regions, with some villages or counties sending numerous migrants while others send hardly any at all. Nonetheless, average emigration rates in all of these systems are broadly comparable. At first glance 19 million overseas emigrants from China or 29 million from India seems negligible compared to the several millions from much smaller countries like Italy, Norway, Ireland, and England. But if we look at regions of comparable size, the rates are very similar. Some of the peak recorded emigration rates ever were an annual average of 22 emigrants per 1,000 population in Ireland during the famine of 1845 to 1855, or 18 per 1,000 from Iceland in the 1880s. Some South Pacific and Caribbean islands probably experienced similar rates. More typical rates in periods of high overseas emigration are 10.8 per 1,000 from Italy, 8.3 per 1,000 from Norway, and 7 per 1,000 from Ireland in the first decade of the twentieth century. In comparison, the annual average overseas emigration rate from Guangdong Province in the south of China, which had an area slightly larger and population slightly smaller than Italy, was at least 9.6 per 1,000 in the peak years of the 1920s. Hebei and Shandong provinces (sources of migration to Manchuria) had a rate of 10 per 1,000 during that same decade.
These three systems were still only the tip of the iceberg. Many migrants also moved through Africa and western Asia, and within the main sending and receiving regions. The majority of global migration was probably to nearby cities, towns, and agricultural areas, often on a temporary basis. This migration is more difficult to count, but general patterns can be identified.
Africa experienced net immigration, but in much smaller numbers than other main destinations and from a wider variety of origins. The immigrants included over 3 million French and Italians into North Africa and up to a million other Europeans, Syrians, Lebanese, Arabs, Indians, and Chinese throughout the continent. The end of the transatlantic slave trade led to increased movement of slaves into the western Sudan, Middle East, and areas bordering the Indian Ocean in the late nineteenth century. Labor migration to plantations and mines in southern and central Africa increased through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as did movement to agricultural areas and coastal cities in western and eastern Africa. Millions of people took part in these movements, some of whom were coerced and many of whom went to work for European enterprises, but many of whom also found independent occupations. Projects such as the Suez Canal and development of an infrastructure for cotton cultivation in Egypt attracted large amounts of local migration, while Lebanon and Syria experienced some of the highest overseas emigration rates in the world. In a different type of migration, over 3 million people took part in the pilgrimage to Mecca from 1879 to 1938.
Western Asia and eastern Europe were areas of massive migration caused by violence and politics, a harbinger of the kinds of migration that would become increasingly prominent over the twentieth century. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and wars with Russia led to an exchange of 4 to 6 million people, with Muslims moving south from the Balkans, Greece, and Russia into Turkey, and Christians moving in the other direction. Around a million Armenians were expelled from Turkey to points around the world, and nearly 400,000 Jews moved to Palestine in the early twentieth century. The massive movement of refugees would extend to other parts of Europe in the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution, including the movement of 3 million Russians, Poles, and Germans out of the Soviet Union.
Migration also took place within the receiving regions of the long-distance systems. The transatlantic migrations could be extended to include the 13 million people who moved to the western frontiers of North America. This process also spurred the relocation of great numbers of Native Americans, and the migration of over 2.5 million Mexicans to the agricultural areas of the southwestern United States in the early twentieth century. The industrial centers of the northeastern United States also attracted over 2.5 million Canadians, and then over a million African Americans and Mexicans in the early twentieth century. In other parts of the Americas, great numbers of Andean peoples moved to coastal plantations and cities, and over 300,000 Caribbean people migrated to plantations in Central America and Cuba, to the Panama Canal Zone, and the United States. In Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, up to 500,000 Javanese traveled to plantations in Sumatra and the Southeast Asian mainland, and over 400,000 Melanesians and Micronesians worked on plantations and as seamen throughout the region.
In Europe, migrants from Ireland traveled to England for work, and those from eastern and southern Europe to industrial areas in northern Europe, especially France and Germany. In Russia, migrants moved into the growing cities and southern agricultural areas. Within India they moved to tea plantations in the south and northeast, to the mines and textile-producing regions of Bengal, and to newly irrigated lands and urban areas throughout the subcontinent. In China, they migrated to growing coastal cities, to areas of the Yangzi (Chang) River basin left underpopulated by the devastating casualties of the Taiping Rebellion, and to borderland areas of the northwest and southwest, including overland migration to Burma.
These massive flows led to a backlash in the form of stricter migration laws. The middle of the nineteenth century was an unparalleled era of free movement. By the 1860s, most exit controls and the local laws regulating domestic movement had been dismantled. By the 1880s, however, new regulations in the form of medical inspections and laws to keep Asian migrants out of white settler nations were in force. By the 1920s, these laws had expanded into quotas, multiple categories for admissible and nonadmissible migrants, and even a resurgence of exit controls, especially by Communist nations. Many people began to assume that a nation could not be sovereign and independent without control of its borders against immigration. The same forces and technologies that led to the boom in global mobility also made it possible to increasingly control that mobility and to make somebody “illegal” merely by virtue of moving without documents.
Migration Since World War II
International migration remained relatively low in the decades immediately following World War II, with the exception of massive refugee flows in Europe and south Asia that resulted from the new European political map after World War II, the creation of Israel, and the partition of India. Refugees have remained an important source of migration to this day, especially in Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia. Rural-to-urban migration also grew increasingly important in Asian, African, and Latin American countries over the second half of the twentieth century. International migration to industrialized countries expanded steadily after the 1960s, due to immigration laws that provided for guest workers, family reunification, and migration from ex-colonies. Major flows have included migrants from western and southern Asia and northern Africa to Europe, from Latin America and east Asia to North America, and from Asia to Australia. Migration to expanding economies in Japan, Southeast Asia, Argentina, South Africa, and especially to the oil-rich areas of the Middle East has also grown since the 1970s.
Due to the great diversity of administrative categories used to count migrants, it is more difficult to estimate global migration since World War II than for the previous century. A crude estimate of annual migration flows in the 1990s could start with yearly figures of 1.2 million legal migrants to the European Union and 400 to 500,000 irregular migrants. Migration to the United States averaged 860,000 legal migrants a year and perhaps another 300,000 illegals (still less than the highest numbers of 1912–1913). Migration into Canada, Australia, and New Zealand accounted for another 300,000 each. Over a million migrants traveled each year to the Persian Gulf states and Israel. Over half a million asylum applications were also made each year around the world, often not counted in migration statistics. Other major destinations include Argentina, Venezuela, South Africa, and Japan, and large flows moved between countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the ex-Soviet republics. A generous estimate of 2 to 3 million migrants a year for these other destinations would constitute an annual migration of 6.5 to 7.5 million a year. A hypothetical return rate of 40 to 45 percent could account for the increase of 40 million migrants found in migrant stock estimates from 1990 to 2000. Most evidence points to migration rates remaining steady in the first decade of the twenty-first century.
A comparison of this number with the peak migrations of the early twentieth century shows absolute numbers that are up to three times higher than earlier migrations, but are quite similar as a proportion of world population. A total of 80 million migrants in the 1990s would account for 1.5 percent of world population, while the 32 million migrants from 1906 to 1915 accounted for 1.8 percent of world population. It seems likely that the impact of long-distance migration in these two periods is quite comparable. But this may not be the best measurement of global mobility. Some 700 million tourist entries were counted in 2000, up from 480 million in 1990 and 300 million in 1980, a growth that is several magnitudes of order larger than in the previous migration wave. While this movement may not generate significant shifts in the global population, it has had an enormous effect on the global economic, social, and cultural order.
Given the difficulty in counting mobility, most international organizations now prefer to count “migrant stock” in national censuses as a way to quantify the effects of migration. (See table 2.) This, too, is a very imperfect form of measurement, because some censuses count foreign birth, while others count only foreign residents who have not become citizens, and others merely note racial or ethnic distinctions. This system may also count people who have never moved all their lives, while international borders have moved around them. For example, the 20 million refugees created by the partition of India and Pakistan accounted for nearly 15 to 25 percent of the world “migrant stock” through the 1970s, even though south Asia is more important as a migrant producing than receiving region. Similarly, the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s led to a dramatic increase in the proportion of migrant stock in that area, as many people living in the newly created nations chose to retain the citizenship of Russia or neighboring nations.
Table 2. Migrant Stock as Percentage of World Population (in millions)
Sources: International Labour Office 1936; United Nations Population Division 2008; United States Census Bureau 2010; Zlotnik, H. 1998.
About 20 percent of this migrant stock can be counted in the United States, and another 22 percent in western Europe. About 7 percent of all migrants are found in Canada, Australia, and Japan. Altogether, half of all international migrants are to be found in the developed countries, marking a shift away from earlier trends of migration toward frontier areas. Of the rest, about 12 percent are found in Eastern Europe, 7 percent in the Persian Gulf states, and the other 32 percent distributed among the other nations of the world. Although the United States ranks number 1 in total immigrants counted, only 12.8 percent of the population is migrants, placing it far behind small countries like Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, in which 60–80 percent of the population are immigrants.
Other trends over the second half of the twentieth century include the rise of women and professional migrants. In the first wave of mass migration, men were the majority of migrants, with the exception of some flows like the Irish and the Jews. In the 1920s and especially the 1930s, women made up an increasing proportion. Now, about half of international migrants to most destinations are women. Similarly, migrants are no longer made up mostly of laborers and ex-peasants. Professionals have made up more than 20 percent of migrants into North America and Europe since the 1960s, and are a significant proportion of migrants into the oil kingdoms. Several immigrant groups in the United States, from Indians and Filipinos to Argentines and Nigerians have higher educational levels and family incomes than the native-born white population. Immigration law preferences for the wealthy and educated play an important role in this stream, as does the lack of intellectually and financially attractive jobs in many poorer countries. Over time, however, migrant flows once dominated by educated professionals open the door for a rise in less-skilled migrants taking advantage of family reunification opportunities, and the proportions turn toward less-skilled migrants.
The expansion of migration laws and their continual proliferation of categories, have also shaped the quantities and directions of migration. In the twenty-first century it is almost impossible to talk of migration without simultaneously talking about status as tourists, immigrants, permanent residents, business travelers, holiday workers, guest workers, family reunification, investors, students, illegals, and the undocumented. The control of mobility is the most intensive space of systematic discrimination in the world today, where the accidents of birth and wealth determine who is free to move and who is a criminal by virtue of moving. In a world increasingly characterized by mobility, that mobility is impossible to understand apart from the controls and definitions imposed by states.
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