Present migration policy

Migration is nothing new. In spite of the enormous amount of attention presently being focused on international migration, the actual number of migrants – as a percentage of the total world population – has remained relatively constant over the centuries. Migration numbers vary between about 2.5% and 3% of the world population.

People migrate for various reasons: to escape oppression, war and violence, because they have almost no opportunities available in their own country to sustain themselves, to be reunited with their family, to take advantage of employment opportunities elsewhere etc.

Lack of strategic policies

Under the influence of the process of globalisation, changes have taken place in the motives for migration and the direction of migration flows. In particular, the numbers of migrant workers from developing countries heading towards Europe and North America have increased over the last decades. At the same time, globalisation and technological advances have led to the rise of ‘outsourcing’ and ‘offshoring’ whereby production is relocated to low-wage countries. In Europe, there is no such policy in place as referred to by the Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM), which intentionally makes use of labour migration as a strategic factor for encouraging economic growth in developing countries and in destination countries.

Dutch focus on restrictions

Particularly in light of the runaway ‘foreign workers’ programme’ and the ‘multicultural drama’ that followed, migration policy in the Netherlands has, since the 1990s, primarily been characterized by restrictions to participate in society, especially with respect to asylum-seekers. It should be noted that international treaties and EU regulations limit the options at the disposal of the Netherlands for implementing an independent migration policy.

Pressure on the welfare state

The presence of large groups of migrants and their contribution to social tensions is very much in the spotlight. Particularly when migrants choose to establish themselves on a permanent basis, it turns out that the second and third generations have great difficulties in adjusting, leading to poor performance at school and relatively high rates of unemployment. Past experience with other groups of migrants, for example from Indonesian, actually shows that these problems practically disappear after a few decades. The wave of migration that resulted from the foreign workers’ programme, in particular, placed a big burden on the ability of society to continue funding the Dutch welfare state.

Potential gains

In recent years, somewhat more attention has been paid to the need for recruiting talent from abroad, the challenges faced by our society as a result of the ageing population, and the benefits that migration can have for the development of the countries of origin. In particular, the so-called remittances – the money sent back by migrants to their remaining family members in the country of origin – have increased dramatically in recent years and have turned out to be an important weapon in fighting poverty. The so-called diasporas – networks of migrants from the same country – sometimes also turn out to harbour unexpected reservoirs of strength. New and valuable social/cultural structures and customs develop among migrants, sometimes referred to by the term transnational identity. Cross-fertilisation occurs between local and ‘foreign’ customs in a wide range of areas, including art, music, language, cuisine etc.

Missed opportunity

The current situation with respect to migration has no winners. Hermetically sealing off our borders requires policy measures more appropriate to a police state. Instead of preventing migration, present policy primarily creates and encourages illegality and maintains a criminal circuit. Perhaps even more importantly, the present migration policy prevents society from realising the maximum potential benefit from migration.

Download the research paper on Migration in Practice (Fall 2007) to read more about present migration policies and options for the future.