It's time to restate the business case for migration

Mobility matters: migration brings benefits for economies and societies

Khalid Koser
Executive Director, Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF)
Ratna Omidvar
Independent Senator for Ontario, The Senate of Canada
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Last Friday, America's President Trump issued an Executive Order, temporarily banning the entry of Syrian refugees, suspending the entire US refugee admission programme for 120 days, significantly reducing the number of refugees to be resettled in the US this year, and stemming all migration to the US from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.

The Executive Order has been criticized by allies, human rights advocates, and business leaders, most prominently Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

In line with the latter, and as co-chairs of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Migration, we are especially surprised that such an order would emanate from a former businessman. Far from putting America first, limiting migration, and broadcasting an anti-immigration stance, risks a lasting impact that may jeopardize US employment, economic growth, and innovation.

Two weeks ago at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, we heard again and again from private sector leaders why migration and diversity is good for business. But we also heard a reluctance to speak out in public about the economic benefits of migration, for fear of damaging government relations and shareholder value.

Against this increasingly tense background, we believe there is a need to restate the business case for migration, without fear or favour.

First, there is clear evidence that migration promotes economic growth. A recent study in the UK, for example, found that in the first decade of the 21st century migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) made a net contribution of £25 billion to public finances, and paid 34% more in taxes than they received in benefits. According to the World Bank, increasing immigration by a margin equal to 3% of the workforce in developed countries would generate global economic gains of $356 billion.

Second, in countries where they settle, migrants tend to be among the most entrepreneurial and innovative. In the United States, immigrants have been founders of companies such as Google, Intel, PayPal, eBay, and Yahoo! Skilled immigrants account for over half of Silicon Valley start-ups and over half of patents, even though they make up less than 15% of the population.

Third, and at the lower end of the skills spectrum, migrants fill critical gaps in the labour market, for example as nurses and domestic carers. Given demographic trends towards ageing populations in almost every developed country, it will become all the more important to attract a labour force supplemented by foreign workers.

Fourth, in their home countries, the money migrants send back lifts entire communities out of poverty, and can contribute significantly to national GDP and foreign exchange reserves, as acknowledged by the new Sustainable Development Goals. In 2016, remittances have been forecast by the World Bank to exceed $600 billion.

Finally, and perhaps less tangibly, migration drives the social and cultural diversity that powers global cities and multiculturalism.

It is clear that migration needs to be well managed in order to realize its potential. In the short term migration may cost; in the long term it will pay dividends. Certainly we are not advocating for open borders. But neither are we, nor should anyone interested in putting their national economy first, be advocates of closed borders.

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