There is a reason why western media always pronounce ‘the rise of China’ in a worried or even terrified tone. Forget about the cliché economic growth numbers and political dramas that are far away from the general public, our western comrades are more concerned about their lands being taken over by the hardworking Chinese migrants.
Well, yes and no. With China’s extraordinary economic growth in recent years, we have also seen a ‘rise of Chinese migrants’. According to the statistics surveyed by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (‘UNDESA’), a startling 9.5 million Chinese citizens lived outside of mainland China in 2015, representing a significant 65% increase since 2000.
Top 3 destinations of Chinese immigrants are HKSAR (2.3mln), the US (2.1mln), and Korea (750 thd). Source: UNDESA
In fact, if you are patient enough to check each of your contacts, in all likelihood you may be surprised by the number of people you know of who have spent part of their life overseas. One approach of international migration most common to Chinese families is studying overseas. Indeed, according to a report conducted by Chinese Ministry of Education, in 2015 there is a gross increment of 524 thousand Chinese students who are studying overseas, constituting over 50% of the new Chinese emigrants for the said year.
In 2014 the Chinese students represent 31% of all international students in the U.S. – the highest followed by India (13.6%) and Korea (6.5%). Photo: Andrej Mrevlje
In light of the facts above, as Chinese residents we may intuitively relate international migration to superiority or even a symbol of wealth. However, if we zoom out the map and extend our vision globally, unfortunately more often we will see drastically different pictures:
Migrants have been travelling to Calais in an attempt to get to the UK. Photo: Getty Images
The US-Mexico border is the most frequently crossed international border in the world - about 350 million people cross it each year. Photo: David McNew
The US-Mexico border at Friendship Park is marked with a 17ft metal fence. Families who can't cross the border will meet here on opposite sides. Photo: Peggy Beattie
A truck loaded with migrants leaving Agadez in Niger and bound for North Africa. Photo: Sven Torsion
Readers will be able to see a more comprehensive picture of international migration from professor Khalid Koser’s book.
Professor Koser’s book International Migration does exactly what I expect the very short introduction series to do. It presents a macro overview of the issues, lays out the major controversies faced by the scholars and practitioners, and drives readers’ attention from focusing on just one or two groups that are familiar to them, to considering the totality of population movement in a global context. More praiseworthily, professor Koser has put great effort on establishing a tone for a more rational debate - this is of particular value considering the fact that general public nowadays tend to irrationally polarize their opinions towards this issue, mostly due to the influence of exaggerated media reports, and of extreme migration schemes advocated by lobbyists or political candidates who are trying to instigate the electorate in order to gain political votes and eventually, power.
However, I must point out one slight pitfall. This book was firstly published by Oxford University Press in 2007. Although a subsequent second edition was further published in 2016, all the data in the book remain outdated (prior to 2005). My suggestion to the readers is to make good use of the UNDESA database to complement your reading. Catalyzed by the accelerated globalization and more complicated geopolitical contention, the structure and pattern of international migration may have transformed dramatically during the past decade hence readers should keep a clear and critical mind during the course of reading.
Being said that, professor Koser does cautiously point out that the statistics in this field are subject to vast limitations, therefore readers should not overly rely on the numbers to form conclusions. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the official migration statistics do not encapsulate the irregular migration activities such as human trafficking, migrant smuggling, overstaying of the rejected asylum seekers etc. Unfortunately, any published statistics related to irregular migration are no more than guesses. Secondly, even for the regular migration data, there are significant reservations as most states do not have a sophisticated census methodology. In many cases, numbers are estimated purely based on surveys of small samples and indecisive answers. Lastly, the presentation of migration statistics can be manipulated to convey different messages. This is particularly the case during political campaigns.
Professor Koser also tries to debunk common myths that are seemingly illogical to some. One of the most perennial fears expressed in destination countries around the globe is that migrants will take away jobs from the native born. However, professor Koser remarked that extensive comparative research across the industrialized nations indicates the impact of immigration on jobs for local population is at worst neutral and at best positive in that it can create economic growth and more jobs. This is attributed to the fact that in most countries migrants are admitted to fill gaps in the local labor market. Most likely these gaps cannot be filled by local education system, or can be low-status jobs that locals are unwilling to do. A good illustration is the massive Filipino domestic helpers who are commonly seen in Hong Kong and Singapore.
The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that approximately 10.2 million Filipinos worked or resided abroad in 2013. Photo: Nora Tam
"In the USA and Europe there has consistently found to have been a correlation between negative public opinion on the scale of immigration and high unemployment levels, even where no direct relationship between the two can be established."
- Khalid Koser, pp. 97
The other noteworthy illusion that professor Koser undertakes to deflate is that immigrants will abuse the public finance and welfare system in destination countries. Complaints from local citizens and political rallies are not uncommon in many popular destination countries. One example that we Chinese mainlanders are most familiar with is the alleged exploitation of Hong Kong’s public resources by immigrants and short term visitors. This sensitive issue has attracted countless media coverage and triggered intense debates between netizens from mainland and the SAR. By citing studies conducted in several western countries, professor Koser indicates that overall effect of migration on public finances is positive; that on aggregate immigrants generate more in taxes paid than they cost in services received. A few reasons have been explored. Firstly, the age structure within most migrant communities is skewed in a way that the people of economically active ages dominate, and in general there are high levels of employment among migrants. Secondly, the destination country normally does not bear the cost of rearing, educating, and training the migrants. In many cases they do not have to bear the cost of old age dependency either, as migrants often return home when they retire. Of course, situation varies across destination countries, and readers are expected to undertake further investigations to reach a more detailed conclusion.
Professor Koser also dedicates substantial texts to discussions on the impacts of international migration upon the origin countries. One profound impact that is keenly felt by net migrant exporters is the so-called ‘brain drain’ effect. In certain countries, migration can be highly selective, and those who leave are at times among the most entrepreneurial, best educated, and brightest in society. Movement of these people can be detrimental as it will deplete the origin country of skills that are scarce. What’s more, as the countries do not see any return on the investment in educating and training its own citizens, they will invest less and less. This vicious cycle will go on and on, leading to a wider and wider gap between rich and poor countries. It is pretty ironic that the widely upheld concept of globalization may eventually result in a more divided world.
"Of special concern is the migration of health personnel – nurses and doctors – from countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2000, for example, nearly 16,000 nurses from sub-Saharan Africa have registered to work in the UK alone. Only 50 out of 600 doctors trained since independence are still practicing in Zambia. It has been estimated that there are currently more Malawian doctors practicing in the city of Manchester in England, than in the whole of Malawi."
- Khalid Koser, pp. 52
One danger during the course of reading scholarly books is that we tend to forget the flesh-and-blood individuals behind the lifeless statistics. In this book, professor Koser constantly advocates paying more attention to migrants’ need for respect and civic participation rights. There are substantial evidences that migrants can face specific disadvantages. They often have limited legal rights, limited access to education and healthcare; suffer discrimination in the criminal justice system, or even harassment, racial and religious hatred, and violence. For example, a substantial number of female migrants (especially those who migrate via human trafficking) have been forced or tricked to work in entertainment and sex industries and particularly vulnerable to exploitation and social isolation; children also require specific attention as well as they are often more traumatized than adults given the fact that they have stepped away from a familiar way of life and find themselves in an environment where the culture and language are quite different; for those who left behind the family and moved to other countries, their family may suffer difficulties of separation, and the leavers themselves may face social pressures to remit money home.
"Sending money home cannot always compensate for being away from a partner, or missing out on watching children grow up, or taking care of elderly parents."
- Khalid Koser, pp. 46
"If your parents had sold their property to be able to afford to send you to Paris, say, you might be forgiven for wanting them to believe that you had found a nice apartment and an interesting job, rather than to know you were sharing a room with six other people and cleaning the street, or working as a prostitute."
- Khalid Koser, pp. 46
The Sunday morning international solidarity movement by foreign domestic workers on their dayoff is a common and familiar sight in Central Hong Kong. Photo: Adrian Lo
Overall, as an introductory book it has exceeded my expectation as it is very informative and organized. It also provides reference for further reading materials for those who are interested in exploring specific themes. Lastly, for readers who are into politics, this book may serve as a starting point in understanding why the construction of immigration policies have become a critical issue for political elections in western nations.
Below are some statistics that I found interesting during the research:
1. There are a total of ~978,000 immigrants (excl. refugees) residing in mainland China in 2015. This is far less than the number in HK, which is 2.8million – nearly 40% of HK’s total population.
2. Of the ~302,000 refugees in mainland China, 301 thousand are from Vietnam. These refugees were accepted by Chinese government during the Vietnamese refugee crisis in the late 1970s.
3. It is estimated by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas that approximately 10.2 million Filipinos worked or resided abroad in 2013- this is around 10% of Philippines total population.
4. In 2015, there are a total of ~5.0 million Syrian emigrants (excl refugees) and ~5.8 million refugees living outside of Syria. This combined constitutes ~58% of the total population of Syria.
1. One year ago, an image of a three-year-old Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, who had drowned while attempting to reach safety in Greece, had successfully woke the world to the plight of refugees. All of a sudden, celebrities were voicing concerns on the Syrian wars and taking a stand on the refugee crisis. The UK actor Benedict Cumberbatch made several speeches to urge the general public to donate for the refugees, and condemned the government for making inadequate responses.
In September 2015, the European governments reached an agreement to relocate 120,000 asylum seeker across Europe. However, one year later, a recent report published by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows that, as of July 2016, only 5,142 asylum seekers were accepted by the EU Member States for relocation from Greece.
My question is, leaving all the emotions behind, if you were a celebrity like Benedict Cumberbatch, would you take a stand and publicly voice out your opinions, in an attempt to influence the general public and government? If yes, what kind of factors would you take into account before making such a move?
The heart-breaking photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, face-down on a Turkish beach. Photo: Nilufer Demir
2. It is estimated that there are around 5.6 million unauthorized or illegal Mexican immigrants living in the US now. The Republican Party nominee for the President of the United States, Donald Trump, has made several public speeches to market his plan on building an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” between the US and Mexico, in an attempt to stop the “tremendous problems, in terms of crimes, in terms of murders, in terms of rapes, in terms of lots of other things”. However, at the same time, a lot of studies have pointed out that there is no correlation between illegal immigration and crimes and in fact the immigrants actually commit crimes in a lower rate.
The US-Mexiso border is around 1,900 miles long and traverses all sorts of terrain from empty, dusty dessert to the lush and rugged surrounding of the Rio Grande. Some 900 miles are covered already by non-continuous fences and concrete slabs and natural obstacles. In Trump's scheme, he will need to build another 1,000 miles of walls, which will cost an estimate of 20 billion US dollars.
What is your view on Donald Trump’s proposal on building the wall?
Migrants at the US border fence in Tijuana, Mexico. The US-Mexiso border is around 1,900 miles long and traverses all sorts of terrain from empty, dusty dessert to the lush and rugged surrounding of the Rio Grande. Some 900 miles are covered already by non-continuous fences and concrete slabs and natural obstacles. In Trump's scheme, he will need to build another 1,000 miles of walls, which will cost an estimate of 20 billion US dollars. Photo: Clive Shirley