This Tuesday, the United Nations and countries around the world will mark International Migrants Day, an event established a dozen years ago to acknowledge the contributions made by economic migrants.
People have always been on the move in search of a better life. Today, it’s estimated that more than 200 million people worldwide are working in foreign lands, hoping for a future they couldn’t find at home. And the numbers are growing each year.
Experts who study this mass migration are working to convince governments that, given the right policies, they have much to gain – whether they are the country migrants that are leaving or the one that is their destination.
But there are still societal roadblocks fueled by false assumptions about migrants that prevent the free flow of international migration. Among them are persistent beliefs that migrants are a burden on host nations, even dangerous.
To the contrary, overwhelming evidence indicates migrants make vast contributions – not only to their host nations, but to their home countries as well.
“Immigration can be a force for good for individuals as well as countries of origin, transit and destination,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in commemorating International Migrants Day last year.
Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias also delivers this message to governments in her work with Newland at the Migration Policy Institute. She came to her calling through personal experience.
Growing up in the Philippines, the Agunias family had to make a tough decision every migrant has considered.
“As a little girl, my mom came and told us that, because my father was too sick to work, she would have to get a better paying job,” Ms. Agunias said.
Although her mother already had a job as a nurse, “She wanted the family to consider allowing her to move to Iceland, where she could make as much as the president of the Philippines,” said Ms. Agunias.
Although the plan was sold as a family decision, Ms. Agunias says what was unspoken is that decision had already been made. It was the only way the family was going to have the financial means to continue.
The thought of leaving home is never a first option for migrants. It is a last resort. In her case, however, Ms. Agunias found it would lead to opportunities in her life she had never expected.
“Years later, when I was old enough to work, I went to Iceland myself. I worked in a factory and as a domestic worker,” she explained. “And the money I made allowed me to return to the Philippines and enroll in college.”
In its 2011 report on the benefits of entrepreneurial spirit of migrants coming to the United States, the Partnership for a New American Economy found more than 40 percent of the top U.S. companies were founded by immigrants or their children. The list includes some well-known brands — Apple, Google, AT&T, eBay, General Electric, IBM, and McDonalds to name just a few.
Immigrants are also behind the success of one of America’s most important industries. A recent analysis of census data in California’s Silicon Valley found Asians comprise half of the workforce in the high-tech region.
Wanting to get ahead in life is a common drive for people around the world. That drive, and the resulting emigration to foreign countries in search of a better life, has contributed to a world that is increasingly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual.
The challenges migrants face in their new countries are formidable. Chief among them are racism, xenophobia and discrimination. There are examples of discrimination, mistreatment and exploitation of migrants reported from every corner of the world