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International Migrants Day

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18 December 2006: International Migrants Day

As of the beginning of this year, at least 191 million people are living and working in a country not of their origin. One person of every 35 in the world is a migrant or an immigrant.

On 04 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly, taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, proclaimed 18 December International Migrants Day (resolution 55/93). On that day, in 1990, the Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (resolution 45/158).

Member States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are invited to observe International Migrants Day through the dissemination of information on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, and through the sharing of experiences and the design of actions to ensure their protection.

If all immigrants and migrants combined belonged to the same country, it would have the fifth largest population on the planet.

In the past several years, the nations of the world have begun to compete aggressively to attract the most highly skilled workers who will do well in the labor market. Countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have implemented points-based systems to evaluate potential immigrants, giving preferential treatment to those with the best education and the skills most needed for that country.

France and Hong Kong have made significant changes to their policies this year, making it easier for the highly skilled to enter, but not without requirements meant to ensure migrants are a good match for local labor needs. Under France's new law, foreigners who possess skill sets of interest to French employers in areas "characterized by recruitment difficulties" will be granted "skills and talents" visas, valid for three years.

In late June, Hong Kong launched a new, points-based system, the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, which grants visas and permits for up to 1,000 highly skilled migrants annually. To protect their own recent college graduates, the program clearly favors migrants of 30 to 34 years old with work experience. Earning enough points doesn't guarantee entry; a 19-member panel makes the final decisions on who gets in.

Increasingly, countries are also requiring language skills, setting minimum standards of fluency in the national tongue.

Other countries, notably Spain and Italy, have granted mass amnesties to illegal residents of their countries as part of their reform efforts. These countries are preparing to enact many changes in their immigrations laws and, in preparation, have taken a strategy reducing the financial and humanitarian burden of deporting hundreds of thousands of people who have been participating in and contributing to their economies for years.

Most of the westernized nations are developing much stricter border control measures. Biometric identification and large databases that communicate with each other to assist law enforcement agencies are being put in place. The United States has lead with developing passports and visas that encode information about an individual to vastly increase the difficulty of forging identification.

Other countries have followed, sometimes implementing biometric identification faster than the U.S. The United Kingdom is developing a national ID card, as is Australia, both to some degree of controversy. The European Union has just announced plans for a pan-European driving license, which is likely to also have biometric encoded RFID chips.

Canada and New Zealand, meanwhile, simply wants more migrants. New Zealand is currently overhauling its immigration laws for the first time in 20 years, increasing the number of new-resident places available in 2006-2007 to 52,000, the highest level since 2001-2002. They are also implementing biometric data collection and verification.

Canada is facing a falling birth rate and not only needs immigrants, but young immigrants that want to start families. They slashed permanent residence fees by 50% this year and have implemented a dozen or more programs this year to attract immigrants from around the world. Increasingly, Canada has offered asylum and a safe harbor for refugees, collecting thousands this year that represent some of the most skilled and educated who are fleeing their home countries due to war and other political upheavals.

The New Zealand government faced criticism over decreases in migration from Asia due to skilled migrant program changes made a few years ago. For instance, migrants from China and India could only claim points for work done for a multinational company. Immigration Minister David Cunliffe responded by saying in July that restrictions had been relaxed this year so that migrants could claim points for work experience in occupations where the country has an absolute skills shortage, such as IT, plumbing, and engineering.

In an effort to increase the number of H-1B visas available annually to talented workers, two U.S. research groups decided to investigate the link between immigrant entrepreneurs and venture capital funding. The results: immigrants founded nearly 20 percent of the US startups (including Yahoo and Google) that relied on venture capital before turning to the stock market in the last 35 years.

Migrant numbers have more than doubled since the 1960s. Approximately 75 million migrants lived outside their country of origin in 1060, 81 million in 1970, 99 million in 1980, with a staggering jump to 156 million in 1990 (approximately a 45 million increase between 1985 and 1990).

The country that attracts the most people from abroad is the United States, with 35 million, followed by Russia and Germany on 13.3 and 7.3 million people respectively. China sees the most people leave, followed by India and the Philippines. About half of all migrants are bound for North America and Europe.

Estimates vary as to how much money migrants send home, but what is not in dispute is that the amounts involved are huge and extremely important to developing economies. According to the International Labour Organization, the money sent back to developing countries is at least $160 billion, but is likely to be much higher. Not all remittances are recorded.

In November, the World Bank estimated that the figure for 2006 could be $199 billion sent home to developing countries, with $268 billion sent home to all countries by immigrants worldwide.

This money is often greater than the amount developing countries receive in aid. The skills and education that migrants and immigrants bring back to their home countries often exceed all the goodwill humanitarian efforts dedicated by other nations.


Related:

UN report on best places to live in the world
OECD - developed countries must do more to integrate immigrant workers
UN report - economic role of immigrant women overlooked

New Zealand unveils updated immigration and border control policies
Canada attracting educated and highly skilled immigrants
Canada faces low birth-rate challenge
Canada gladly accepts highly qualified refugees from Lebanon

US granting larger numbers of H-1B & student visas to Indians in 2006
US electronic passport program takes effect

UK National Identity Scheme - National Identity Card
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in passports and visas
EU announces plans for European driving license

French Interior Minister pledges tough immigration line
Italy's Lazio region will allow 50,000 more immigrant workers
Spain grants 700,000 illegal immigrants legal status