PRB Discuss Online: Managing Unauthorized Migration

(March 2008) Unauthorized migration is a major issue in the United States and many other countries, sometimes generating intense publicity and debate. How can leaders minimize the “push” factors that encourage this type of migration? Trade, investment, and foreign aid, for example, might help create jobs and opportunities in the sending countries that would keep potential migrants home. But do these strategies help slow unauthorized migration?

During a PRB Discuss Online, Phil Martin, professor of agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis, and a noted expert on international labor migration, answered participants’ questions about managing unauthorized migration. 

March 25, 2008 1 PM (EST)

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Dave Witzel: How does the issue of “unauthorized” migration relate to the value of remittances as argued by Ratha( and others? Do we know what share of remittances come from unauthorized migrants?
Philip Martin: Remittances of almost $1 billion a day come from both legal and unauthorized migrants, but there is no way to know what share from from the unauthorized.

Diego Iturralde: Dr Martin, thanks for an interesting publication that was a pleasure to read. In South Africa authorities are grappling with xenophobic attacks by local people in informal settlements on people from other African countries, notably people who run small shops charge less than the shops run by locals. Incidents have become very ugly with fatalities not being uncommon. How can authorities adress this and how does one educate communites like these ones into accepting migrants and their efforts to build a better life for themselves?
Philip Martin: Good question with no easy answer. Competition is always tough, especially on businesses losing customers to visible “strangers.” Market-based economies work only if there are rules that are enforced to make the playing field level. If the losers perceive the newcomers as illegitimate, as it sounds like they do in South Africa, the businesses losing customers can use anti-migrant arguments to protect their businesses, just as countries sometimes use food security as an argument to keep out cheaper food. The solution, which is not easy, is to ensure that the new competitors are legal and seen as having an equal right to compete.

philip.groth: 1) No mention was made of the political factors which may drive people to the U.S.. Is there anything the U.S. could do to help make Guatemala or Mexico a more tolerable polity for its people? 2 I must admit that sometimes I buy goods and services from people who may be in the U.S. illegally. I do so because I have found that the services can be more creative/ superior, and be offered in a more honest manner. This certainly is true of auto mechanic services in my home town. I know that Canada offers special immigration status to those who contribute substantially to Canada’s economy. Have social scientists ever thought of what immigrants may add to the American, in something OTHER THAN just dollar terms? Have they factored such considerations in to explanations of why we have such a demand in the U.S. for labor and entrepreneurship from beyond U.S. borders? 3) This introduction and question fit the situation of my home town, where there is an SUV assembly plant. I understand that at the sister plant in Silao Mexico where the same SUVs are assembled, the wages of the Mexican production workers are between $2.25 and $2.75 per hour. Have we any ideas how to cut into the gap between Mexian and U.S. wages, and thus reduce the attraction of superior monetary compensation which can attract Mexicans to the U.S.?
Philip Martin: Good questions. The US during the banana republic era intervened regularly in Latin America, creating resentment that makes most policy makers reluctant to try intervention again. The US government can certainly be supportive of democratic governments, but this becomes a very fine line. Many countries have guest worker programs that aim to add workers to the labor force but not settlers to the population, and in all cases some guests become permanent residents, as with Turks in Germany. Canada has recently expanded its guest worker programs, so we don’t yet know if they will “work” as planned.

Rising productivity of Mexican workers should lead to higher wages, but it may take decades.

J Kishore: All smart people in all times migrate to those areas which is suitable for their survival, and expression of skills. How can it be unauthorized now for some and not for others? There are selected people who get visas and not all groups which create gaps at local place. Developed nations do not invest in most remote and rural areas that is why development is not uniform which lead to migration. Why [are] developed nations and government of developing nations not focusing [on] underdeveloped areas to curb the problem of migration?
Philip Martin: This is hard. Who has the responsibility for development—industrial nations or developing countries? Money flows to where it will be most likely to make a profit, not to where it is “needed,” and developing countries losing their best and brightest workers may not be attractive to investors, so that some migration can lead to more migration. The solution to unwanted migration is development—the question is how we get development, and that is bigger than just migration.

Freddy: -What is the 1st world countries doing in terms of ensuring that there is a development / balanced economy that will make people not to enter other countries illegally. – Am i corect if i say brain drain also contributes towards this? Because these people when they visit home, they will tell others about the life style where they are. by hook or crook others will also want to enter those areas for better living conditions – Does instability in an area contribute towards unauthorised migration ? – What is it that can be done in border lines to prevent illegal movement of people into other areas?
Philip Martin: Yes to most of these questions. Brain drain can make it harder for a country to develop, both because successful migrants encourage others to leave and because the absence of professional workers can discourage the investment needed for economic growth.

All the things that contribute to development—good government, peace, economic growth—etc help to keep people at home.

Stoadrt Musika: My question Sir is about Africa Unauthorized migration. What do you think African leaders can do about the problem when almost 50% of our economies [are] supported by Developed countries, these are countries which can’t afford services offered to developed countries in Africa?”
Philip Martin: Developing Africa is a challenge for both African countries and their industrial country donors

Lanre Ikuteyijo: Do you think its possible to stop unauthorised migration? And from your professional standpoint, what do you think of the mass exodus of qualified and experienced medical workers from less developed countries? Secondly, dont you think that there are some other factors responsible for this partcular migration aside [from] economic factors?
Philip Martin: There will always be migration, and some of it will be illegal, unauthorized, or irregular. Sending workers abroad can lead to virtuous and vicious circles at home. An example of a virtuous migration and development circle involved the sending Indian IT workers abroad in a manner that led to new industries and jobs and improved the quality of IT services throughout India. An example of a vicious migration and development circle may be the emigration of African doctors and nurses that reduces health care, especially in rural areas, making remaining workers less productive and slowing economic development.

Anjali Borhade: Dr. Martin, thanks for an interesting publication and interview. Managing unauthorised migration is important for government as well for migrants. According to you what is role of NGOs in managing migration, do you feel its required to organize these efforts. Is there need to build NGO capacities to address this issue in order to take their better particiaption.
Philip Martin: NGOs are helping to make the world a better place in many aspects of life, including assisting migrants. More coordination is generally useful, so that their efforts can help the most people.

Akanni Akinyemi: Some of these approaches worked well, particularly creating enabling opportunities for skilled migrants to return and work at home. I am not very sure of such programs for the unskilled migrants. Is it possible to get information on some of those approaches that worked across the continents? I mean where migrants were encouraged through provision of jobs to return home. For the push factors to improve, it needs a holistic approach from both divides of south and west.
Philip Martin: Getting guest workers to leave as programs require is always hard. Successful guest worker programs are likely to include economic incentives, such as return bonuses, not just rules that tell migrant workers they have to leave because their year or two is up.

Rahat Bari Tooheen: The words “Unauthorized Migration” makes the assumption that migration as a whole is a legal issue, whereas in most cases, even though legal aspects may be present, migration has more to do with social and economic circumstances which may have been created due to the failure or lack of effective legal systems in the sending countries. According to your knowledge, do you think that only interventions in the sending countries will help, or are there other alternatives?
Philip Martin: Many of the reasons for Unauthorized Migration lie within the receiving countries, as when industrial countries make it hard for developing countries to send them farm products, but make it much easier for farm workers to enter and work illegally.

idemudia nelson: I agree that people should not force themselves into places where they have no right to be. But if i may ask, should not America try to accommodate these illegal migrants since we know their reasons for leaving their countries – poverty? Also, how is America dealing with the unregistered migrants, and should we expect more of them giving the current economic conditions of America? Thank you
Philip Martin: The US accepts about 3,500 legal immigrants a day, or 1.3 million a year, more than the rest of the world combined. Most Americans want immigration reduced. Determining how much the US is responsible for the conditions that lead to migration is very difficult.

amson sibanda: How can we manage migration in a way that fosters its contribution to poverty eradication?
Philip Martin: Migrant remittances do reduce poverty, but they may not speed development. The key is to have sound economic policies in migrant-sending countries so that their remittances and returns contribute to development.

David Manry: To what extent does Mexico use agricultural workers from Central America while so many Mexican nationals migrate to the U.S. to work in our agricultural fields?
Philip Martin: Especially in Chiapas, Mexico uses Guatemalan workers to work in agriculture. There is often 2-stage migration, as when Thais migrate to Taiwan to work in construction, and Burmese migrate to Thailand to fill construction and other jobs.

Moses Adegbola: Dear Professor Martin, I believe unauthorized migration cannot be stemmed without addressing the push factors in sending countries. For instance, there is an alarming rate of graduate unemployment, under-employment/underutilization of skills. There is also a huge disparity in wages/salaries for skilled labor, lack of opportunities for social mobility and poverty. Studies affirm that remittance contributions of migrants to their home countries far exceed that of aid. 2. What is your opinion about the positive contributions of unauthorized migrants to the economy and development of the United States? 3. Should government go ahead and legalize unregistered migrants? Thank you.
Philip Martin: Many developing countries spend a great deal of their limited education budgets on higher education, even though graduates may not be able to find jobs. These countries may want to reduce subsidies for higher education and increase them for K-12 schools. In India and the Philippines, many tuition-charging private schools educate nurses and IT workers, so that taxpayers do not “lose” as much with emigration. About 5 percent of the 150 million US workers are believed to be unauthorized, some 8 million. Most US businesses and consumers are not much affected by their presence. It is very hard to answer the common hypothetical of “what would happen if…” mostly because it would be impossible to quickly remove 8 million people. The bigger question is what to do about the continuing influx of about 500,000 unauthorized a year. Until that is dealt with, there is not likely to be another legalization

Upendra: Does the migration of Bhutanese refugees from Nepal to the the third world will solve the problem or add [to] the unauthorized migration ?
Philip Martin: There is lots of migration from one developing country to another, and this is one example.

Martin Ford: The most vocal critics of immigration bemoan the impact of “anchor babies,” contending that the born citizens of undocumented immigrants are costing taxpayers millions. Please comment on the costs and benefits of birthright citizenship.
Philip Martin: Most countries do not have US-style birthright citizenship. The US grants citizenship to those born in the US, but does not allow children to sponsor their parents for immigrant visas until they turn 21. There are certainly foreign students and others who have children while in the US, and whose children eventually return to the US and sponsor their parents’ admission. However, it is very hard to obtain reliable data on how often US-born children sponsor their parents 21 years later, and what costs (if any) these parents impose on US taxpayers. More common is the case of an immigration enforcement action that discovers families with unauthorized parents and US-born children. The parents are deportable, but not the US-born child, forcing decisions about whether to leave the child in the US or take the child back to the parents’ country of origin. Some parents who say they came to the US illegally to give their children a better life leave their children in the US, or appeal to stay because, they say, their children would not have appropriate medical care etc at home. These are tough cases with no easy answers, but they do highlight an important difference between trade and migration, as when some people say that in a globalized world with freer trade, there should also be freer migration. Unlike goods, people reproduce.

Jill: Can you cite any examples of positive policies that are working to reduce the flow of unauthorized migrants?
Philip Martin: Most people agree that a key to reducing unauthorized migration is closing the labor market door to illegal workers. Northern European countries such as Sweden do this much better than the US, as do Singapore, Japan, and many other industrial countries. Countries such as Italy and Spain that are less able to regulate the informal economy and labor market have periodic amnesties for unauthorized workers.

Jane Schlickau: In the US we hear that “illegal aliens” are taking jobs away from Americans. Is there documentation to show how many jobs are “taken away”? Also we hear that Americans will not work for the lower wage that Mexicans receive. How do we know that Americans won’t work for the lower wage?
Philip Martin: This is a hard one. It is much easier to say that there are 8 million unauthorized workers than to say that job X would be filled by a US worker if there was one fewer unauthorized. One way to think about the interaction of legal and illegal workers is to think about networks—you get a job because you have a friend or relative already working there who tells you about it. Most jobs in agriculture, meatpacking, janitorial services and other industries that employ unauthorized migrants are filled via such networks, and as long as new unauthorized migrants continue to arrive, there is no need to search for US workers, raise wages, make the work easier etc. This is what seems to have happened in some parts of the US labor market. US workers are not likely to rush into “unauthorized jobs” as they are currently structured and paid, but might if wages and working conditions changed. As wages rose, employers might figure out how to get the work done with fewer workers as well.

Rafa: What is the relation between the transition model and unauthorized migration?
Philip Martin: I assume you mean the demographic transition from high birth rates and high death rates to low birth rates and low death rates. Developing countries in stage 2 or stage 3 have lots of people turning working force age each year. If these countries can employ these extra workers, they can get a demographic dividend that accelerates their economic growth, as in the Asian tiger economies that attracted foreign investment and became export powerhouses. If they cannot, as in Mexico and many other developing countries, emigration pressures can increase.

earl Grandstaff: Do you know how Mexican immigration has affected the ratio of Catholics to Protestants? Also,how much higher is the Mexicans birthrate in the Us versus US citizens?
Philip Martin: I do not know—I assume that, with immigrants and their US-born children accounting for most US population growth, and most immigrants coming from Latin America, the Philippines, and other Catholic countries, the ratio of Catholics to Protestants would rise.

Immigrants have a higher fertility rate than the US-born population and they are relatively young, in the child-bearing years, so the percentage of births to foreign-born women is higher than their share of US residents. About 24 percent of the 4.1 million US births in 2004 were to immigrant women, and 63 percent of births to Hispanic mothers were women born outside the US.  

Courtland Robinson: Very well-organized paper on migration in the 21st century. I wonder if you might comment on the global phenomenon of labor trafficking, which combines elements of voluntary migration for work and coercion, deception, exploitation.
Philip Martin: Thanks, UN Conventions distinguish smuggling, where the client pays for a service, and trafficking, where there is coercion and a victim. It is often hard to draw a firm line between the two, since what begins as a migrant hiring a smuggler can turn into trafficking if the migrant is held to pay of the smuggling debt etc. Because of this slipperiness, there are lots of estimates of how much trafficking occurs. In general, there appears to be far less trafficking in the US than is sometimes reported—see For more on this: Trafficking is defined as holding someone through force, fraud or coercion for sex or other work. Between 2000 and 2007, the US government has spent more than $500 million to combat trafficking, with 10 federal agencies reporting on their anti-trafficking efforts to a Cabinet-level task force chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Much of the anti-trafficking money was given as grants to groups that seek to educate trafficking victims about their rights. By 2006, the estimated number of people trafficked into the US was reduced to 14,500 from 17,500 a year. The anti-trafficking effort continues, in part because of a confluence of interest between Christian and feminist groups. Newly formed groups receiving federal funds educate local police and hospitals about how to identify and treat victims of trafficking.