Regulating migration is becoming increasingly unviable in a globalised world

Human migration in it’s commonly known form occurs when people travel, usually across land in large groups, and often very far, to help sustain their people when issues like changing climates, inadequate food supply, or landscape do not work to their advantage (Bailey, 2009). Migration in this form is inherently linked to the nomadic people (nomad originating in Greek to mean ‘roaming in search of pasture’) who move from place to place as a community to exploit seasonally changing natural resources which flourish in different locations at different times. Much later, after the agricultural and industrial revolutions (when humans developed accessible modes of transport, states gained greater capital, and the mobility of labour flourished) globalisation was underway.

Demand for greater product availability, competitive pressures, and the rise of capitalism meant that travelling across borders became necessary for businesses and individuals around the world. In a time when globalisation is becoming prevalent and when movement of products and information around the world is now essential, an examination of states border enforcement policies needs to be conducted. I am compelled to argue that it is becoming increasingly unviable for states to regulate human migration across their borders. Indeed, it could even be considered immoral.

Although the numbers of humans migrating across the world has increased dramatically over the past ten years from 150 million in 2000, to 214 million in 2010 (International Organisation for Migration, 2010), there are a number of reasons why this should not create concern. Population growth across the globe is the dominant cause for the increased number of migrants world wide. The scope of countries becoming destinations has expanded and the transportation to these countries is more easily accessible. We are also seeing a greater variety of types of migration for example, coerced migration (provoked by war, disease, economic collapse, etc.), chain migration (pre-existing social ties in a destination), career migration, seasonal migration (invoked by climatic or economic change), and circular migration (back and forth) (Hastrup & Olwig, 2012).

Even though migration is by no means a new phenomenon, widespread community caution is often invoked by governments and the media spreading the belief that it is new and unique and national borders should be closely monitored in order to lessen the effects of migration. Large scale migration is an unplanned population movement often prompted by natural disasters, economic downfalls, war, and unsafe political regimes in the sending states and can cause significant economic, social, and environmental problems in receiving states. Although this negative should be highly predominant in decision making towards nation’s border security measures, it could be argued that it is often over played and dramatised to spread concern within the public towards immigrants. Nations that receive high levels of immigration are usually developed and resource rich. Although they might feel the pressure on space, jobs, resources, and some civil institutions, it is unlikely that the standard of living will decrease within the state. Similarly, it is unlikely that the cost of living will increase for the original citizens, and such pressures will be far easier to handle within a developed nation rather than a developing one.

Modern migration predominantly follows economic patterns around the globe, which implicitly means that people are moving in search of better paying jobs and stability in resource rich nations. The 2009 Human Development Report shows that there were a large numbers of people migrating between equally developed countries (60% of international migrants), and from third world countries to developed countries (37% of international migrants), but very few were migrating from developed countries to developing countries (only 3% of international migrants) (United Nations Development Programme, 2009). Nations receiving large numbers of migrants can feel significant economic effects on both governments and citizens. Although these countries may be resource rich and economically stable, large population increases are bound to have an impact on nations, but in reality such impacts are not necessarily negative or even significant.

Migrants have often played a large part in filling low-skilled labor roles in developed countries (where income levels in construction and manufacturing have not kept pace with other industries). Although this is still largely the case, in recent years there is an increase in the number of highly-skilled migrants participating in receiving state’s economies (Castles & Miller, 2003). Native production and global relations are bound to be complemented and advanced by highly-skilled migrants, which contributes to and benefits the nation’s economy (Friedberg & Hunt, 1995).

The argument that low-skilled migrants in the workforce contributes to reduced wages and unemployment of native citizens is arguably of very little importance. Benjamin Powell, an American professor and economist in favour of open borders, makes the point that “when the immigrants have different skills than the native-born population, they complement the native-born labor rather than substitute for them”. He further notes that when more labour is available, more jobs are created (Powell, 2010).

Along with potential economic impacts, social and cultural impacts are largely ill founded as well, especially in a nation like Australia, which thrives on multiculturalism. The benefits of having a culturally accepting nation far outweigh the negative social impacts migration could cause. Immigrants who have found themselves in a new land with a different and unfamiliar culture, will generally make an effort to integrate themselves into their new country. Some of the many challenges associated with integrating into a new nation include linguistic differences, emotional variance, patriotism, political values and beliefs (Caplan, n.d.). These difficulties are commonly overcome by migrants because the individuals will most likely make an effort to become a new citizen. As a result, it is immigrant’s cultural identity that is altered more than the receiving state’s. It could therefore be misguided to argue that foreign migrants could diminish or threaten originating cultures. That being said, it would be careless to completely overlook the fact that migration trends will affect receiving states socially and culturally, because of the human factors that are implicit in this issue.

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, a German economist and media commentator, believes that Australia has such a successful migration history and multiethnic society because it had strictly enforced its policy of selecting migrants based on their sustainability, skills, education, and language proficiency. He argues that it must continue to do so. It could be interesting to speculate on the negative effects Australia would experience if it implemented a free-for-all immigration policy. In this regard, Hartwich investigated the implications Germany faced when a ‘guest worker’ immigration policy was introduced in the 1950s and 1960s to address the labour shortages. The migrants who arrived in that time were there specifically to fill low-skilled labour jobs and therefore had poor qualifications. Germany believed that many of these migrants would return to their original states so they did not put very much effort into integrating them into the society. When in fact the majority not only stayed in Germany, they transferred their families across to accompany them. It was inevitable that social and cultural problems would arise. Hartwich argues that if Germany had chosen its migrants more carefully, based on skill and education, it would be a successful multiethnic nation like Australia (Hartwich, 2011).

An important question to ask is what negative affects migration has on states receiving immigrants, and whether the needs and safety of the individuals seeking to migrate outweighs those negatives. While human migration is often voluntary, migrants frequently seek a new home in a new state involuntarily because of fear of persecution in their current state and to seek refuge in a safer environment. These people are known as asylum seekers until they are recognised by the state in which they are seeking sanctuary, then they are known as refugees. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights written in 1948 after the second World War outlines the rights human beings are inherently entitled to. It states “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”, “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality” and “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (United Nations, 1948).

While such rights are clearly delineated in this important declaration, are nations across the world upholding these guidelines?

There is much evidence to suggest that this is not the case. For example, Australia’s detention policy was created within The Migration Act 1958 as a result of the Vietnam War when over half of the Vietnamese population was displaced. It allowed discretionary detention of unauthorised migrant arrivals until 1992 when the Keating government brought in a mandatory detention policy through The Migration Amendment Act 1992 for all unauthorised arrivals travelling to Australia by boat without a valid visa (Parliament of Australia, 2013). Although detention for unauthorised arrivals may seem like a valid and temporary management tool for the holding of asylum seekers while their migration status is being processed, the system was undoubtedly flawed. The migrants were often held in detention centres for a prolonged amount of time (in many cases a number of years) and some were even asked to pay off a debt to the government for the cost of detaining them (Briskman, Goddard, & Latham, 2008).

The forced imprisonment of innocent asylum seekers is inhumane and unnecessary. The International Detention Coalition and the La Trobe Refugee Research Centre outline humane and cost effective alternatives to prevent unnecessary detention of immigrants and to ensure detention is only used as a last resort in their Community Assessment and Placement (CAP) model proposal. The CAP model outlines five key steps to ensure a safe substitute to detention through community based alternatives:

  1. Presume detention is not necessary
  2. Screen and assess the individual case
  3. Assess the community setting
  4. Apply conditions in the community if necessary
  5. Detain only as the last resort in exceptional cases.
    (Sampson, Mitchell, & Bowring, 2011)

Detention centres being used as a tool for managing migrant flow into countries is becoming increasingly unviable, as is regulating migration across states borders in general. Many countries have open border policies which allow free flow of people between countries. The most predominant example of this is the European Union, in which nations share open borders under the Schengen Agreement. United Kingdom and Ireland allow their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement between the two countries, as does India and Nepal, Russia and Belarus, and Australia and New Zealand. Clearly enforcement of border protection is not necessary in upholding countries sovereignty and autonomy. It should also be noted that none of these countries are identified as having human rights issues.

Not only is it unviable for states to regulate their borders, it is also immoral considering our constantly evolving universal relations in a globalised world. The advantages that will ensue for nations and citizens globally will fundamentally enrich our human society, culturally and economically. The individual rights to freedom of movement as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be paramount in our endeavours to promote morally informed policy making regarding this issue. If we assume that nationality and citizenship are essentially social constructs, discriminating against human beings on the basis of where they happen to have been born is inherently unethical. If a person is in mortal danger because of the conditions prevalent in their location, it is our moral responsibility as human beings to respect the sanctity of life. Issues of global citizenship should prevail, as Socrates said “I am not an Athenian, or a Greek, but a citizen of the world”.


Bailey, R. (2009). Immigration and migration. New York: Infobase Publishing.

Briskman, L., Goddard, C., & Latham, S. (2008). Human rights overboard: Seeking asylum in Australia. Melbourne: Scribe.

Caplan, B. (n.d.). Assimilation problems. Retrieved 4 October 2013, from

Castles, S., & Miller, M. J. (2003). The age of migration. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Friedberg, R.M., & Hunt, J. (1995). The impact of immigrants on host country wages, employment and growth. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 9(2), 23-44.

Hartwich, O. M. (2011). Selection, migration and integration. Canberra: Productivity Commision.

Hastrup, K., & Olwig, K.F. (2012). Climate change and human mobility: Challenges to the social sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

International Organisation for Migration. (2010). Retrieved 20 September 2013, from

Parliament of Australia. (2013). Immigration detention in Australia. Retrieved 5 October 2013, from

Powell, B. (2010). An economic case for immigration. Retrieved 4 October 2010, from

Sampson, R., Mitchell, G., Bowring, L. (2011). There are alternatives: A handbook for preventing unnecessary immigration. Retrieved 20 September 2013, from

United Nations. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved October 5 2013, from

United Nations Development Programme. (2009). Human Development Report: Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development. 2009. United Nations Development Programme.

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