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Impact of emigration

Population and jobs

Migration might help the destination country, but does this also mean a corresponding loss for the sending country? Not necessarily. Migration is in some respects a form of trade. And fair trade should allow all parties to gain.

One potential benefit of migration for the sending countries might be to ease population pressures and reduce unemployment. In the past some European countries sent a significant proportion of their populations overseas. Nowadays even for countries sending millions of people the proportions leaving are smaller.

The largest exodus is from Mexico. Of the 108 million people alive today who were born in Mexico around 8 million now live in the United States. This has the effect of reducing Mexico's annual population growth rate, but only slightly: from 1.8% to 1.5%. The other major exporter is the Philippines. Globally, however, the demographic impact of emigration is far smaller. The world's population is growing by 77 million annually, but only two to three million people migrate each year.

Because relatively few people leave, emigration cannot usually have much impact on unemployment or underemployment in countries like Bangladesh. In any case, emigration would not necessarily relieve unemployment or underemployment directly. Emigration is expensive. So emigrants need some kind of work already or savings or some collateral against which they can borrow. Their departure should open up some opportunities for others. But employment problems in developing countries are not going to be solved by emigration. Just as in the receiving countries, the balance between the number of jobs and the number of workers depends more on the efficiency of the economy in creating the right kind of opportunities.

Dhaka street scene

Street scene in Dhaka, Bangaldesh. Emigration at current levels is unlikely to make much of a dent in the population.
Photo: Ahron de Leeuw