Migration in the year 2009

Globalization has made international migration easier in many respects. The push-pull dynamics are many and varied: from lower costs of travels to more information about opportunities in destination countries; from incentives to migrate established by many countries to the increase in the number of countries and regions where wars, disasters, economic difficulties and other reasons push people to look for a way out. As a result of such different push-pull dynamics between sending and receiving countries, we see both “legal” and “illegal” migration flows throughout the world.

All these themes will be discussed in Copenhagen, at the 14th Int’l Metropolis Conference, 14-18 September, organized by the Academy for Migration Studies in Denmark (AMID) within the International Metropolis Project, a forum that bridges research, policy and practice on migration and diversity.

The project aims to enhance academic research capacity, encourage policy-relevant research on migration and diversity issues, and facilitate the use of that research by governments and non-government organisations.

In the decade since its inception, the project has grown to include researchers, policy-makers, international organisations and non-government organisations from North America, most of Europe and much of the Asia-Pacific region. The project is perhaps best known for its international conferences, which are the largest annual gatherings of experts in the fields of migration and diversity.

Each conference attracts between 800 and 1000 delegates for high-level plenary sessions, a comprehensive study tour program and more than 60 concurrent workshops. The conferences are an opportunity for delegates – both expert and novice – to discuss critical issues, identify research and policy gaps, compare international experiences and build the Metropolis network.

On balance, more countries are now accepting migrants, most often for temporary work, but sometimes for permanent residence. Not that long ago many countries in the West denied the need for immigration. This sentiment has now largely passed as labour supplies in these countries are being stressed by retirements and low fertility rates. Migrants are now being seen as providing part of the answer to how countries can maintain their economic prosperity.

However, migration not only introduces new workers into a labour force but also new people into a society. The globalization of migration means that newcomers to our societies are often from culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse backgrounds and long-term migration means that our cities are becoming more diverse.

How a destination society responds to such important demographic and cultural change will depend on its history, its local culture, its own experiences to date with the presence of immigrants, and its political will to create favourable conditions for the integration and participation of newcomers. Some policy frameworks are more, others less liable to result in the inclusion of immigrants.

One might think that a society that accepts the value of immigration would at the same time accept the value of including its newcomers as members and citizens. However, a look at the policy responses of many countries suggests that this is not necessarily so. In fact, there seems to be a growing convergence among political regimes responding to ethnic and cultural differences toward attempting to minimize the visibility of minorities and the societal impact of ethnic diversity.

In addition, access – both to national spaces and political and social participation – is made more difficult for certain groups, and demands for acculturation on immigrants, descendants, and national minorities are stepped up. In some cases, such exclusionary and monocultural policies might be responses to popular opinion; in other cases, they may be more principled, perhaps rooted in a desire to protect a national identity or a long-standing set of national traditions.

This conference will examine the role of policy in determining the outcomes of immigration and the presence of immigrants in, as well as their contribution to different societies. It will consider the intended societal outcomes, the most effective ways to achieve these outcomes, and the influences that government policy and political leadership can bring to bear against a background of historical tradition and societal norms. In addition, it will consider these factors within the context of globalization, high mobility, and shifting mobility patterns, and the constraints that they and other factors exert on the efficacy of policy interventions.

The outcomes of the conference should be a better understanding of the varying constraints and opportunities under which governments operate, as well as the implications for immigrants and societies overall of excluding immigrants or denying the cultural and ethnic differences which they bring with them. It will help us to think through the effects of our histories, the impact of globalization and high mobility, and the most adequate responses to growing diversity. Finally, it will also give us a better practical understanding of what we need to do to achieve more prosperous, peaceable, and equitable societies.


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