Issue 7, January 2009
Human migration is often explained in terms of “pushes” and “pulls.” Pushes are the conditions in one’s country of origin that provide the motivation for leaving. Pulls are the conditions in the country of destination that lure a migrant to leave home. Pushes and pulls are related, and are often hard to distinguish.
The decision to migrate is a complex one: pushes and pulls can be economic, social, cultural, political and personal. Moreover, migrants’ motives often change along the journey.
Migration’s pushes and pulls are perhaps best understood as components of a cost-benefit analysis – i.e., if the perceived benefit outweighs the perceived cost, the migration will occur. This does not apply to forced migration, although the concept of “forced” is an elastic one. Many migrants likely feel forced on some level, but may not meet the requirements for the legal designation.
Moving is disruptive and expensive; the investment must be worth the anticipated returns. Ultimately, humans migrate in pursuit of better quality of life, and most do so without knowing exactly what awaits them.
Migration may be seen, fundamentally, as a function of economic and demographic inequality in the world.
However, globalization has increased the gap between rich and poor countries (see the Global Poverty and International Development edition of the World Savvy Monitor), and therefore is expected to increase migration pressures (pushes and pulls).
Segmentation of the labor force contributes to migration as well. Wealthy countries develop a large service delivery industry – e.g., restaurants, landscaping, construction, cleaning, domestic service, etc. These jobs generate demand for unskilled immigrant labor because they are often undesirable to the native population.
The factors which influence where populations tend to settle tend to be the following:
A study done by the Brookings Institution’s Jill Wilson on Sub-Saharan African migrants to Washington, DC provides a good snapshot of the variety of factors that motivate an immigrant’s choice of destination. The study identified reasons why immigrants of black African descent, which make up 67% of the area’s refugee population, chose the Washington metropolitan area. The reasons included the city’s perceived cosmopolitan identity, racial diversity, manageability, relative affordability, large international community, and status as the capital of the country (which, in African nations, is generally associated with privilege and importance). Once this community became established it was a draw to other African immigrants. A similar phenomenon can be seen in other seemingly unlikely immigration hubs such as Minneapolis, Minnesota, where a large concentration of Somali and Hmong refugees and immigrants live.