Based on international surveys, the number of people indicating a desire to immigrate to another country is estimated at about 1.3 billion. Among those wishing to migrate, about 100 million report planning to migrate in the next year and 40 million have taken steps necessary for migration, such as obtaining travel documents and needed finances. Again, the number of potential migrants who have taken steps to emigrate greatly exceeds the world’s average level of approximately 6 million migrants per year. While everyone has the right to leave and return to their home country, they do not have a right to enter another country. Consequently, the large majority of people wishing to emigrate basically have no legal means available to them other than unauthorized migration. Virtually all governments have explicit policies against unauthorized migration. Implicit policies and actual enforcement, however, are more varied and ambiguous, with considerable debate on how best to address the presence of unauthorised migrants.
Every year countries receive millions of migrants who are granted visas for various purposes, including employment, family reunification, business, schooling, medical care and tourism. Some of those migrants with short-term visas over-stay their visits, thereby becoming unauthorized migrants. Many countries seek foreign workers, especially the highly skilled. However, the level of demand for those workers is far less than the growing pool of potential migrants in sending countries
Excluding refugees who number more than 21 million and are under the protection of international conventions and agreements, it is estimated that of the remaining approximately 225 million migrants worldwide about 50 million are unauthorized migrants. The countries with the largest numbers of unauthorized migrants include the United States (11 million), India (at least 10 million), the Russian Federation (4 million), Malaysia (1 million) and the United Kingdom (1 million).
Powerful push and pull factors influence men, women and even children in their decision-making. High unemployment, low wages, few benefits, difficult living conditions, separated families, poor governance, human rights abuses and limited prospects for improvement in the near term are among the root causes of unauthorized migration. Climate change, environmental degradation, shrinking natural resources, armed conflict and violence are additional major emigration pressures. At the same time, higher wages, demand for labor, benefits, schooling, health care, social welfare and security in the industrialized countries are among the factors attracting many to emigrate. The economic successes reported by earlier migrants, some being family members or friends, and the remittances they regularly send home confirm the benefits of relocating overseas. Modern communication, advanced information systems and integrated transportation networks also act as facilitators for those considering unauthorized migration.
In resorting to unauthorized migration, many men, women and children are risking their lives to reach their desired destinations. From 2000 to 2015 at least 50,000 migrant border-related deaths occurred globally. Approximately half of those deaths were at European external borders, followed by the Mexico-United States border accounting for about 15 percent of the deaths. The latest tragedies in the Mediterranean in early November brought the grim tally of migrant deaths in 2016 to 4,271, making this already the deadliest year ever recorded. From one death for every 269 European migrant arrivals in 2015, the probability of dying in 2016 has surged to one in 88 arrivals. In addition, some believe that more migrants perish attempting to the cross the Sahara Desert than drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Lacking legal resident status, those migrants, as well as the growing numbers of visa over-stayers, live in fear of deportation and often take on irregular, low-wage and difficult work that citizens generally eschew.
Why do they try? Why are they so desperate? Most are peasants, owning little or no land or propertyless workers, often unemployed and desperately poor. This is indeed a global problem for capitalism and one that they do not possess much of a solution for. Officially-sanctioned xenophobia political campaigns in many countries are starting to get even nastier.
The competition for scarce resources under capitalism leads to false ideas about the cost of white native workers who claim first pick of “our” hospitals, “our” housing, “our” social security benefits. In fact, bad housing, difficulty of access to medical treatment, lack of money are typical and chronic working class problems. They are a consequence of the essential poverty of all people who depend on being employed in order to live. There was never a time when life was easy for workers. Immigrants did not create the problems; they come here in the false hope of avoiding them but find they have to share them. It is not then unusual for migrant groups to be blamed for extreme poverty, slum housing, rampant disease and the like, even though they are trying to escape from those very problems. Established workers in the “host” countries resent the migrants as competitors, taking no account of the fact that the things they compete for are scarce only to workers. People who are in the capitalist class do not need to be rivals for housing, or a place in the queue for social security benefit. Working class problems did not arrive with the arrival of migrants; they are part and parcel of the class division of capitalist society. The resentment against migrants is, then, a class matter. Such prejudices are by no means discouraged by the many sections of the ruling class propaganda.
Fellow-workers who accept this type of propaganda are allowing themselves to be diverted from the real reasons for their problems. A lot of nationalist paranoia is stimulated by the idea that poverty is caused through there not being enough to go round, and therefore each nation must compete for the wealth available. But the scarcities of capitalism bear no relation to the productive potential of the world; they are artificial, imposed on us by the profit priorities of capitalism. We see thatcapitalism has in some ways worked against immigration restrictions by putting forward the free movement and availability of wage labour. But, at the same time, the capitalist social system may also be a fertile breeding ground for anti-foreigner policies. This may seem like a contradiction but that is how it is, for capitalism is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. It cannot be a system of human harmony; division and conflict are in its very nature.