Globally there are an estimated 258 million migrants (people living in a country other than that of their birth), or 3.4% of the world’s population. Between 2000 and 2015, migration made up 42% of population growth in north America. In Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the net impact was negative. In Europe, however, the population would have been in decline had it not been for migration,
The use of visa restrictions to control global migration is “counterproductive and ineffective”, pushing people who want to stay within the law towards illegal channels, research has suggested. The study by academics from University of Central London (UCL), Royal Holloway and University of Birmingham, found that increased visa restrictions on migrants creates a greater need for enforcement.
Only a small minority of migrants will consider entering a country illegally, said study co-author, Dr Cassilde Schwartz of the University of London. “It’s extremely difficult to measure unauthorised migration … as it is often clandestine and unobservable,” she said. “Using experimental survey techniques, we found that fewer than 20% of aspiring migrants are willing to consider illegal channels. Of course, when visa policies become too restrictive, they are left with few options.”
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study looked at why and how people migrate, based on varying levels of restriction. Researchers focused on four categories controlled by the visa immigration system: families, students, low and high skilled applicants. Their findings suggest that restrictions on high skilled visa applications and students had little impact on controlling numbers. In contrast, restrictions imposed on the entry of families (in particular around unification) and the low skilled, which appear to reduce migrant flow, only served to divert a significant number of “aspirational” applicants towards illegal entry.
“The largest reorientation towards unauthorised channels happens when the family route is closed …” said UCL’s Miranda Simon, lead author.
Where minimal achievable visa restrictions could easily be met, researchers found that 44% of aspiring applicants moved through legal channels. Adding further restrictions such as work permits and sponsorship caused a reduction in those seeking legal methods of entry. The same test applied to families and low-skilled applicants, and found that immigration reduced by 32% and 21% respectively, but increased unauthorised immigration by 24% and 14%. The report found that 80% of those entering illegally would need to be apprehended in order to offset the effect of legal restrictions, rendering this “solution” inefficient whilst placing significant strain on resources.
“Our research clearly demonstrates that, while restrictions on immigration do decrease legal migration, this has unintentionally led to an increase in illegal immigration flows which results in a costly and unsustainable need for greater border enforcement,” said co-author David Hudson, of Birmingham university.