Thursday, May 28, 2015

More Middle-Class Immigrants

David Brooks recently wrote an interesting piece in the NY Times documenting the flow of immigrants into English-speaking countries (e.g., the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his op-ed is his discussion of middle-class immigrants. Workers in the poorest countries of the world do not have the resources to migrate, while upper-income workers have little incentive to migrate. The majority of recent worldwide migrant flows originate in developing countries that are experiencing economic growth and hence growing middle classes (notable examples are China and India). Income is an important push factor for immigrants (as discussed in Chapter 2), and as countries develop, more workers have the resources and aspirations to migrate abroad.   

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Cuba Uprising

Before this spring, Cuba was the classic example of a closed economy.  Goods and services were not allowed to enter or leave the country, there was practically no foreign capital investment and workers were not allowed to leave the country illegally, nor were many people allowed to enter the country.  As Chapter 7 discusses, none of the components of an open economy existed (labor, capital and goods/services mobility).  Occasionally, there have been massive outflows of Cuba to the United States (Chapter 8 discusses the Mariel Boat Lift in 1980).  Known for its famous cigars, Cuban cigars became a rare commodity in the U.S. due to the trade embargo that has existed since 1960. Visitors to Cuba could not use credit cards or ATMs since U.S. banks were not allowed to operate there. Overall, the country was stuck in the 1950s - in fact, old 1950s and 1960s U.S. cars are commonly seen in the streets of Havana.

In the spring of 2015, the United States and Cuba began diplomatic conversations that could lead to a better economic relationship.  These conversations are the first step in opening up the Cuban economy.  Capital restrictions are gradually being relaxed.  More visitors are being allowed to enter. There are discussions that Cuban foreign goods and services will be sold abroad.  All of these factors should increase raise per capita GDP over the long term (per capita GDP in Cuba is approximately $6,000 in 2011, according to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators.  However, the future is unknown: the economic and political situation is changing there on a daily basis, which will have effects on the inflow and outflow of workers in Cuba. In fact, as the Economist reports in May 2015, more Cubans are fleeing to the United States as Cubans think that the U.S. will tighten its policy towards Cuban immigrants. The Brookings Insitution has a nice discussion of changing U.S.-Cuba immigration policy. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Migration across the Mediterranean

Migration from Africa to Europe across the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean was in the headlines in April as hundreds of migrants died. As chapter 1 notes, the Mediterranean Sea is the most dangerous stretch of water in the world for migrants. Despite this, the number of migrants trying to cross it seems to be rising. Many of these migrants are Syrian refugees; others are from sub-Saharan Africa. Many of them are trafficked through Libya before they try to cross the Mediterranean into Italy. The Economist had a great article about this crossing:.

Europe is struggling with how to address the continued influx of migrants from Africa. As chapter 3 discusses, EU countries have agreed that migrants are supposed to seek asylum in the first country where they arrive. The migrants land in southern Europe, where the economies are much weaker than in northern Europe. These migration flows impose a greater burden on the countries that are in a worse position to bear those costs. The EU is debating whether to try to distribute migrants--or the costs--more equitably across countries.

Here's an interactive map of migration flows across the Mediterranean (hat tip to Graziella Bertocchi).

When I was in Senegal in April 2015 for a conference on migration organized by the Institute for the Study of Labor, we met two young men who migrated illegally to Spain. Both went on boats from Mauritania to Spain. Their crossings took 6 days, with lots of people crammed onto a small boat. One of them had a brother who died making a similar crossing. They went because of limited economic opportunities at home. They worked in the informal sector in Europe, selling goods on the street and the like.

Burmese migrants

Chapter 1 includes migrants from Myanmar to Thailand as an example of workers moving from a very poor country to a poor country. Another example of migrants from Myanmar (or Burma) has been in the news lately. News outlets have been reporting on ethnic Rohinga migrants, who are Muslim, fleeing Myanmar for other countries in Southeast Asia. Many of the migrants are or were in desperate circumstances and victims of traffickers--thousands have been stranded at sea, and a mass grave of migrants was discovered near the Myanmar-Thailand border. The Rohinga are an exmaple of "stateless" people, or people who have no citizenship anywhere. See these articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and a NPR audio clip.