The 21st century will be an age of significant demographic changes around the world. Along with increasing globalisation - particularly the expansion of international trade and other forms of interdependence - our world is marked by increasing disparity of income and opportunity. These factors inevitably result in intra- and inter-border movements of people, mostly from poor to rich regions and countries. The United Nations Population Fund's State of World Population, 2006, released on September 6, estimates that nearly 200 million people worldwide are now living in places outside their home countries, and nearly half of these are women. This 'hyphenation' of existence and identity, as critical theorist Homi Bhabhas put it, is here to stay.
However, there have been several polarising trends during the past few years - especially since 9/11 - leading to security, economic, social and human rights concerns regarding migration. While many developed countries need migrant workers - to do the work their own citizens will not, to support their ageing populations and to keep the economic engines running - there has been a backlash in many countries. The debate about Hispanic migrants in the US and Britain's decision to not allow free entry to workers from new member States of the European Union are two recent instances. This backlash results more from politics and xenophobia than from economic reasons. Many studies have laid to rest concerns that migrants depress wages in destination countries and take up a sizeable proportion of social benefits. In developing countries, the fear of 'brain drain' has receded in the light of the benefits of remittances from abroad.
International migration is a win-win situation for all. It makes sound economic sense and that is why it was included, although contentiously, in the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats) as Mode 4, which pertains to the 'presence and movement of natural persons'. Although global migration is about international political economy, the WTO is, however, not the ideal forum to discuss migration, lest migrants end up being treated as commodities. There is need for an international covenant on migration that will hold all member countries to some basic commitments to the rights of immigrants, including social, legal and political rights. Both sending and receiving countries need to put in place policy frameworks that maximise the positive contributions of migration, the former with regard to poverty reduction and development, and the latter apropos of policies aimed at inclusiveness.