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International migration refers to the movement of people from one country to another on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. While people have migrated for centuries, international migration started with the carving up of the world into territorially bounded sovereign countries, a process that dates to the start of the Westphalian state system in the seventeenth century. Both country exits and entries of citizens and foreigners are part of the international migration process but government policy measures typically focus on regulating entries of foreigners rather than exits or return migrations of their own nationals.
The United Nations estimated that nearly 3 percent of the world’s population — 191 million people — were international migrants in 2005. These numbers are growing rapidly, however, and include persons of all nations and creeds migrating along pathways that crisscross the globe. Today virtually every country in the world is a sender or receiver of international migrants and growing numbers are both senders and receivers.
Theories of international migration focus on demographic, economic, geographic, political, and social differentials between sending and receiving countries that push” people to leave their homelands and that pull” them to countries that migrants perceive as offering better opportunity. For instance, unskilled labor migrants are pushed from their homelands by unemployment and low wages. Persecution pushes political refugees into neighboring countries. Students are pulled to other countries in search of higher education. Retirees are pulled to countries with warm climates and low living costs. Skilled workers, migrant family members, and other types of migrants respond to different push/pull forces. While structural disparities, social and economic inequalities, and the ease and relatively low cost of international travel and communication set the stage for international migrations, cross-country networks of migrants and institutions enable growing numbers of migrants to find opportunities outside their countries in an increasingly interdependent world.
- Castles, S. & Miller, M. J. (2009) The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World, 4th edn. Guilford Press, New York.
- Massey, D. S. & Taylor, E. J. (2004) International Migration: Prospects and Policies in a Global Market (International Studies in Demography). Oxford University Press, New York.
- Zolberg, A. R. (2006) A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America. Russell Sage Foundation and Harvard University Press, New York and Cambridge, MA.