06 December 1991 - 08 December 1991

Immigration Policies in the Developed World in the Face of Migration Pressures: Causes and Responces

Chair: The Rt Hon Sir Timothy Raison MP

The terms of reference of this conference were drawn up so as to address primarily the movement of peoples across borders in categories not covered by the Convention of 1951, Convention refugees being those who flee their country because of persecution or the justified fear of it. Clearly the question arises about who qualifies as a Convention refugee, especially in the light of the large numbers in today’s world who claim asylum unjustifiably, perceiving that route as a way round the restrictions placed on straight-forward immigration by all countries of the world, developed or developing; but by and large the conference avoided being drawn into the area of genuine asylum seekers and the processes whereby applications are judged. While there were one or two voices raised in favour of revising the 1951 Convention, the consensus undoubtedly was that the Convention had great merits and that to re-open it would be risky and would only result in a more restrictive agreement

Against that background, the conference looked at what might be termed ordinary migration flows, those who, although motives may be and usually are mixed, are primarily seeking to emigrate in search of a better life. It also looked at another category: those who are forced out of their homes not by specific persecution (though there may be an element of that) but by, for example, natural disasters, crop failure, famine, instability or war. Such people, displaced by circumstances rather than choice, often remained within their own countries and did not fall within the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Moreover in many cases their flight was temporary, at least in original intention. This category was perhaps not strictly relevant to the main theme of the conference, since in many cases such persons were not emigrating with a view to permanent settlement, (but, for example in the case of Hungary in 1956, or perhaps Somalia today, many indeed sought just that). Nevertheless it was generally felt that there was a need for a new international instrument to complement the 1951 Convention, to cater for such displaced persons. While the mandate of the UNHCR did not extend to them unless they crossed an international border, in practice the High Commissioner could act if the international community gave authority (and the funds) and if the host country was compliant: no new instrument was required for that, only political will.

On the main question, there was a clear difference of attitude between those countries whose present populations had been predominantly created by immigration, North America, Australia, etc., and the countries of West Europe (although not monolithic) where, despite various histories of migration, the populations perceived themselves as indigenous and homogeneous. In the former, immigration is positively welcomed as bringing economic benefits and cultural richness: in the latter, which chose to describe themselves as not “countries of immigration’’, immigration was seen as something of a necessary evil, bringing the risk of social strife. While such attitudes might be dictated to a greater or lesser extent by perception, in practice both groups applied, more or less liberally, very similar restrictions: in both family re-unification was the principal criterion, with labour market considerations second (applied for example by the UK by a system of specific applications by employers to fill particular jobs, and in the US, Canada or Australia through quotas and specified skills). For the rest in all cases, persons granted asylum made up the balance (with no restriction by quota in those countries applying quotas). These practices no doubt also reflected differing perceptions of the population density in each state and the ability to absorb migrants, but were not much influenced by perceptions in the receiving states of birth rates (except in so far as immigration policies were driven by labour market considerations). Given that studies in North America had shown that immigration was economically neutral and did not drive down the wages of the existing population, it was suggested that there was a case for political leadership to educate electorates which were instinctively opposed to immigration and whose instincts could be played upon by unscrupulous populist politicians. On the other hand it was pointed out that for example in Western Europe with 12m unemployed and a pool of untapped labour estimated at 33m, the argument was debatable and in any case not easy. It was also undoubtedly the case that public attitudes were affected by the origin, colour and religion of the incomers. The problem was further complicated by the illegal immigrants, whose numbers could only be guessed at: these created resentment, but, though willing to work at low wages in unattractive jobs, probably did not add to unemployment. It was further complicated by temporary workers and by the difficulty of repatriating immigrants who did not qualify, if they had lived for long periods in the receiving state.

Specific attention was given to the forecast but not yet realised migration to the West from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Here the point was made that wage differentials were a key factor, which could be affected by judicious manipulation of the exchange rates (at a differential of 10 to 1, emigration from low to high occurred, at 4 to 1 it was much reduced). In general the conference concluded that the main movement was likely to be of ethnic minorities (e.g. the Volga Germans) and that the “parent” countries would probably cater for them more or less willingly. The problem of the large Russian minority in the Baltic States was mentioned and the point was made that Latvia’s nationality law set the qualifications for citizenship so impossibly high that ethnic Russians would be driven out, a clear case for Western pressure for revision. There was a lesson here for others applying restrictive nationality laws. The resettlement of the former Soviet army would pose a parallel problem. The problem as a whole was manageable; but it would have to be consciously managed, both by absorbing some migrants and through the provision of humanitarian aid and the adoption of other measures to put the economies of the countries concerned on their feet.

The conference also addressed the treatment of immigrants in their countries of settlement (immigrant policy as opposed to immigration policy). Three broad paths were identified: full assimilation of second and third generations, if not of the first generation, achieved through the mitigation of obstacles to the immigrant competing with the native population; multi-culturalism (though the term was seen as having different shades of meaning in different countries) whereby the immigrant is encouraged to retain the culture of his native country, with positive discrimination in employment, for example, for non-native language speakers (thereby producing, e.g. Ukrainian-Australians); and a policy of letting immigrants find their own way, using provisions designed to help existing disadvantaged minorities, as in the US. The role of non-governmental organisations, including the churches, was stressed. The aim must be to promote harmony and avoid racial or religious conflict, but there were no firm conclusions, it seemed, about how that was best achieved. What works best for each country and culture was best

Finally the conference turned to what if anything could be done to improve conditions, political or economic, in the sending countries in order to reduce migratory pressures. It was pointed out that the world faced a tremendous problem: with population in Africa likely to increase to well over 1 bn in 3 or 4 decades, and the possibility of serious climate change bringing with it flooding in some areas (e.g. Bangladesh) and desertification in others, migratory pressures were bound to increase. Control might be possible but probably only by methods unacceptable in a democracy. It was not possible, even if morally acceptable, for the rich world of the OECD to sit comfortably behind immigration and tariff barriers and let the poor four-fifths of the world go hungry. In their own interests therefore, to avoid dangerous instability, the OECD countries - and the Newly Industrialised Economies - had to consider what could be done. Immigration alone could not deal with the problem (in the short to medium term, increased prosperity in the sending countries tended to increase the migratory flow, because more people had the money to travel). Nevertheless the problems of the developing world must be factored into the consideration of immigration policy. Alternative points of attraction (i.e. economically prosperous zones) should be encouraged. Moreover trade policy was crucial: it was useless to put money into development if the product was excluded from OECD markets. Population policies were important (but the absence of such policies in the developed world did not encourage the developing to adopt them). And private investment must be encouraged. The sums involved were large but not impossible. And finally aid and political pressure must be applied to the improvement of government and enhanced observance of human rights.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: The Rt Hon Sir Timothy Raison MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative), Aylesbury; Vice Chairman, Board, British Council


Dr John Nieuwenhuysen

Director, Bureau of Immigration Research, Melbourne
HE Mr Richard J Smith
Australian High Commissioner, London

Mr Chris Allison

Population Adviser, Health and Population Division, Overseas Development Administration, London
Mr David Coleman
Lecturer in Demography, Department of Applied Social Studies and Social Research, University of Oxford
Ms Jane Cooper
Parliamentary Officer, Amnesty International, London
Mr Glyn Ford MEP
Member of European Parliament (Labour), Greater Manchester East
Mr Anthony J Langdon
Deputy Under Secretary of State, Immigration and Nationality Department, Home Office
The Hon Mark Lennox-Boyd MP
Member of Parliament, (Conservative), Morecambe and Lunesdale
Mr Peter Lloyd MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative), Fareham; Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Home Office
Miss Usha Prashar
Member, Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct; part-time Civil Service Commissioner; Member, Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
Dr John Salt
Migration Research Unit, Department of Geography, University College, London; UK Correspondent to OECD Migration Committee
Sir John Thomson GCMG
Chairman, Minority Rights Group in UK
Mr John Torode
Policy Editor and Chief Leader Writer, The Independent

Mr V Peter Harder

Associate Deputy Minister, Employment and Immigration, Canada
Mr Michael Ignatieff
Columnist, The Observer

Mr John Murray

Principal Administrative Officer, Council of Europe

Mr Adrian Fortescue LVO

Assistant Under Secretary, Secretariat General, Commission of the European Communities

M Jean Claude Chesnais

Demographer; Director of Research, National Institute of Demographic Studies, Paris
Monsieur François Heisbourg
Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London

Dr Hans Arnold

Retired as Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the UN in Geneva

Professor Bimal Ghosh

Senior Consultant, International Organisation for Migration, and UN, Geneva; Programme Director, Migration, Population and Refugees, Centre for Political and Economic Analysis, Geneva

Dott. Clara Bisegna

Diplomatic Adviser to Minister for Immigration, Rome
Professor Gian Carlo Blangiardo
Professor of Demography, Istituto di Scienze Statistiche e Matematiche, Università degli Studi di Milano; research professor, Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli

Professor Marek Okolski

Professor of Demography, Warsaw University

Mr Shun Chetty

Deputy Director, Division of International Protection, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Headquarters, Geneva

Ms Diane Camper

Specialist in education, social welfare and immigration issues, The New York Times
Professor Wayne A Cornelius
Gildred Professor of US-Mexican Relations and Founding Director, Center for US- Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego (UCSD); Professor of Political Science, UCSD
Mr Richard W Day
Minority Chief Counsel, Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Affairs, Committee on the Judiciary, US Senate
Mr Dennis Gallagher
Founder and Executive Director, the Refugee Policy Group and Executive Director, North American-European Dialogue on Politics and Migration
Mr Arthur C Helton
Director, Refugee Project, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, New York City; Chair, Advisory Committee, New York State Inter-Agency Task Force on Immigration Affairs; Adjunct Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
Professor Charles B Keely
Donald J Herzberg Professor of International Migration, Center for Immigration & Refugee Assistance, Department of Demography, Georgetown University, Washington DC
Dr Princeton Lyman
Director, US State Department Bureau for Refugee Programs
Professor Theodore R Marmor
Professor of Public Management and Political Science, Yale University School of Organisation and Management; Chairman, Center for Health Studies, Yale University
Dr Demetrios G Papademetriou
Director of Immigration Policy and Research, Bureau for International Labor Affairs, and Staff Chair, (Task Force), US Department of Labor
Professor Peter I Rose
President, Eastern Sociological Society, Sophia Smith Professor and Director of Diploma Programme in American Studies, Smith College
Dr Sharon Stanton Russell
Research Scholar, Center for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying: international migration and development, Sub-Saharan Africa; population issues, Philippines; political economy of migration policies, Kuwait and Arab world; migration, remittances and trade in services
Mr Michael S Teitelbaum
Demographer, Alfred P Sloan Foundation, New York
Mr Sanford J Ungar
Dean, School of Communication, American University, Washington DC
Dr Georges Vernez
Director, RAND Education and Human Resources Programme and Co-Director, Programme for Research on Immigration Policy; adviser to government of Colombia on internal migration policies

Herr Peter Arbenz

Director, Federal Office for Refugees, Berne