We are living in a world of increased migration. The cost of travel has shrunk enormously in the last 60 years or so. The barriers to entry into many countries to study, to live and to work have lowered dramatically. The rise of a borderless entity in Europe is but the most obvious manifestation of a globalized world, one where goods, services and people can move with little impediment. Much of this change has happened under the radar with little political debate in many countries.
Now of course, migration is coming increasingly under public scrutiny. What does large scale immigration mean for the nation state? What does it do to the economic fortunes of those in the host country? And, especially in Europe, what is the consequence of large scale migration from Africa and the Middle East? How does the modern nation state assimilate different religions and cultures? What are the security implications for large scale migration of Muslims?
One of the touted benefits of large scale migration is a demographic one. In order to maintain or increase a population that is failing to reproduce naturally, the only solution is migration. In the Canadian Globe and Mail editorial of a couple of weeks ago, this was the major reason advanced for Canadian multiculturalism. As the writer argues, the latest census report strongly supports the last three decades of multiculturalism bipartisan support in Canada.
For the first time in the country’s history, Canada’s seniors outnumber children as the baby boomers enter the retirement age and Canada’s fertility rate stays below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman (it sits at 1.6). Despite this below replacement fertility rate, Canada’s population grew by 5 per cent between 2011 and 2016 and is expected to hit 50 million people by 2060. Over the last three decades around a quarter of a million migrants and refugees have been accepted into Canada each year (Prime Minster Trudeau increased this amount to 300,000 when elected). Today, one in five Canadians were not born in Canada.
While Canada is growing, countries like Italy, Japan, Germany and many “xenophobic” (according to the editorial) Eastern European countries are shrinking. By 2060 Canada will have the same population as Italy and Bulgaria’s will have halved. Japan will be at 100 million people, while China’s population will have declined by 125 million people. South Korea, Singapore and Thailand will all be shrinking. And this is according to the UN population division’s numbers, which are too optimistic according to some demographers.
As the editorial notes, country’s risk economic stagnation and dislocation when their population’s decline:
“But [demographic decline] will pose economic challenges, as increasing life expectancy and reduced fertility undermine health care and pension systems. A shortage of young couples with children will reduce the market for housing, appliances, diapers. Labour shortages will increase, though productivity will improve to compensate.”
While many governments are encouraging their populations to have more babies, none have managed to restore the fertility rate to 2.1. So immigration is seen as the answer to population decline. The problem with relying on immigration is how do we integrate new migrants into the existing population? And how to we ensure that migrants do not settle “into impoverished and resentful ethnic enclaves – something we also see in parts of Europe”? According to the editorial, Canada:
“has largely avoided this trap by bringing in new Canadians from around the world rather than mostly from just one region, ensuring genuine diversity.”
So immigration is necessary for many countries for demographic and economic growth. This is a benefit of largescale immigration. But in too many countries, the debate about immigration, multiculturalism, diversity and cultural assimilation has been cursory and littered with too-hasty cries of “xenophobia” and “racism”.
If large scale immigration is to be a success, the populations of host countries need to be able to have a debate about it, and need to feel that have participated in the decision to encourage large scale immigration to their country. If there is a premature political consensus that shuts down debate and disagreement do not be surprised if multiculturalism is a failure and “resentful ethnic enclaves” result. And that debate necessarily, and pressingly, needs to include the link between migration and terrorism.