As the world’s economically developed nations age and their fertility rates continue to stay below replacement levels, working aged people will become more and more valuable. In order to keep growing, countries will have to rely on immigration if their own populations will not at least naturally replace themselves. Already countries like Germany rely on immigration to keep its population stable and Japan, which does not allow large-scale immigration, is seeing its population shrink. As more countries reach the same demographic situation as Germany and Japan, skilled, working-aged immigrants will become more sought-after. The countries which can attract immigrants and integrate them successfully will be in a better economic position than those that cannot.
In an increasingly globalised world, we are already seeing large number of migrants moving to live in countries which they weren’t born in. No longer do the large majority of the world’s population live their entire lives within a hundred miles of the village they were born in. (As an example of how easy travel has become, consider this fact that I saw in New Zealand Herald the other day: in the late 1940s it cost 85+ weeks working at the average salary to buy a ticket to Britain; today, it costs one week working at the average salary to buy a ticket to Britain!) One can see this in the fact that nearly a fifth of New Zealanders do not live in New Zealand (fools!), the majority of which live in Australia (foolish fools!)
In a similar vein, the Daily Mail recently reported on the percentage of European populations that do not live in the country of their birth. (It’s even got a lovely, colourful map! Which, as dedicated readers of this blog will know, is one of my loves.) Many of these countries, particularly in the east of the continent, have levels of emigration similar to, and in excess of, New Zealand. And they are all small, relatively economically undeveloped countries where the allure of larger, more prosperous nations is stronger. Thus, Portugal, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Moldova have seen more than a fifth of their population emigrate while Ireland is not far behind at 18.8 per cent.
The European nation which has seen the largest proportion of its population leave is Bosnia and Herzegovina at 43.3 per cent (1.6 million people). Considering that country’s recent history perhaps that is not surprising. Not far behind though is Albania, where 38 per cent of its citizens have emigrated.
In terms of the absolute number of people emigrating, the United Kingdom is the largest supplier of emigrants: nearly five million of its citizens live elsewhere, followed by Poland with 4.4 million Poles emigrating. (Of course, 4.4 million Poles is a higher proportion of Poland’s population than 5 million Brits is of the UK.) After those two countries, the next two countries with large emigration were two countries most struggling with their populations ageing and low fertility rates: Germany (4 million of its citizens live elsewhere) and Italy (2.9 million Italians live elsewhere). Thus, not only are Germans not naturally reproducing themselves, but they are have also left in large numbers. This will only exacerbate that country’s demand for more workers. Of course, at the moment attracting immigrants to richer countries is one thing, but integrating such immigrants and making sure that they are skilled and well educated and willing to work, is quite another challenge.