3.5: Culture, Globalization, and Economics of Migration in The Twenty-First Century
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3.5.1 What is the connection between globalization and increased international migration?
Globalization is defined as the set of forces and processes that involve the entire planet, making something worldwide in scope. Although 246 million people live outside of their birth country, more than 96 percent of the world’s people do not ever move outside of their birth country, so in the case of migration, globalization might not be as powerful as once believed. While geographers try to understand where people move and why, a more significant question might be why so many people do not move. If you live in one of the places on Earth where you interact with people from all over the globe on a regular basis, then it might seem to you that globalization is operating at full speed. Yet, the vast majority of humans don’t leave their home country and have limited interactions with people from other places, even if the products they consume and produce might be worldwide in scope.
As we entered the new millennium in 2000, scholars were convinced that a new age was upon us. Some went so far as to say that geography was “dead” and that place didn’t matter. A best-selling book written by Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat (2005), decreed that humanity was becoming more connected all the time to the point that it didn’t matter if you were in the streets of Bombay or in a classroom at Harvard. The best minds and the best ideas would always rise to the top, regardless of their origin. Inherent in this argument was the assumption that more people would be on the move, and international migration would accelerate as people and products would just zoom across the “flat earth” at lightning speed.
In 2017, however, geography has re-emerged to re-stake its claim. While more people than ever are, in fact, living outside of their birth countries, there is a growing resistance across the planet to “outsiders.” In response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush firmly asserted that “every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Perhaps that is the moment in which the earlier hope of a fullyintegrated world with open borders and full mobility was deemed too optimistic. In the years since that speech, western nations have taken a collective stance against immigration often based upon religious or ideological grounds. In 2017, for example, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in response to a shooting in San Bernadino, California. Meanwhile, Britain moved to cut immigration levels dramatically as it exited the European Union and took a more isolationist position, and Australia moved to prevent refugees from arriving on its shores.
3.5.2 How is migration in the twenty-first century different from that of the twentieth century?
While the percent of those who migrate has not increased significantly in the twenty-first century, the destinations and origins of immigrants have shifted dramatically, so that more people are migrating to and from more places than ever before. Such a statement may sound confusing at first, but one need look no further than college campuses throughout the world to understand this dynamic. Georgia Gwinnett College in suburban Atlanta, for example, is the most ethnically-diverse college in the American South. In a typical geography class at that school, thirty-three percent speak a language other than English at home. A recent survey of the author’s students (n=115) from just one semester found that students (or their families) came from Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, the Philippines, Laos, China, Colombia, Korea, Haiti, Jamaica, Vietnam, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Liberia, Latvia, Romania, India, Pakistan, Scotland, and Paraguay. While past waves of migration were dominated by a small number of sending countries and a small number of receiving countries, migration in the twenty-first century is much less predictable.
Australia offers another example, as thousands of prospective immigrants have been traveling thousands of miles by land and sea to seek refuge in the small continent. The government eventually made the difficult decision to interceptwould-be immigrants at sea, but it still faces a complex dilemma of where to redirect those who have risked their lives to make the perilous journey. For now, they are being taken to remote islands of Papua New Guinea, Christmas Island, and Nauru for resettlement, resulting in an odd mix of refugees and South Pacific Islanders living side by side. Unpredictability is now the rule rather than the exception as twenty-first century technology allows for a rapid flow of information. Those wishing to move can now find out much more quickly about opportunities, transportation options, and routes to take than has ever been the case before. Geography does not represent nearly as formidable of a barrier to travel than it did in the twentieth century. Other than asylum seekers, most immigrants are far more likely to travel by plane than by boat in the twenty-firs century, and they mayor may not seek permanent residence.
The final way in which migration is different today relates to the concept of transnationalism (exchanges and interactions across borders that are a regular and sustained part of migrants’ realities and activities that transcend a purely “national” space). Those traveling to the US in 1900 were leaving everything behind to seek a new homeland, learn a new culture, and often to speak a new language. Migrants of today, however, are not forced to fully disconnect from “home.” Even after a long-distance migration, people can stay connected to friends, family, news stories, and relationships across the world. A journey that took several months in 1900 today takes less than half a day. Meanwhile, apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Skype allow newcomers to stay intimately involved in the lives of those left behind—for free! Transnational families contain members that are living in multiple countries simultaneously, speak multiple languages, and are ready to move in a moment’s notice, based upon market conditions in any given place at a particular time. Critics argue that immigrants of today do not assimilate as readily as those from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but in that era, people simply had no other choice. Transnationalism is a feature of twenty-first century immigrants that is here to stay as immigrants to new places have the option to live their lives in more than one world, carry more than one passport, and move more seamlessly from place to place than at any time in human history. Take note that the term appears again in this textbook (section 11.4, Political Geography) inthat corporations also operate within and between multiple countries, depending upon various factors. An important distinction exists, however, from the concept of supranationalism (Section 8.3, Political Geography) in that supranationalist organizations do not officially reside under the direction of any single state (country), while transnationalism involves moving between countries – not operating outside of them.