Poverty and Aspirations Inspire Migration to Australia

November 03, 2013

Poverty and Aspirations Inspire Migration to Australia

Even as several of the world’s poorer nations achieve socio-economic progress, mass migration from these countries to developed countries continues unabated. Unlike in the case of planned skill-based individual migration, mass migrants often end up as victims and fugitives in foreign land. At a time when the policy debate in Australia and parts of Europe revolves around the politics of managing asylum-seekers and people smugglers; attention is rarely focused on the motivation that drives people to leave their home and hearth, in search of green pastures abroad. A recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald says poverty driven by growing information about life in developed countries is what motivates the poor to migrate.

Driven by poverty

The “sheer scale of wealth and income inequality is fundamental” to the very nature of mass migration, says the Herald report.

Quoting untitled surveys, the report points out that more than 40 per cent of adults in the world’s poorest countries would like to move permanently to another country, if they had the opportunity.

An insightful research by investment bank UBS demonstrates that the hourly wage rate of a bus driver in Sydney, Australia is about $US 20 whereas in Mumbai, India it is $US 3. The UBS study finds the weighted hourly wage for 15 common professions in Sydney is 12 times higher than in Jakarta.

World Bank economist, Branko Milanovic draws attention to the fact that the difference in gross domestic product per person between rich nations like the U.S. and Australia compared to poor countries in Africa and Asia has grown from 10: 1 in the 1960s to current level of 50:1.

Migration aided by information access

The incentive to migrate for socio-economic prosperity is further inspired by the widespread access to information, says the Herald report.

Today, people in poor countries have better knowledge of the comfortable lifestyle and high wage rates in developed nations like Australia. The key to this information revolution is the rapid growth of access to televisions, mobile phones and the Internet, in low income nations.

Illustrating the transformation, the report points out that Afghanistan in 2001 had a barely functioning telephone system and virtually non-existent television network. More than a decade later, the country has a mobile network with over 22 million subscribers and over 70 television stations.

Emigrant remittances higher than global aid

The report also draws attention to the fact that people left behind also benefit from the migration of their family members. Emigrants tend to send a major part of their earning back home. Globally, these remittances total about $ 400 billion a year, which the SMH report points, is more than what rich nations spend as overseas aid.

As Mr Milanovic points out, "Either poor countries will become richer, or poor people will move to rich countries." 

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