Last week Tom Barnett wrote the post Heightened immigration is a global phenomenon in which he refers to a couple of articles in The Economist about global migration and reports about, for instance, Poles in Ireland. (Very good articles!) He poses a question about integration policy which has stirred a rather typical immigration debate among his readers.
Whatever the consequences of immigration are, Poland really is an interesting example that explains some reasons behind people movement: Ever since the country joined the EU large numbers of Poles have moved elsewhere for better paid jobs, especially to Ireland but also to Iceland and other countries. However, over the next couple of years Poland will be showered in EU money to stimulate the economy and there will be a huge demand for labour. This is not unproblematic since emigration to western countries has greatly reduced the work force. According to some analysts this “labour vacuum” will be filled with people from Ukraine and Belorussia. In other words migration drives migration. On the other hand, Philippe Legrain (to whom I have referred in this recent post), describes on his blog how the Poles are starting to return back home from Great Britain. That says something about how difficult it is to predict migration patterns.
The Poland situation is only one example of the forces behind people movement. But whatever the reasons are, migration almost always causes controversy; it seems that for many people it is easier to find the negative aspects of it. I have said it before and I will say it again – it’s a pity that even among those who argue that migration is a positive phenomenon it is merely regarded as a matter of labour supply and demand. The idea that movement of people drives innovation is sometimes mentioned but rarely elaborated or used as a substantial argument. Yet there are many examples: It may be the invention of a new product, an old business concept that prospers in a new setting or award-winning research. It is far from difficult to find such examples.
Researcher Richard Florida talks a lot about tapping the creativity of individuals and clearly moving from one context to another is an effective way of doing that. These processes would probably work even better if people had a more positive attitude towards immigration; if it generated less controversy it might generate more innovation.