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Working Toward a Global Mobility Regime

What do 82 specialty workers from Azerbaijan, 416 athletes, entertainers, and artists from Honduras, and 93 students from Bhutan have in common? These visitors from around the globe were a small part of the 39 million international travelers who came to the United States in 2008. Advances in transportation and communications technology have made international migration more common in all corners of the globe. But how has this movement of people affected the international community? Who manages the flows of people around the world—flows that range from the routine (such as tourism), to mass dislocations caused by civil strife and armed conflict?

Professor Rey Koslowski, an expert on global migration and security issues at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy described the key issues and efforts involved in the management of international migration.

Koslowski, who is conducting research on global mobility with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, noted that two critical points concerning global migration need to be recognized. Now that cross-border movement has become less inhibited by physical and economic barriers, it is defined by the legal constraints that nations impose. And as a result, global migration is an important political issue that simultaneously creates opportunities for both conflict and cooperation among governments and international organizations. While we do not give it much thought, global mobility refers to all of the ways that people move across international borders, whether traveling as tourists, students, business travelers, or as foreign workers. Right now, there are few international agreements concerning these kinds of mobility other than the rules pertaining to refugee migration. These rules governing mobility—Koslowski uses the phrase “global mobility regimes”—are difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, as he quickly points out, attention to these regimes . Rey Koslowski

Prof. Rey Koslowski

is an important international public policy issue because of the significant monetary and security considerations that need to be addressed by governments and international organizations

Economic Considerations Associated with Global Mobility

The benefits of global migration are distributed across affluent and developing countries alike. The single most important benefit to developing countries is migrant remittances—the transfers of money that emigrants send to their home countries. These funds help struggling families and provide much needed cash to developing economies. Koslowski notes that it is now common knowledge that economic development in many countries is aided by these remittances. Therefore, if changes in the terms of migration are implemented, especially by imposing serious restrictions on mobility, the effect may be real hardship among the poor in the countries that provide the labor. Koslowski points out that, once it is understood that migration policies can be a component of an international aid portfolio, there are real consequences for all concerned. Stakeholders will surely undertake a more nuanced examination of the changes in migration rules, and assess the potential ramifications on the source countries.

Destination countries (many that are affluent) also benefit from labor migration. Developed countries often depend on migrant labor to supplement the supply of workers in certain sectors of their economy, often using foreign workers to fill labor shortages or to take jobs that have become undesirable for the local population. Unskilled immigrants hold a significant proportion of jobs in service areas, manufacturing, and agriculture in high income countries. In addition, skilled laborers have been in demand among the developed nations, augmenting the stock of professionals in esoteric occupations and emerging fields.

Security Concerns in Global Mobility

Not surprisingly, the benefits of global migration have been jeopardized by the web of national security measures put in place across the globe since 2001. New rules about visas, passports, and identity verification place limits on global mobility, producing hardship for some countries, and ill will among others.

From a border security standpoint, the increasing number of travelers challenges border control officials who continuously try to identify dangerous individuals amid the throngs of legitimate travelers. This included the 19 terrorists who on September 11, 2001 attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Seventeen of these terrorists entered the United States on tourist visas, one on a business visa, and one on a student visa. Since 9/11/2001, security concerns have largely trumped economic considerations in global mobility.

Examining International Cooperation on Mobility

Koslowski points out that, against this backdrop of benefits and tensions, it is important to examine the contours of international travel, the groups capable of facilitating progress around these issues, and the new dynamics that may shape cooperation concerning the subject of global mobility. With the assistance of his MacArthur Foundation funding, he plans to develop a substantive understanding of how cooperation on migration and mobility compares to cooperation in other issue areas where international rules have been established. Right now he is documenting the visa, passport, and identity management policies that governments are adopting, with an eye to how they influence global mobility. As part of this work, he will analyze connections among the areas where rules on global mobility already exist, or may be established in the future. These include the international refugee regime, an emerging travel regime, and a potential international labor migration regime. Although the issue areas of these three regimes can overlap, leading to misunderstandings and policymaking at cross purposes, Koslowski also notes that they provide a starting point for new agreements. Koslowski’s research is important and timely. It will influence international dialogue and policy on global mobility. From the perspective of the U.S., the ease with which Americans travel abroad, sustain key services in the economy, and attract highly skilled professionals from abroad will depend on our collective skill in crafting new and well coordinated global mobility rules.