International Migration: Beyond the National Headlines

By Donna R. Gabaccia, Director, IHRC, University of Minnesota


What country in the world has the highest proportion of foreigners living on its national territories? If you think the answer is the United States—as well you might, given the passionate debates about immigration in recent months--you’d be wrong.

Worldwide, 191 million people currently live outside the countries of their birth. They are a modest 3 percent of the world’s population (of 6.5 billion). They are not evenly distributed of course. The estimated 32 million living in U.S., while certainly an impressive number, constitutes only 12 percent of the American population. And in today’s world, 12 percent foreign-born puts the United States near the middle of a very long list: the wealthy country at the top of the list has roughly 75 percent foreign-born.

To identify that country, American readers must tear themselves away from the headlines about U.S. immigration that dominate page one and explore the “inside pages,? where newspapers bury international stories. (They can also read to the end of this column.)

A reader of international news this week would have learned, for example, that Mexicans are far more concerned about their southern border with Guatemala than with the border that dominates U.S. headlines: "Illegal Immigration and Mexico's Maras". As many as 100,000 migrants enter Mexico illegally from the south each year; as a result, the population of Tapachula, a southern Mexican border town of about 300,000, has doubled in only ten years.

In Europe, we learn that a million “Brits? emigrate every year (to Spain, Australia, and America), thus outnumbering the 474,000 foreigners who arrive annually: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article1951273.ece . In Russia, “illegal immigration? is debated in much the same terms as in the United States, right down to estimates of how much these foreigners harm the national economy by not paying taxes. "'Love Bridge' Fuels Anti-Immigrant Backlash on Swedish Border"


But the really huge stories of international migration—like the relative proportions of foreigners—are in Asia. Readers of a recent New York Times article learn indirectly just how ubiquitous foreigners are in the oil-enriched economies of the Middle East. ("Dubai Swats Pests Ogling Beach Beauties")
The article focuses unsympathetically on male foreign workers who go to public Dubai beaches to look at and attempt to meet western women in bathing suits (“Dubai Swats Swarms of Pests Ogling Beach Beauties?). It fails to note these workers constitute 60 percent of Dubai’s population. Or to mention that foreign men outnumber women three to one.

What country in the world has the highest proportion of foreigners living on its national territories? Few Americans, or Arabs for that matter, think of the United Arab Emirates as a “nation of immigrants.? Yet it, and not the U.S., provides the correct answer to our question.
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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Donna Gabaccia published on November 13, 2006 7:51 AM.

The Political Drama of Immigration was the previous entry in this blog.

The Consequences of Denying Healthcare to Undocumented Individuals and is the next entry in this blog.

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