Economic, Social, and Political Impact of Migration on Cities
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The definition of migration varies with different scholars. However, the underlying fact that cuts across all these variation is the movement of people. This movement has been a part of human history and is an issue as old as time. On one end of the spectrum, migration could be simply defined as the movement of people from place to place (Kok, 1997, p. 19). On the other hand, some argue that for this movement to be categorized as migration there has to be a change of residence. Additionally, there also has to be a specific distance moved for the movement to be termed as migration. A widely accepted definition terms movement in migration as ‘relatively permanent over a significant distance’ (Kok, 1997, p. 19).
Causes of Immigration
The causes of migration also vary a great deal. They can be grouped into two distinct categories, push factors and pull factors. Push factors ‘force’ an individual to leave a certain region. These are undesirable characteristics that result in moving. Notable push factors include insecurity, war, natural causes (such as drought and floods), and poverty (Schoorl et al., 2000, p. 2). Pull factors are characteristics of a certain region that make it a suitable destination for a given migrant population. Some pull factors include safer regions, employment opportunities in destination areas, better climatic conditions, and lower risks of natural disasters such as drought and floods (Schoorl et al., 2000, p. 2). Migration is usually as a result of a combination of push and pull factors. For example, the lack of employment opportunities in one country may force people to move to another country where jobs are in plenty. Additionally, as seen in Syria, people often move from a warring country to a safer and more habitable one.
Impact of Immigration on Urban Areas
Migration has influenced the life and cultural spectrum of urban areas because they are the desired destinations for many migrants. The evident impact is on city populations that continue to rise in the wake of increased migration. Migration into metropolitan areas also influences the labor market in these regions and thus their economies. What is more, migration also influences the provision of social services such as health and recreational services. It also affects the housing markets in cities, the city culture, and the general social fabric (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, 2).
This paper examines ways in which migration has shaped modern day cities and how these cities have evolved as more and more foreigners occupy them. The paper looks at the economic implications of increased immigrant population in these global cities. It then discusses the social issues brought about by the increased and diversified immigrant population such as discrimination and multiculturalism. Also, the paper analyzes how immigration influences the political scene in these global cities. This includes the various policies and legislation enacted that affect the immigrant population in urban areas.
According to a report by the Wittgenstein Centre for Demographic and Global Human Capital, migration can be viewed in two distinct ways, stock, and flow. Stock involves counting the number of people in a given geographic space at a given point in time (Stockton, 2014, p. 3). The numbers obtained show you how many people have migrated into or out of the region. On the other hand, flow examines the rate of movement of human traffic over a specific period. Flow is measured alongside various causative factors such as push and pull factors that influence migration. The study at Wittgenstein took census counts from 150 countries and converted that into an estimated flow of human traffic across the globe. The census data was collected between 1990 and 2010 (Stockton, 2014, p. 3). The major drawback of this method is the inconsistency of the methods used to carry out census counts by each country.
However, the results of the research revealed some interesting facts about human migration. First, is that the average rate of human traffic has stagnated since 1995 except isolated events such as the ongoing Syrian Crisis, which results in abnormal migration rates (Stockton, 2014, p. 3). Also, the results shattered the traditional conviction that the poorest countries are the ones migrating the most, sending people out to the developed ones. On the contrary, the research showed that it is not the poorest countries that are migrating the most but the countries in transition. These are those countries with potential and development prospects. However, some of these countries in transition also attract migrants. For instance, the Arabian Peninsula is currently experiencing a huge construction boom in the region. Consequently, there has been increased migration from the South East Asia region to the Middle East (Stockton, 2014, p. 3). The research also established that the US was the largest and most sought after destination country. The Mexican-US stream of immigrants was also identified as the largest flow between any two countries (Stockton, 2014, p. 3).
This research is important because it reveals which countries are on the move, to what destinations and what factors influence this migration. The effects that migrants have on the areas they move into depends on the reasons for migration. Migration can be categorized into four categories depending on the causative factors. These categories are economic migration, social migration, political migration, and environmental migration.
How migration has influenced city economies
One study focuses on two immigrant cities, New York and Toronto and how increased economic migration has changed these megacities. The researchers chose these two cities because of the similarities in the migrant population. They were both previously dominated by a European settler majority. However, recently there has been an influx of Asian immigrants into these two cities. Additionally, both cities were affected by the increased immigration into their countries during the 19th and 20th Century (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 3).
Migration into New York and Toronto was influenced by the policies and legislation enacted by their home countries. Initially, both the US and Canada had racial exclusion policies that barred admittance to some countries, especially Asian countries. This fact explains the resultant increase and eventual dominance of Asian immigrants after such legislations were overturned. However, the major difference is witnessed in the admitting policies adopted by the two countries. The US was focused on family reunification as its primary goal of immigrant admission. On the other hand, Canada was concerned about improving domestic economic growth and how immigrants could contribute toward its economic goals (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 4).
The major influence these immigrants have on the New York and Toronto economy is the provision of low-skilled cheap labor. The labor market in these cities has been flooded with immigrants who are ready to work for minimum wage. Findings from the study state that the immigrants view these jobs as the ‘entry points’ into the workforce (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 14).
After the policy and legislation changed, there has been a different kind of immigrants occupying urban areas in the US and Canada. Prior to 1960, the immigrants coming into these countries were mainly European immigrants during what experts called, ‘the first great wave of immigration’. However, the immigration population diversified during the second great wave of immigration. The immigrants came from Asian, Caribbean, and Latin American countries (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 14). Additionally, it was observed that there were more female immigrants as compared to male immigrants during this second great wave of immigration. The new immigrants were also more qualified in terms of the skills they possessed and level of education attained. There were more college graduates coming into the US and Canada, and more specifically to New York and Toronto.
So what are the various economic effects of the new immigrant populations in global megacities such as New York and Toronto? The different cultures brought into these cities by the immigrants resulted in what experts call ‘ethnic economies’ (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 13). However, the economic contribution of immigrants, both documented and undocumented ones, has been greatly influenced by three main factors. The first factor is the change in skills of the immigrant population (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 13). Incoming immigrants have more sophisticated skill sets due to higher levels of education attained. Even though the majority still provide low-skilled labor services, some immigrants enter the workforce at higher positions.
The second factor is the change in the attitude towards immigrants (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 13). Global cities are increasingly pushing form a multicultural society free from discrimination due to the number of immigrants that they host. These efforts have resulted in the changing of attitude towards immigrants in that more locals are accepting them as part of their society. For instance, the British Government, since 1997, has declared a war on racism and a push for a more multicultural society (Amin & Parkinson, 2002, p. 960). Issues of race and deprivation of ethnic minorities in urban areas has resulted in a nationwide debate over issues of immigrant discrimination. Society is looking to address the intolerance and discrimination against immigrants based on race or ethnicity.
Lastly, the economic contribution of immigrants in global cities has been influenced by changes in the labor market structure (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p.13). For instance, in many cities, minority groups have carved out economic niches in which they thrive. These are various sectors of the city economy that people of different races and ethnic backgrounds are not proportionately represented. One race or ethnic population dominates a given economic sector in a city.
The result of this phenomenon is the development of ethnic enclaves. These are various economic activities that immigrants thrive in. They work in these ethnic enclaves as both owners (employers) and employees (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 15). The main reason for the formation of these ethnic enclaves is that immigrant business owners prefer to hire fellow immigrants because of the low wages and the mutual understanding coming from the same racial, ethnic, and cultural background. Therefore, it is easier for immigrants to get jobs in businesses and industries run by fellow immigrants (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 15). Additionally, most of the economic activities carried out in these enclaves are closely tied to the immigrant culture. An example of such a region is Chinatown in New York, the largest Chinese enclave in the Western Hemisphere. Chinatown has evolved to become a second home for the Chinese immigrants in New York. Over the years, it has been established as a place of work and a place of residence (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 16). However, studies show that these enclaves develop as a result of discrimination against immigrants in the hiring process. Most of them cannot compete in the mainstream economy mainly because of language barrier.
An analysis of New York’s labor market revealed that different races dominated in different economic activities. The Whites (locals) occupied the financial sector. Blacks were more prominent in the personal services sector. Hispanics dominated manufacturing and Asians held a significant share in retail trade and offering professional services (James et al., 1998, p. 182). However, some ethnic economies suffer under various stereotypes. The analysis of New York’s labor market showed that Black entrepreneurs were less likely to get loans from financial institutions as compared to their Asian counterparts. This is because of the general assumption that Black are not skilled in business management and offering them financial assistance is a greater risk as compared to their Asian counterparts (James, et al., 1998, p. 182). Such issues make it hard to sustain ethnic economies without first addressing issues of racial, cultural, and ethnic-based discrimination.
The economic impact of immigrants in global cities can also be looked at in terms of the influence in the labor market and the natives’ wages. Many of those opposing immigration-friendly policies in destination countries cite the decrease in labor wages as one of their primary arguments. Research suggests that even though the number of immigrants in these cities has increased significantly, this increment has only had a modest impact on the natives’ wages. One study predicted a 10% increase in the US workforce due to increased immigration in the 90s. However, the study forecasted a mere 3% decrease in the prices of labor due to the increase in the size of the workforce (James et al., 1998, p. 178). On the contrary, various studies actually project a boost in economic growth in the US as a result of increased immigration. One study estimates the total net profit from immigration at 9.1 billion USD. A report released by the National Research Council echoes this assertion. According to the report, increased immigration could result in increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 14 billion USD (James et al., 1998, p. 178). However, the future looks grim for natives who offer low-skilled labor. In recent history, the type of immigrants coming into the US’s global cities has diversified. The number of well-educated and highly skilled immigrants has increased. Nevertheless, a majority of the immigrants are still not well-educated and continue to flood the low-level labor market. A research carried out by the National Research Council affirms these claims. The research investigated the impact of the immigration wave in the 1980’s on the low-level labor market. This immigration wave resulted in a 1.2% drop in low-level labor wages (James et al., 1998, p. 178). An insignificant reduction when compared to the number of immigrants that entered the country during that period.
Another concern in gateway cities such as New York is that an increased number of immigrants could result in limited employment opportunities for the natives. Research shows that this displacement will only occur in local labor markets and not in the mainstream economy (James et al., 1998, p. 178). Local labor markets take in immigrants because of their low wages. What is more, such jobs do not require sophisticated skill sets. One study focusing on the impact of immigration in Los Angeles states that the increased Hispanic population may have triggered an upward job mobility amongst other minorities, especially Blacks. The case of Los Angeles was different than most because immigrants were assimilated into the labor market so quickly that it resulted in the decrease of unemployment rates in the region (James et al., 1998, p. 179). On the flip side, native workers offering low-level labor recorded a significant drop in their wages.
Immigrant businesses and entrepreneurship ventures also impact international trade between the immigrants’ home countries and their current destination countries. An example is the economic relationship between Vancouver, Canada and China. The increasing number of Chinese immigrants have fostered stronger economic links between the two regions (James et al., 1998, p. 188). Besides, immigrants, especially the pioneer ones will increase the number of goods imported from their home countries. These are products they have grown accustomed to and cannot do without.
The influx of immigrants into gateway cities has resulted in various social issues. Some of these issues include discrimination of various forms such as race, ethnicity, cultural values, and religion. Other issues include multiculturalism and how it is affected by the diverse cultures of the immigrant populations in the region.
Multiculturalism can be defined as the co-existence of various diverse cultures. In some countries and cities, the burden of fitting in is placed on the immigrants. These regions initially advocated for a society that accepts the diverse cultures of the immigrants and tries to integrate them into the preexisting social fabric. Notable countries that have adopted this societal attitude in the past include Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. Angela Merkel, the current German Chancellor, said that the ideology that is multiculturalism is dead (Mette & Nando, 2013, p. 348). Chancellor Merkel stated that it was the immigrants’ role to fit into the German societal fabric and not the other way round. Her views were echoed by British Prime Minister David Cameroon. These negative views came in the wake of 9/11 attacks on US soil by foreigners (Mette & Nando, 2013, p. 348). Such criminal activities give all immigrants a bad name. In most cases, they are profiled as criminals. Consequently, discourse on multiculturalism has gradually faded away both in policy and amongst various scholars.
Instead of advocating for multiculturalism, there is a general attitude in gateway cities that is more focused on diversity, super-diversity to be specific. The traditional view towards multiculturalism advocated mainly for the ‘blending’ of multiple cultures. However, there is a need to recognize and accept the differences of these cultures. The solution to this lies in super-diversity.
Take the social landscape of Britain especially its global gateway cities for instance. After the 1940s, immigrants entering these cities were from very few regions. The cultures that were coming into Britain and its cities were not that diverse. Additionally, these periods were characterized by large waves of migration from very limited source regions (Spencer, 2012, p. 3). Fast forward to the 1980s and the situation is very much different. The population in these cities is much more diversified than the 1940s. The migrations during this period consist of smaller waves of immigrants coming into regions such as Britain, especially its gateway cities. An example of a city that exemplifies the concept of super-diversity is Birmingham, UK. The immigrants coming into this city are from fragmented regions as compared to the type of immigration in the 1940s that was from clustered regions (Spencer, 2012, p. 3). Super-diversity introduces new challenges to policy makers, businesses, and other sectors because of the extremely diverse population.
There are three facets of the diversity complex. The first way to look at diversity is to look at it as a narrative (Mette & Nando, 2013, p. 350). In doing so, diversity is advocated for because it is viewed as a public good. Diversity can also be viewed as a social fact (Mette & Nando, 2013, p. 350). This means examining societies that comprise of a population that differs in terms of their cultural backgrounds. The final way of looking at diversity is diversity as a policy (Mette & Nando, 2013, 350). This refers to policies that are geared towards establishing and maintaining a good social relationship amongst populations of different cultures.
Cities and municipal governments prefer taking the lead role when it comes to integration matters. Experts argue that this is the more desired approach as compared to relying solely on efforts from the national government control. This is due to the fact that, in most cases, national governments are more concerned with enacting policies that control the number of immigrants coming into the country (Spencer, 2012, p. 3). They are more focused on securing the country’s borders. City and municipal authorities are more concerned with the provision of social amenities to all, both immigrants and natives. Catering for both immigrants and the natives can strain the city’s resources especially for gateway cities that have a large immigrant population. Another challenge is the legal restrictions imposed by the national government on the city’s efforts to accommodate its immigrant population (Spencer, 2012, p. 3).
The migration debate has always been viewed as ‘us vs. them’ (Spencer, 2012, p. 3). It is important that city’s make immigrants feel included. Even though they do not feel accepted in the country, they will settle in quicker if they felt accepted by their immediate communities and societies. A negative attitude towards immigrants and the immigration debate in the UK stems from the public’s lack of confidence in the national government to handle immigration. Polls such as Translantic Trends: Immigration show that the national government has promised time and again to cut down immigration (Spencer, 2012, p. 3). However, the numbers keep growing. To solve these issues the Britain’s national government needs to involve the public in an open and honest discourse about immigration to restore confidence.
Another social impact of immigration is the correlation made between the inflow of immigrants and increased crime levels. In the US, the issue of sanctuary cities has become a major talking point in the immigration debate. Sanctuary cities are jurisdictions that frustrate efforts by the American federal government to deport undocumented immigrants. These jurisdictions do so through various policies including non-cooperation. For instance, under the PEP (Priority Enforcement Program), local authorities are required to uphold requests by the federal government to hand over information about any convicted undocumented immigrant for deportation (Camarota & Vaughan, 2009, p. 3). Sanctuary cities who value their immigrants and intend on maintaining a good relationship with their immigrant populations may choose to ignore these requests. In some cases, these criminals have gone on to commit other criminal activities. A report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shows that 20% of all inmates in prisons in the US are foreign-born individuals (Camarota & Vaughan, 2009, p. 3). However, it is difficult to establish the correlation between criminality and how minority groups in the US contribute to this phenomenon. In some gateway cities, people of different races and ethnicity are discriminated against resulting in higher rates of incarceration. A survey of the major cities in America reveals no correlation between their immigrant population and the corresponding crime rates in these gateway cities. A study by the InfoPro Corporation (IPC) suggests the opposite. According to the survey, the overall crime rate in the US has continued to decrease even as more immigrants enter its major cities during recent histories (Camarota & Vaughan, 2009, p. 3). However, since this data accounts for both immigrants and natives, it is difficult to establish a direct correlation between a city’s immigrant population and its crime rates.
Political and Policy Issues
Affluent countries and global cities are the preferred and most sought after migrant destinations for many. As a result, migration, especially immigration, has formed an important part of their political spectrum. In some cases, local authorities differ with the national government on how to handle the migration debate. The national government is mostly concerned with securing the country’s borders and deporting undocumented immigrants. On the other hand, local authorities are more focused on providing social services to their people, immigrants, and natives all inclusive (Spencer, 2012, p. 3).
A study of the New York immigrant policy showed that the city had no mechanisms or policies in place to promote the settlement and business success of immigrants (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 27). The study focused on ethnic economies and whether the city had policies dedicated to enhancing these ethnic economies. Some programs did exists that were enacted by the city authorities. In New York these programs were established under the Department of Small Business Services. An example a program under the SBS is the Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprise (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 27). Such programs provide training on entrepreneurial skills, marketing, and finance. The major drawback to these policies is that most immigrants are unaware of their existence, and so few of them usually sign up for them (Bankim & Hsin, 2003, p. 27).
In certain cases, policy changes are influenced by certain events involving immigrants. In the 90s, Britain’s major cities were characterized by racial violence and hatred towards immigrants in general. In Oldham, Bradford, and Burnley, for instance, confrontations between city authorities and Indian youths in 2001 sparked a nationwide debate (Amin & Parkinson, 2002, p. 961). Most people felt that these acts of violence towards immigrants needed to be stopped. This change of attitude influenced the political scene. Those running for local offices aligned themselves with the immigrants and advocated for a more multicultural and accepting society.
However, in the wake of events such as the 9/11 attacks the rhetoric began to shift. Instead of advocating for a more accepting and multicultural society, politicians now shifted the burden on to the immigrants. They argued that it was their duty to blend in with the British way of life and not the other way round. This was the view of the national government that was keen on cutting down the number of immigrants. Various policies were enacted to facilitate the reduction in immigration.
Policies that facilitate the reduction of immigration can be categorized into three distinct groups. The first group of policies aims at controlling the access of migrants (Flahaux, 2014, p. 6). These policies restrict migrant access to destination jurisdictions. They also limit return trips back home and are aimed at making the current immigrants permanent residents. An example of such a policy is by enforcing strict visa requirements. These requirements have been known to decrease both immigration and emigration. The second group of policies focuses on controlling the stay of migrants. An example of such a policy is one that makes it more difficult for migrants to attain a work permit under strict migration laws (Flahaux, 2014, p. 6). The resultant harsh living conditions may force the immigrants to return and may decrease inflows. Lastly, the third group of policies is geared towards encouraging or sometimes forcing migrants to return to their country of origin (Flahaux, 2014, p. 6). Most of these policies involve voluntary programs that offer monetary compensation to immigrants in exchange for their return home. However, these methods usually have little or no effect in terms of reducing the migrant population in a region. In some cases, policies and legislation enacted affect migration patterns and trends. This was seen in the US and Canada post-1960. The two adopted a more accepting immigrant policy that resulted in an influx of immigrants into their major cities such as New York and Toronto.
What is more, cities with a high immigrant population may adopt a more tolerant and accepting position. This fact is embodied in the policies adopted by sanctuary cities such as San Francisco in the US. These cities and states have enacted legislation that is intended to frustrate the national government’s efforts of ridding the country of undocumented immigrants. Local and state politicians usually support such legislation because they want to secure votes from foreign-born citizens. These policies are mostly based on non-compliance and non-cooperation with the national government request to hand in information about undocumented immigrants in their cities. In response to such cities, the US Senate is set to debate the ‘Sanctuary Cities Bill’ that seeks to punish such cities for their non-compliance and non-cooperation. Possible methods of punishments include defunding these jurisdictions (Flahaux, 2014, p. 18).
Migration is an integral part of human history and is a phenomenon as old as time itself. It has shaped civilizations and continues to do so in the major cities that are the preferred destination for many migrants. Recent migrations differ from past ones in that they consist of smaller waves of migrants from fragmented regions. Immigrants have influenced all aspects of the city’s life, economic, social, and political arena. This means that the gateway cities are more diverse than ever before.
Issues such as super-diversity and multiculturalism have become crucial issues in these cities. Other social issues include the correlation between crime rates and the increased number of immigrants. Research shows that it is difficult to establish a direct correlation between the two because data on crime rates usually integrates both immigrants and natives.
On the economic aspect, natives often fear that an influx of immigrants into these cities will result in loss of jobs (displacement) and lower wages. However, research suggests that the effect only applies to low-level jobs, and the effect is minimal. On the social front, issues such as discrimination and tolerance have been given increased priority due to the large number of immigrants entering these gateway cities. However, events such as the 9/11 shifted the burden on the immigrants to blend in with the pre-existing social fabric and not the other way round.
Immigrants have also influenced politics and policy making decisions. Local authorities are keen on fostering good relationships with both immigrants and natives. This fact is evident in policies adopted by sanctuary cities in the US to protect their immigrant population. Such policies often go against efforts by the national government to rid the country of undocumented immigrants. These policies are common in areas with a very high immigrant population. Leaders are looking to acquire the votes of foreign-born citizens and thus advocate for a more accepting and tolerant society. On the other hand, efforts from the national government are mainly geared towards securing the country’s borders.
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