- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2005

The International Organization for Migration sponsored a conference titled “Valuing Migration” in Geneva during the first week of December that attracted senior officials from more than 100 countries. Washington Times special correspondent John Zarocostas interviewed Brunson McKinley, a former U.S. diplomat who is the director general of the organization, on the sidelines of that meeting.

Question: The conference has focused on the value of migration, but is this message getting through to policy-makers, and are national migration laws lagging behind trends in the world economy?

Answer: I think the message is getting through. But it takes time because we’re talking of a fundamental change. At the end of the Cold War, there were only a handful of immigration countries and maybe a slightly larger handful of countries that thought of themselves in the international labor market, such as the Philippines. But it was a rather discrete group of countries where migration was an essential part of their policy.

Now, today, in the globalized world economy, with much greater freedom of movement, all the governments are starting to take this matter into account. The laws on the books are still from an earlier generation, so there’s a gap between the reality and the legal framework. And that’s part of the reason illegal, clandestine migration is such a big phenomenon; it’s why there’s a market for smugglers. They make pretty good money getting people that don’t have papers across borders.

What we’re trying to do at IOM is bring the reality of greater mobility in line with good policy practice and law, and that takes some time. I can’t really fault the policy-makers. I think they know where they have to go. But it’s a big job, and there is some political and social resistance, as we see in many parts of the world.

I think the answer is yes, the message is getting through — but it’s not something you can alter from one day to the next.

Q: There seems to be a lot of business demand for short-term migration, but they seem to be facing major problems in getting the green light from governments.

A: I think that’s true. The business community feels that it’s in their interest to be able to take greater advantage of transnational international business by sending their own people into countries to do that business. …

Most multinationals have manufacturing and distribution points all over the world. But to move personnel … [even individuals on their own, looking for a job] sometimes … they go to the consulate, get a visa and make the trip. But also very often, in fact more often, [they] go in on a tourist visa and overstay or cross the border and just stay on.

In other words, they do it in an irregular fashion. But the big majority of people who do go to live and work in another country are honest, hard-working people. As we saw, it’s a bit of a myth that these people are doing it in order to go on the welfare system. That’s not true at all.

The reality and the regulatory framework are out of kilter. Now, we’ve got to change it, but that takes a bit of time.

Q: To what extent has post-9/11 security affected policies on migration flows, and has that slowed the evolution toward more open and liberal entry rules?

A: I think it has had an effect, which tends to slow things down a bit. The security concerns are legitimate. You have to address that and convince your public — especially in democracies — that you can keep them safe from external threat.

Having said that, the actual threat that most of these clandestine migrant workers pose to society is minimal. The terrorists get in other ways. They are clever enough to get a visa. They have financing to do it. Systems are being developed to take into account the market forces in the absence of really good identification This is the reality, a complex phenomenon that we’re trying to manage better. Managing migration, that’s what it’s all about.

Q: What is your message to migration policy-makers around the world?

A: The basic message is: Now we’re all migration countries.

I think that message is getting across at the level of policy-makers. The man and woman in the street, perhaps, need to reflect on it more and need some leadership, some guidance to explain what’s happening. I think the trend toward more migration — which means more intermingling in all our societies — is inevitable and irreversible. So it’s not whether we should have it or not, we’re going to have it. The question is: Can we deal with it, can we manage it, and can we make it better than otherwise?

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