The complexity behind the phenomenon of migration surpasses the movement of people from one place to another. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state” and that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” If it’s a universal right to move freely, then why does illegal migration exist? Countries around the world ask people to comply with certain requisites to enter its borders and a way to assure the fulfillment of these demands is through visas. Illegal migration refers to migration that does not conform to law; however, many states have opted to change the word illegal migrants to irregular migrants. Several aspects have to be considered to understand migration. First, the causes of migration go from violence to unemployment or even natural disasters. Second, the reality people live in the recipient country as well as the relatives that the migrant has left behind, and finally the consequences that are related to migration.

There is a range of circumstances that can generate the need to move from one state to another. Initially, the socioeconomic reality of the country can represent a reason for people to decide to leave their country. The combination of high unemployment rates combined with high demand of labor force in emerging economies abroad can provide the perfect setting for people to leave their places of habitual residence. There are two possible paths in the case of becoming an economic migrant; the first one is that the person leaves his hometown and arrives to the new country in a lawfully way. The second scenario is when people decide to do this but not complying with the law of recipient country. The reality of these two scenarios will be discussed below. Meanwhile, there is a possibility that the movement of people is caused by a coercion force; in this sense forced migration can be caused by an armed conflict, the widespread use of violence or a natural disaster. In the case of violence, people flee their countries to safeguard their lives and the lives of their families, becoming refugees if they cross an international border or internally displaced persons (IDPs) if they remain within the borders of the country of their residence. Finally, natural disasters can be a cause of an unstable government dew to major infrastructure damage, which lacks the ability of providing basic services to its citizens, forcing them to move to a different territory in the search of better life standards. An example of a natural disaster that affected the stability of the government and caused migration is the earthquake that stroke Haiti in 2010. After this event 1 in 5 people lost their jobs and thousands sought to leave the country to escape the consequences of the crisis.

As it was mentioned before, the migrants’ reality can vary depending on which path they’ve decided to follow when leaving their countries. If a person decides to go away following all possible legal steps then it is more likely that this person will thrive in its host country. Unless the person is a skilled migrant, there is the possibility that the individual will face great competition for employment because governments tend to have policies to promote domestic hiring. A skilled migrant is someone who has a series of skills needed in a country and therefore has preferential treatment regarding his stay in the host country. On the contrary, if a person decides to migrate in an irregular manner then the reality that awaits for the person dramatically changes. First, the processes by which the person decides to move are not always the most appropriate and this leads them to become victims of trafficking and smuggling. Afterwards, if they manage to arrive to this completely new place they have to find a source of income. These are never easy to find; however, newly arrived migrants are prone to end up working at low-waged jobs where they are employed illegally and their rights are entirely violated, in some cases they become victims of forced labor. They most likely work at what the International Organization for Migration has called 3-D jobs,which stands for dangerous, difficult and demeaning. These people have to bear with terrible working conditions, lack of social protection and vast insecurity. Not to mention that regardless of the type of migrant a person might be he or she will experience discrimination at a certain level. In spite of this reality, migrants bring positive aspects to both their country of origin and destination. They move the economy by sending remittances to their families; they invest in their host countries in several ways. Migration also provides a large opportunity for cultural enrichment in the sense that the society of the host country will learn of the migrant’s culture, traditions and in some cases even the language.   

As a result of the multidimensional problem that migration is, the consequences are as numerous as its causes. On the negative side migration causes family separations, which changes the social structure of both the country of origin and host. Migrants provide benefits to the economy but they have to still face a number of vulnerabilities that keep them from fully developing. These vulnerabilities are reflected in human rights violations, putting their health and well being at stake, which indirectly represents a burden for the host government by the increased demand of public health care. Nevertheless this does not mean that irregular migrants always have access to public services. In another aspect, migration makes social problems more evident such as discrimination and xenophobia, thus increasing the inability of migrants to integrate into the society of their destination place. A positive consequence of migration is that all actors related to migration-governments, international organization, non-governmental organizations, among others-have put their attention and efforts into respecting the rights of migrants, diminishing discriminatory practices and improving their living conditions by granting them access to general services at their host countries.

To conclude, migration will continue to be an appealing alternative to reduce poverty, to change the living standards of millions, to flee from violence, and will also be the source of many other social problems. Still, this is the chance to make development more inclusive, to provide the opportunity for thousands of people to have access to better education and health systems, to promote human rights in all possible levels and to reduce the inequality-gap within states and among them. Migration provides the perfect opportunity for countries to cooperate and foster policies that will provide a more suitable environment for the reality that millions of people have to cope with around the world.

Photo Credit: Baigal Byamba