2022 World Migration Report Highlights Complex Issues Driving Migration

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has published its 2022 World Migration Report. This new edition presents key data and information on migration as well as thematic chapters on highly topical migration issues

A great deal has happened in migration in the last two years since the release of the last World Migration Report in late 2019. The COVID-19 global pandemic arrived at a time of heightened uncertainty brought about by fundamental changes in technology, adding tremendous complexity and anxiety to a world that was already experiencing significant transformations.
COVID-19 has radically altered mobility around the world, and while there were initial expectations and hope that the pandemic would be limited to 2020, virus strains, waves of infection and vaccination programming issues have seen the pandemic continue through 2021. COVID-19 has become a truly seismic global event, testing the resilience of countries, communities, systems and sectors. By the end of the first year of the pandemic, 116.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been recorded globally, while 2.58 million people had died.

In mobility terms, 108,000 international COVID-19-related travel restrictions had been imposed globally. Air passenger numbers dropped by 60 per cent in 2020 (1.8 billion) compared with 2019 (4.5 billion), evidence of the massive decline in mobility globally. The report provides analysis of COVID-19 impacts on migration, mobility and migrants during the first year of the pandemic.

The last two years also saw major migration and displacement events; events that have caused great hardship and trauma, as well as loss of life. Foremost have been the displacements of millions of people due to conflict (such as within and from the Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan), or severe economic and political instability (such as that faced by millions of Venezuelans and Afghans). There have also been large-scale displacements triggered by climate- and weather-related disasters in many parts of the world in 2020 and 2021, including in China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, the United States of America and Haiti.

We have also seen the scale of international migration increase, although at a reduced rate due to COVID-19. The number of international migrants was estimated to be almost 281 million globally in 2020, with nearly two thirds being labour migrants. This figure remains a very small percentage of the world’s population (at 3.6%), meaning that the vast majority of people globally (96.4%) were estimated to be residing in the country in which they were born. However, the estimated number and proportion of international migrants for 2020 was lower, by around 2 million, than they otherwise would have been, due to COVID-19. It is likely that the longer international mobility restrictions remain in place in many parts of the world, the weaker the growth will be in the number of international migrants in future years.

Long-term data on international migration have taught us that migration is not uniform across the world, but is shaped by economic, geographic, demographic and other factors, resulting in distinct migration patterns, such as migration “corridors” being developed over many years. The largest corridors tend to be from developing countries to larger economies, such as those of the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Germany; large corridors can also reflect protracted conflict and related displacement, such as from the Syrian Arab Republic to Turkey (the second largest corridor in the world). While many long-term corridors are likely to continue to feature in the immediate future, COVID-19 has shed light on the intensification of digitalization and the potential for greater automation of work around the world that is likely to affect key labour migration corridors.

Technological, geopolitical and environmental transformations shaping migration and mobility The unprecedented pace of change during recent years in geopolitical, environmental and technological spheres has led some analysts and commentators to coin or use phrases such as the “age of accelerations”, the “fourth industrial revolution” and the “age of change”. More recently, COVID-19 has amplified the sense of uncertainty brought about during momentous change, while also physically grounding much of the world for extended periods of time. The pandemic has required resilience, while also offering the opportunity to reflect on our collective futures.

Similar to other international phenomena, migration has historically been affected by seismic geopolitical events, such as the two world wars, the Cold War, and large terrorist attacks (such as 9/11), which can mark “turning points” in migration governance, as well as in broader discourse and sentiment. The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest seismic geopolitical event, stemming from a global health emergency and, while by no means over, it has already had profound impacts on migration and mobility globally. Existing knowledge, evidence and analyses allow us to place new information on COVID-19 within a frame of reference as new data come to light. Rather than looking only at the here and now, we need to be understanding change in terms of longer-term migration patterns and processes. The significance and implications of COVID-19 can only be sufficiently understood and articulated when contextualized and rooted in current knowledge of migration.

It is also important to place migration and mobility within broader systemic change processes that act to determine, shape and impede responses by governments (at different levels) and non-State actors (e.g. civil society, industry, citizens). Key technological, geopolitical and environmental transformations are particularly relevant and help us to understand better the strategic issues shaping the context in which people migrate, States formulate and implement policy, and a wide range of State and non-State actors collaborate and cooperate on migration and mobility research, policy and practice.

Technological transformations
Technological advances since 2005 resulting in the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” are profoundly changing how social, political and economic systems operate globally. We have been witnessing the rising power of “big tech”, the increasing production capability for self-publishing of misinformation and disinformation, the race by businesses to “digitalize or perish”, the massive increase in data being produced (mainly through user-generated interactions) resulting in increasing “datafication” of human interactions, and the rapid development and roll-out of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities within business and governments sectors.

Digital technology is becoming increasingly crucial throughout migration. People are able to gather information and advice in real time during migration journeys, an issue that has raised interest and, at times, concern. The use of apps to share information and connect geographically dispersed groups has raised valid questions concerning the extent to which digital technology has been used to support irregular migration, as well as to enable migrants to avoid abusive and exploitative migrant smugglers and human traffickers. Migrants have also developed applications to support better integration in receiving countries, while maintaining social links and financial support to their families and societies back home, including through the increasing prevalence of “mobile money” apps. More recently, we have seen migrants develop online chatbots using machine-learning technologies to provide psychological support, as well as to help navigate complex migration policy and visa processing requirements, although digital capture in various migration systems of an increasing amount of personal information is raising concerns about privacy and other human rights issues.

Other connections between migration and technology are also emerging in migration debates. As artificial intelligence technologies are progressively taken up in key sectors, their broader consequences for migrant worker demand and domestic labour markets are areas of intense focus for policymakers and businesses in both origin and receiving countries. Recent discussions have also turned to blockchain technology and its consequences for migration, especially for international remittances, but also for digital identities and global mobility. Social media technology is also increasingly impacting the politics of migration, with a surge of far-right activism on social media platforms seeking to influence public debates and ultimately political decisions.

Profound technological change was deepening before COVID-19, but has significantly intensified during the pandemic, meaning that deep digitalization of an already digitalizing world will be one of the most significant long-term effects of COVID-19. Shaping migration and mobility systems to reduce the impacts of inequality in a world that is suffering multiple “digital divides” will be particularly important in ensuring implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other multilateral agreements.

Geopolitical transformations
Increased competition between States is resulting in heightened geopolitical tension and risking the erosion of multilateral cooperation. Economic, political and military power has radically shifted in the last two decades, with power now more evenly distributed in the international system. As a result, there is rising geopolitical competition, especially among global powers, often played out via proxies. The environment of intensifying competition between key States – and involving a larger number of States – is undermining international cooperation through multilateral mechanisms, such as those of the United Nations. We are living in a period in which the core values underpinning global governance are being challenged. The values of equity, accountability, impartiality, fairness, justice and probity are being actively undermined, as some political leaders disregard common interest in preference for personal interest – even if it corrodes laws, processes and institutions that have, overall, sought to advance whole nations and peoples, without excluding or expelling some because of their inherent characteristics or beliefs. Ongoing and systematic corrosion, as we have witnessed throughout history, can extend to attacks on human rights and ultimately on groups of people within societies.

In rebalancing the geopolitical debate and arguing for the profound benefits of the multilateral system, many States and the United Nations have actively progressed a number of key initiatives to deliver improved conditions for communities globally, most especially for those most in need. Despite the challenges of a geopolitically charged competition, some progress has been made towards achieving the SDGs, as well as on the specific issues of migration and displacement via the two Global Compacts for migration and on refugees. On the eve of the 2022 International Migration Review Forum – the primary intergovernmental platform on the implementation of the Global Compact for Migration, including as it relates to the SDGs – preparations are well under way, with a series of regional review processes having already been finalized across 2020 and 2021. A rallying cry has also been made recently by the United Nations Secretary-General in his 2021 report on bolstering support for multilateralism in an increasingly complex, competitive and uncertain world. Our Common Agenda outlines the United Nations’ actions that are designed to strengthen and accelerate multilateral agreements (including the SDGs) and make a tangible, positive difference in people’s lives around the world.

Environmental transformations
The intensification of ecologically negative human activity is resulting in overconsumption and overproduction linked to unsustainable economic growth, resource depletion and biodiversity collapse, as well as ongoing climate change.
Broadly grouped under the heading of “human supremacy”, there is growing recognition of the extremely negative consequences of human activities that are not preserving the planet’s ecological systems. In several key areas, analysts report that the world is at or nearing “breaking point”, including on climate change, biodiversity collapse and mass extinction of thousands of species, while pollution is at record levels, altering ecosystems globally. COVID-19 has dampened human activity in key spheres (e.g. transportation/travel, construction, hospitality) enabling a mini environmental recovery, as well as a space to reflect on the ability of humans to achieve extraordinary things during times of crisis. However, there is a strong sense that this is merely a pause and that human activity will rebound once the pandemic is over, wiping out the pandemic-related benefits. The implications for migration and displacement are significant, as people increasingly turn to internal and international migration as a means of adaptation to environmental impacts, or face displacement from their homes and communities due to slow-onset impacts of climate change or experience displacement as a result of acute disaster events.
The full 2022 World Migration Report is available via the IOM.