Migration, long a politically sensitive issue, will become an economic necessity over the next decade as countries grapple with the stresses of aging populations, the World Bank said on Tuesday.
The multilateral lender said that the growing proportion of older people, especially in the richest economies, where nearly a fifth of people are now above the standard retirement age of 65, would put increasing pressure on global economic growth. public finances and social cohesion.
“Over the next decade, all countries, regardless of income level, will find migration increasingly necessary,” the bank said, adding that governments must do more to attract foreign workers. Current approaches created “major inefficiencies and missed opportunities” while also leading to human suffering.
Poorer countries should make emigration part of their development strategy, expanding training in skills that are in high demand and doing more to help workers send money home cheaply, said the world Bank. In the meantime, host countries should partner with them to help fund training and reduce recruitment costs, while also working to build political consensus on the role of migration and making the most of refugee talents.
Less-skilled refugees needed more support to access jobs in host countries; legal routes to migration reduce incentives for human trafficking and smuggling; and more humane systems to manage returns and resettlement when necessary.
The World Bank warning comes hot on the heels of the population UN projections which underscore the extent to which leading economies may need to rethink their growth models as they age.
India has likely overtaken China as the world’s most populous country this month, and its population, which the UN estimates at 1.42 billion, is considered almost certain to continue to grow. However, even in India, the fertility rate has now fallen below the replacement rate, and the UN estimates that the population could stabilize by the mid-2060s.
John Wilmoth, director of the population division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said on Monday this meant it was a “critical period” for India to maximize the “demographic dividend” as its labor force continued to grow, while that other countries whose populations were rapidly aging would need to focus on policies to help parents juggle work and family obligations and allow older people to stay in employment.
Although the World Bank expects labor shortages to be more acute in wealthier economies, fertility rates have also plummeted in middle-income countries such as China and India, raising the risk that “many . . . they will grow old before they get rich.”
Changes in demographic trends are already fueling the competition to attract skilled workers. Australia and Canada are expanding opportunities for migration. Germany, which has previously been able to recruit from within the EU, is looking for new sources of labor outside the bloc.
However, in many countries, the public debate on migration policy remains focused on efforts to curb flows of unauthorized migrants and share the costs of hosting asylum seekers and refugees.
Meanwhile, the population of many low-income countries is set to grow rapidly even as climate change reduces economic opportunity and threatens to make entire regions uninhabitable. The World Bank considered, in a report on global migration patterns, that most movements due to climate change so far have been over relatively short distances, within the same country, but warned that this could change soon.