International Migration: Powering Human Progress



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There have been human beings migrating from one place to another since there have been human beings. Throughout history, the world has been witness to many different types of international migration. More fertile land, better climate, greater stability, or employment or educational opportunities have caused migrants to look beyond their borders. Others have been pushed out of their homes because of natural disasters, war, or lack of personal safety.

The rise of a global economy that took place from 1975 to 2000 brought with it an increase in the flow of international migration with the number of international migrants surging from 78.4 million to 172.3 million people, almost 3% of the world’s population. To draw attention to the issue of the growing number of migrants, at the end of 2000 the United Nations declared December 18 International Migrants Day. Each year the UN chooses a theme to promote awareness of the positive impact of international migration and to encourage a cooperative approach among countries to manage migration so that its benefits can be optimized and the risks for migrants and their origin, transit, and destination countries reduced.

The theme of this year’s International Migrants Day is Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility. It recognizes why international migration is so important: migrants help build stronger, more resilient communities and global mobility has a positive net social and economic effect. This year’s theme challenges policymakers, governments, and society at large to help find paths to manage migration efficiently and unlock its full potential.

The Power of Migrants

Young Uğur Şahin migrated from Turkey to Germany in 1969, when he was four years old. His father had been working in Cologne for several years helping the Ford company build cars and it was time for his family to join him. Growing up in Cologne, Şahin’s academic performance got attention and he took advanced courses in mathematics and chemistry. The first child at his school with Turkish guest worker parents, he went on to study medicine at the University of Cologne and received his doctorate in 1992 with a thesis on immunotherapy against tumor cells.

Married to the daughter of another family of Turkish migrant workers, physician Özlem Türeci, Şahin, and his wife went on to start a company focused on developing and manufacturing immunotherapies to treat cancer and other serious diseases. Together, they created the first vaccine against COVID-19 to win regulatory approval.

Their story underscores how positive the impact of cross-border migration can be, not only for the benefits it brings destination countries and migrants themselves but for its contribution to human progress at a global level.

The Benefits of International Migration

Around 281 million people were international migrants in 2020, almost 4 percent of the global population or slightly more than the populations of the UK, Germany, France, and Italy combined. The reasons migrants leave their homes vary as much as their backgrounds and ethnicities but it is clear that they can bring important development benefits to both their host and home countries.

Not only do they remit important amounts to developing countries, but they also promote trade and investment and bring innovation, skills, and knowledge to both origin and destination countries. Migrant workers fill labor market gaps and consume products and services in their host countries, which in turn helps create more jobs and grow tax revenue. They often contribute to the economies they leave behind as well through remittances but also investment and the sharing of knowledge.

Ria Money Transfer has been helping migrants stay connected to their families and friends back home for more than 30 years. We join the United Nations in honoring international migrants and in calling for more measures to harness their full potential. Find out more about the resilience of migrant workers at the Ria Blog.


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