With the era of Post-globalization dawning upon us, migration has become the most widely discussed and misunderstood issue across the world. 

Since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has been pressing for a wall to be built on the US-Mexico border, in order to prevent illegal immigration of Mexican workers into the States. Misinformation mixed with xenophobia led to people believing Trump and voting him to power in 2015. Since then, policies have been targeted to cease the flow of people across borders. But do people really want to leave?

Xenophobia is at its peak, thanks to populist leaders who keep adding fuel to the fire. Economic impacts of the same have been grossly miscalculated by the people. A survey of 22,500 native respondents from six countries revealed massive misperceptions about the number and composition of immigrants. In Italy, for example, the average perception of the share of immigrants is 26 per cent, while the actual number is close to 10 per cent. The share of certain communities is also overestimated by such respondents.

Aversion to immigrants stems from a basic concept of Economics, demand and supply. People think that an increase in the number of people seeking jobs would lead to a fall in the wage rate. While the logic seems fine on the outset, it is flawed to the core. First, immigration might result in an increase in labour supply, but it is also accompanied by an increase in demand for goods and services, which vacates better jobs for the natives. Second, people do not wish to move in the first place, owing to a number of reasons. There is a greater risk involved in leaving the land where they grew up, a lack of connections to begin a new life, and a feeling of complacency which makes them stay home.

Natives of the West believe that migrants arrive on their shores to escape dire levels of poverty in their own nations, which is false on many levels. Places like Iraq, Syria, or Yemen, where people seem desperate to leave, are far from being the poorest in the world. Per capita income of these countries is fairly high, which dismantles the belief held by people of first world countries. People trying to escape these nations do so due to the collapse of everyday normality at their home. As written by the Nobel prize winners of 2019, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, ‘(these people) were running from the mouth of the shark. And when that happens, it is almost impossible to stop them, because in their minds there is no home to return to’.

Most people do not get a chance to migrate, even if they wish to, due to lack of resources and a dependence on a lottery of some sort. And others prefer to stay at home. Risk is one factor. Potential migrants overestimate the risk of dying, which makes them stay in their own country. A lack of connections is another crucial factor. Most employers do not hire simply on the basis of the wage rate. Even if a person is willing to work at a rate lower than the minimum, the degree of scepticism won’t go down. An employer would hire on the basis of trust, which can only be established if there is a connection with the worker in some way. This is the reason why most people living in a commune flock to the same place, as the necessary connections have already been established as a result of continuous migration.
Migrants also carry a fear of failure with them, which makes them think twice before leaving. Like ordinary people, they wish to protect their image among their kin, and therefore choose to stay.

There is good evidence that people hate mistakes of their own making. A concept called “Loss Aversion”, given by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, tells us that people wish to avoid any loss that may worsen their life in comparison to the status quo. This explains why many buyers end up choosing expensive “extended warranties”. 

A factor that goes unaccounted for by most economists is the migrants’ affinity to their motherland. The comforts of home cannot be denied, even by a person who’s barely surviving somewhere. Warsan Shire, a British Somali poet wrote:


no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

Feature Image Credits: Al Jazeera

Kuber Bathla

[email protected]