10.9.2013 | Von:
Jochen Oltmer


Migration has been a central element in the adaptation of human beings to environmental conditions as well as to societal, economic and political challenges. Mobility of people changed the world in past centuries: numerous examples show the extent to which labor or settlement migration, flight, displacement or deportation influenced the makeup of the population, the development of labor markets or cultural and religious orientations. Migration will also remain a global topic in the future. This is underlined by current debates on, for example, the consequences of the continuing growth of the world’s population, the ageing of societies in the rich "North", climate change or the lack of specialists for increasingly complex and internationally connected "knowledge-based societies" [1].

Conditions, forms and effects of migration

Migration can be understood as a long-term shift of an individual’s, a family’s, a group’s, or even a whole population’s usual place of residence. Various manifestations of global population mobility can be differentiated between. Among these various forms are labor and settlement migration, nomadism, migration for educational, training, cultural, prosperity or marriage purposes, as well as forced migration.

Table 1: Background and Time-Space Dimensions of Migration
The author’s own representation
  • realization of opportunity (labor and settlement migration)
  • compulsion (flight, displacement, deportation, mostly due to political opinion and worldview or as result of war)
  • crisis/catastrophe (e.g. emigration due to human or natural environmental disaster, acute economic and social plight)
  • education/training (acquisition of academic and job-related qualifications)
  • lifestyle (culture or prosperity migration)
  • intraregional (migration within the same region or municipality)
  • interregional (medium distances)
  • international (do not necessarily mean great distances, but the crossing of national borders generally has considerable legal consequences for the individual)/li>
  • intercontinental (great distances with generally relatively high costs)
  • unidirectional (migration to a destination)
  • phased (intermediary stops made, primarily to fi nance journey)
  • circular (a more or less regular change between two places)
  • return migration (re-migration)
Length of Stay
  • seasonal
  • several years
  • work life
  • lifetime and intergenerational

The overview of the background and time-space dimensions of migration (cf. Table 1) illustrates the complexity of the phenomenon, whose development depends upon a multitude of factors: labor migration is a symptom of economic trends and crises and the change of its dimensions and developments are reflected in the development of regional, national, and global economies. Migration is, however, also tied to power relations and political processes: the individual or collective action of (potential) migrants is shaped by state, political and administrative influences and intervention. Forced migration, on the other hand, is an expression that the limitations of freedom of individuals and of the right to protection of their physical health and safety are tolerated by the state and society. People react to armed conflicts with mobility, meaning they flee to a(n) (allegedly) secure place. As a large number of displacements and deportations both in history and in the present show, the notion that the compulsion to migrate can stabilize power or enforce political interests is widespread.

A look into the future: problems and perspectives

Because the genesis of the outlined (and other) influencing factors can scarcely be predicted, the view into the migratory future of the world is uncertain. However, based on certain trends in the past years and decades, an outline can be sketched of some developments that can be expected in the foreseeable future and certain factors that have an impact on them. In the following, the consequences of three global processes that decidedly shape migration activity are of interest: 1) population growth, 2) urbanization and 3) environmental changes. Skepticism is attached to all statistical information. This is not only due to the already mentioned complexity of the observed phenomenon. Even states with well functioning statistical offices as a general rule offer only insufficient information about international migration as well as intra- and interregional migration. Most of the time different definitions are used for the various migration phenomena. The strongly varying criteria for data compilation also change frequently, which is why comparisons and the bringing together of information on individual countries is difficult to organize. Definite statements can be neither made about the past nor about the present, and most certainly not about the future of migration patterns and the size of migration flows.

This text is part of the policy brief on "Global Migration in the Future".


Here and in the following in brief outline: Oltmer (2012).
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