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Six Vital Voices on the Economics of Migration

As debates around the economic consequences of migration make headlines in Europe and the U.S., the second installment of our ‘Experts to Watch’ series looks at prominent people studying this field.

Written by Charlotte Alfred & Eline Gordts Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
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Syrian Israa Al Sabsabi teaches English to the children at a refugee camp in the western Athens suburb of Skaramagas, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. AP/Thanassis Stavrakis

The economic consequences of migration have been one of the most debated topics in the U.S. presidential race and the referendum campaigns for and against the U.K.’s exit from the E.U. (Brexit). “The salience of immigration in the Brexit debate reflects a widespread sense of alienation and fear, in which migration has become the go-to political scapegoat for a range of genuine social grievances: unemployment, housing shortages, industrial decline and pressure on social services,” Alexander Betts, head of the Oxford Refugees Studies Centre, told Refugees Deeply in July.

The second part of our “Experts to Watch” series brings together six of the experts our editors, reporters and contributors are following in this space.

Michael Clemens

Development economist Michael Clemens is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and the head of its Migration and Development initiative. Clemens’ current research focuses on the effects of international migration on people from and in developing countries. “The inequality of opportunity is driving the current migration crisis. It means that economic opportunity and personal security are handed out mostly by lottery: a lottery of birthplace,” he recently told the #InequalityIs project. Clemens argues that inequality hurts the global economy but that with the right systems and institutions in place, migration will increase overall wealth. “People born into settings of poverty and violence are moving, refusing to simply accept a grim fate ordained for them. The migration crisis thus makes it easy to see some of the enormous costs of global inequality – including the thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean each year, and the security problems inherent to poorly regulated mass movement,” he said.

Clemens is on twitter at @m_clem and frequently blogs on the CGD website.

Thomas Piketty

French economist Thomas Piketty, author of the 2013 bestseller “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” argues that the arrival of migrants and refugees in the past year is Europe’s chance to revitalize its battered economy. According to Piketty, associate chair at the Paris School of Economics, a professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and centennial professor at the London School of Economics, the combination of an aging European population, global warming and a demographic explosion makes it imperative for Europe to open its borders to migrants and refugees. Piketty points to the years before the financial crisis hit as an example of how Europe accommodated newcomers and reduced unemployment at the same time. He told the BBC that the current slow pace of growth on the continent has been exacerbated by austerity policies and a lack of immigration.

Piketty tweets at @pikettylemonde.

Pieter Bevelander

Pieter Bevelander is a professor of International Migration at Malmö University in Sweden. His work has focused on the impact of immigrants on the economy over time, the attitudes of native populations towards immigrants and minority groups, and how citizenship, resettlement and family reunification of refugees result in better economic integration. Bevelander co-edited “Crisis and Migration,” a 2014 book exploring the effects of the Eurozone crisis on politics and migration.

Karen Jacobsen

Karen Jacobsen has been exploring the motivations and livelihoods of migrants since leaving her native South Africa in 1979. She is now a professor of global migration at Tufts’ Fletcher School and directs the Refugees and Forced Migration Program at the university’s Feinstein International Center. Jacobsen is interested in urban displacement and global migration systems, and focuses on the livelihoods and financial resilience of migrants and refugees. She authored the 2005 book, “The Economic Life of Refugees,” directed a program investigating the use of micro-credit to support refugees and IDPs in Africa, and headed the Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) in Geneva from 2013 to 2014. Her most recent publication, co-authored with Paula Armstrong, focuses on cash transfer programs for Syrian refugees.

Alan Manning

Alan Manning is a professor and the director of the Centre for Economic Performance’s community program at the London School of Economics. He is a member of the Migration Advisory Committee, an independent public body that advises the U.K. government. Manning has been studying immigration for years. Amid the importance of migration in the U.K. as part of the Brexit debate, he has said that contrary to popular belief, migration is actually a sign of a healthy economy. His research also found that many British think there are more immigrants living in the country than there actually are, and that the common perception that the government positively discriminates migrants in housing was unfounded.

Jackie Wahba

Jackie Wahba is also a member of the U.K. Migration Advisory Committee. She is a professor of Economics at the University of Southampton, leads migration research at the ESRC Centre for Population Change and is a managing editor of the IZA Journal of Labor & Development. Wahba is currently working on a large project exploring migration and the reshaping of consumption patterns.

Follow her on Twitter at @JackieWahba.

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