Having looked at what have been the most common reasons how and why people migrate/emigrate, I now have to ask, are those reasons still valid today?
In today’s world, where we are all (or most of us anyway) citizens of the Internet, does the designation immigrant mean anything? Have Skype, Amazon, Ebay, free shipping, and global outsourcing, all but eliminated the need to relocate for work or material happiness? Overall, do computers and other modern technology eliminate the need for human migration?
When you are poor, life always looks better somewhere else. Dreaming of a “better life” elsewhere is the easiest way to blunt the pain of poverty. And I think that people will always find reasons to move in the hopes of finding more house for less money, or better schools for their children. So, shelter, and family are now, and probably always will be, valid reasons why people choose to emigrate. It’s the other migratory motives that give me pause in the modern world.
Technology, and Workforce Migration
In terms of finding meaningful ways to work online, clearly the Internet helps people who have access to it. The well educated, and wealthiest among us (the people with regular and consistent access to a computer and broadband) can look for work on the Internet, and may even find ways to work for overseas companies without ever having to leave their house, much less their home country. Yet these people are also the most likely to be able to find work in the first place. So, on balance, technology may help them find a better job, but chances are they weren’t considering emigrating in the first place because, more than likely, if they can afford a home computer, and high speed Internet, they are less likely to be poor, unemployed, or underemployed than someone without those things.
The poor and unemployed are the ones who have the most to gain from technology. Yet they are the very people who can’t afford regular access to it. And without access to technology, the poor and unemployed may want to use technology to get a “bricks and mortar” job, or find work online (things that might keep them from migrating for employment reasons), but they can’t even get to that point without some assistance.
So, for the poor, unemployed, and underemployed, technology may be of use to them, and, in some cases, may remove the need or desire to emigrate. But for many/most of these people, not only is technology not a viable option, but it often gives an advantage to the their middle and upper class competition, a situation which makes a bad situation even worse
I will say this, though. When people do migrate for work, technology has made it easier, and safer to send money home. With access to a reputable bank, moving money around the globe can now be handled in a relatively safe and inexpensive manner. There may be some barrier issues involved in gaining access to financial institutions, but banks are entirely mercenary, and, if you have money, will offer some reasonable way to set up an account without the need for a home computer or other technology. From that point on, a Swift or IBAN transfer is fairly easy to initiate.
Migrating to Avoid Persecution
Around the world, people are still persecuted for their religious, political, or sexual beliefs. Technology may offer some help, or resources, and give a voice to the persecuted, but it cannot eliminate persecution. So genuine persecution is still a reason why many people consider emigration. That said, a simple lack of “community” (interaction with likeminded people dealing with similar issues) in these areas can largely be dealt with today on the Internet.
That is to say that, if you have unfettered access to the Internet, chances are you can find people online who share your beliefs concerns, or lifestyle. But does the Internet universally solve the problem of community? If you are a lower class twenty-something lesbian in Dubai, does knowing that there’s another way, in another place, make your situation better or worse if you have no hope of getting there? In this instance, does the Internet eliminate the notion of borders, or make the walls seem taller?
The answer is probably a bit of both. But the information is out there, if you can get to it. Getting to that information is now the first barrier to emigration. Technology is now the first border crossing. For some it’s easy, and for others it’s all but impossible.
For migrants the world over, the greatest advantage provided by technology and the Internet is most likely encouragement, inspiration, and increased ease of information gathering. Most governmental agencies worldwide have some presence online. And, while technology and the Internet will never fully eliminate the need to emigrate, for the prospective migrant (even if they are underprivileged) the search for information about how, when, and where to go (the first barrier/border to emigration) is easier today than it was 40 years ago when immigrants would just leave home, depend on the good will of distant family where they are moving, and figure it all out when they arrived at the consular office in their new home.
Ultimately, technology and the Internet have not eliminated the need for human migration, but have made it easier for some, possible for others, and may have made the circumstances for others who would go seem less crippling.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
The Logistics of International Moving