No one knows exactly

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No one knows exactly how many international migrants there are. A report by the International Organisation for Migration claimed that the number of migrants in the world had doubled between 1965 and 2000, from 75 million to 150 million (IOM, 2000b). By 2002, the United Nation Papoulation Division (UNDP) estimated that 185 million people had lived outside their country of birth for at least 12 months (a little more than 2 percent of the world's population) (Crossette, 2002b). However there are great unknowns, whereas for example the number of illegal immigrants is impossible to determine. UN statistics are only gathered by member states, yet credible statistics on contemporary international migration are lacking in many areas of the world. Nevertheless, there are many reasons to believe that illegal migration has accrued significantly last years.

De Lattes and de Lattes (1991 in Castles & Millers, 2003: 145) estimate that Latin America and the Caribbean received about 21 million immigrants from 1800 to 1970. Though, after the economic depression of the 1930s immigration flows changed. Intercontinental inflows from Europe diminished, while intra-continental (or intra-regional) migrations increased. In the year 2000 there are, accordingly to Villa & Martinez (2004: 61), about 157 745 Latin American and Caribbean migrants living in the Netherlands.

The greater part of the population stays in their countries of birth for perpetuity. Migration, either voluntarily moving to another place or being forced in exile, is therefore an exception and not the rule. Yet the impact of migration is great, it does not only affects the migrants themselves, but the sending and receiving countries as a whole (remittance, impact on receiving countries, etc). It has substantial effects on the social and economical environment in both areas. Today there won't be many people in the world (in either industrial or less-developed countries) who do not have personal experience with migration and its effects; this universal experiences has become a hallmark of the age of migration (Castles & Miller, 2003: 6).

Migration is a complicated subject. In order to make sense of the various types of flows and definitions, Raymer & Willekens (2008), describe the following characteristics of migration:

'First, a distinction between 'migration' and 'migrant' is important. Migration refers to the event of moving from one country to another. A migrant is a person who has changed his or her residential status, from one time to another. Immigration refers to the flow of migration into a particular country (receiving country or destination country) and emigration refers to the flow of migration from a particular country (sending country or country of origin).'

Migration is something that not only affects the current generation; it is a protracted process, which influences the rest of the migrant's life and probably even the life of next generations too. The complex sets of factors which cause international migration and which decide its course are summarized in the concept of migratory process. Migration elaborates its own complex dynamics and has an effect on all aspects of social life (Castles & Miller, 2003: 21).

There are three main approaches used in contemporary debates: economic theory, the historical-structural approach and migration system theory, which try to define migratory processes (ibid: 22).

Economic theories of migration

Economic theories of migration connect migrations to fluctuations in the business cycle and assume that people always move from densely to sparsely populated areas or from low- to high-income areas. These theories are also identified as 'push-pull' theories, reasons for migration lie, according to them, 'in a combination of 'push factors', impelling people to leave the areas of origin, and 'pull factors', attracting them to certain receiving countries' (ibid: 23).

Examples of push factors are demographic growth, low living standards, lack of economic opportunities and political repression, while 'pull factors' are demand for labour, availability of land, good economic opportunities and political freedoms. These theories suppose that the individual motivation is the key factor in the decision to migrate. The decision would be based on a rational consideration of the pros and cons, of the relative costs and benefits of remaining in the area of origin or moving to another one. This theory departs from the assumption that individuals are bent on the maximization of utility and their well-being. This maximization would be limited by the individual's financial resources, by the immigration policies of the receiving countries and by the emigration policies of the sending country (ibid: 24).

Whereas Borjas (?? in ibid: 24) claims that 'this approach leads to a clear - and empirically testable - categorization of the types of immigrants flows that arise in a world where individuals search for the 'best' country', current empirical studies have their reservations on the relevance of this theory. First of all, it is more common that migrants have an intermediate social status, they are seldom the poorest people from the poorest countries. Secondly, the model argues that people usually move from densely populated to more sparsely populated areas, while countries like the Netherlands and Germany not only are among worlds most densely populated but at the same time are the main destination countries for migration. Why a certain group of migrants chooses to go to one country instead of to another remains unanswered and not explicable by the push-pull models and is the last reason why these theories have been criticised as unilaterally and unable to declare both present and future movements of migration. Past experiences, family and community dynamics alike have an effect on the decisions and actions that a migrant undertakes. Migrants are not a homogeneous group; migration is a concerted action, a consequence of a combination of various factors (ibid: 25). Portes & Böröcz (1989 in Castles & Millers, 2003: 24) argue that the assumption that migrants are 'individual market-players who have full information on their options and freedom to make rational choices' is ridiculous.

Historical- Structural Approach

Seeing migration as a way to mobilize cheap labour for capital is the historical-structural approach. This approach assumes that migration always provides uneven development since it exploits the resources of the poor countries to make the rich even richer (Castles & Kosack, 1985; Cohen, 1987, Sassen, 1988 in Castles & Miller, 2003: 25). Motivations and actions of individuals are not sufficiently taken into consideration while the emphasises on the search for capital has been too big (Castles & Miller, 2003: 25).

Migration system theory

To include a wide range of disciplines and to cover all dimensions of migration, the migration system theory was elaborated. This theory argues 'that migratory movements generally arise from the existence of prior links between sending and receiving countries based on colonization, political influence, trade, investment and cultural ties' (ibid: 24). Macro- and microstructures act in close conjunction and determine each migratory movement. The reason why people decide to leave their country is never unilaterally. Castles and Miller also illustrate that migrant sequences are usually initiated by external factors or by an initial movement of young (usually male) pioneers. Later these chains result in self-sustaining social processes. Networks among migrants provide a foundation where processes of community formation in the immigration area can elaborate, developing their own social and economical environment. Migrant children are an important factor in the life-perspectives that people develop in their new country. They develop bicultural or transcultural identities; they go to school, they learn a new language and they get friends.

More and more factors influence the choice to stay or to go back. Therefore the assumption that migration consists of individual responses to market factors is too unilaterally, it assumes that migration fluctuates based on changes in policy settings which influence the costs and benefits of mobility for migrants. Though the opposite is true, migration will continue unless any change in the economic factors which determined the starting decision to migrate (ibid: 25). 'It is therefore inappropriate to analyse migration as an isolated phenomenon; it is just one facet of societal change and global development' (ibid: 153).

Irregular migration

Leerkes et al. define irregular immigrants as:

'people who stay in the country without official permission [...] regardless of whether or not they have entered the country legally and regardless of whether they are economically active.' (Leerkes et al, 2007: 1491).

Living without papers has 'significant practical, social and economic impacts and permeates the everyday lives and decisions of [young] people' (Boch et al, 2009: 6). Since ten years, the Netherlands has been adopting a significant number of measures to discourage illegal residence. The most far-reaching among these measures was an act (Koppelingswet, lit. law that links) to exclude undocumented migrants from all public services like social security, health care, housing and education (Van der Leun, 2003 in Engbersen et al, 2006: 211). The measure was accompanied with a central computerized database containing data on all foreigners residing in the Netherlands and an enforcement of the aliens' police and the labour inspection. These measures had an enormous effect on the position of undocumented migrants (Engbersen et al, 2006: 211). Nevertheless, these restrictive policies did not lead to an immense movement of migrants; they remained in the Netherlands and did not return to their home country or to other European countries. Indeed more and more migrants decided to stay here illegally, not due to the alteration of their situation but because of the fact that it became more complicated to travel between their home country and the Netherlands (ibid: 211).


In the Netherlands there are approximately 30 000 children living without documents ( - 18/02/2010). Illegality is of great influence on the daily lives of children. Especially since 12 years when the Koppelingswet has been introduced. This law links the right to various social services to whether a person is a legal resident in the Netherlands. The aim of this law is to discourage the stay of undocumented migrants in the Netherlands.

Though, there are a few exceptions on the Koppelingswet (undocumented children until 18 years have admission to education, all undocumented people have access to medical care (restricted to emergency cases) and all undocumented people have the right to free legal support), the law procures for example that these children are often living in unstable housing situations and are not having regularly medical care.