In the management of global migration, the world is clinging to outdated infrastructure and patterns of mobility, says Canadian senator Ratna Omidvar, member of the Global Future Council on Migration. The contribution immigrants make to their host communities is not widely understood, and countries need to begin showing an interest in all migrants, not just skilled labour.

How do you see the state of migration today?

In the management of global migration, we are clinging to outdated infrastructure and patterns of mobility. We operate reactively instead of planning for the future.

I look back at the major migration trends of the last decade, and I wonder what could be different had we been prepared. The last decade gave us the largest number of displaced people since the Second World War, a steadily rising death toll in the Mediterranean, populist politics that traded on fear of immigration, and new environmental factors driving people from their homes. With the clarity of hindsight, planning for these realities could have strengthened the wellbeing of host communities, supported immigrants to move and prosper, and even saved lives.

Which issues related to migration do you perceive to be misunderstood or inadequately appreciated?

The evidence of the contributions immigrants can make to their host communities is not widely understood or accepted. This is true of both camps: those who think immigration is bad, and those who think it is good. The impact of immigration on communities is nuanced, and in many studies we see evidence of different outcomes due to different policy and social contexts. Robert Putnam found evidence of ebbing trust leading people to “hunker down” in diverse American communities, while Keith Banting found the opposite effect in equally diverse Canadian communities, where trust and engagement bloomed alongside immigration.

Sometimes, perception and reality are at odds. For example, a community or country may demonstrate positive gains from immigration but public opinion stubbornly disagrees. Where these contradictions persist, it is important to think about how to change perceptions.

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