Futurology, that is, the discipline (or art?) of guessing the mediate and distant future in a systematic way; it has always been reserved for a few philosophers, adventurers, scientists, writers, filmmakers and more recently for a growing number of geeks and dreamers. However, thinking about the future must be everyone's business. Because imagining scenarios helps to make decisions and forecasts for what may come, but also to avoid risks and avoid obstacles to achieve the future we want.
Defining scenarios about the future of international migration can help us make decisions to get closer or away from those events that are favorable or unfavorable, desirable or undesirable. With this in mind, a group of more than 50 people, through an initiative of the International Organization for Migration, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Global Future, drafted the document "Tomorrow's World of Migration and Mobility", where they imagined four scenarios to 2030 on the future of international migration. These are quite similar to the proposals raised by several famous essays, novels, and films such as "The Clash of Civilizations", "Children of Men", "The Shape of Things to Come" and "I, Robot".
Now, a summary of the four scenarios proposed by Tomorrow's World of Migration and Mobility:
First scenario: Extensive borders, reduced mobility (The Clash of Civilizations)
My country comes first! As in the book "The Clash of Civilizations" by Samuel Huntington, the world registers a political reaction against globalization and migration, ascribed to them inequalities and cultural alienation, generating a buoyant nationalism. In the name of sovereignty and self-determination, various nationalist governments put unrestrictedly their nationals’ interests. Due to restrictive immigration policies and their strict enforcement; in general, there is a reduction of migration from the poorest regions to the rich countries. The world experiences a process of regression of the liberal world order.
In the proposed scenario, most Western countries deal successfully with digitalization, the increasing robotization of their economies, aging of their population, and reduced labour demand as a consequence of robotization. The need for foreign non-qualified workforce is reduced in developed economies. The need for highly skilled labour continues to be addressed through tighter immigration policies.
Except for the cases of the most qualified migrants, most Western countries have closed their doors to "unwanted" immigration. Only a small number of countries apply market-based immigration policies and they even charge entry fees to potential migrants. These fees cover the costs of public services (schools, health, roads, justice system, etc.) that they use, in exchange for access to work and residence permits.
Most Western countries no longer openly support or defend the universality of human rights. Most countries apply "multilateralism à la carte", that is, they participate only in multilateral agreements that strictly benefit their national interest, some have even withdrawn from the UN conventions they had previously signed, claiming those conventions "do not reflect the realities of the 21st century." The United States, Japan and most of Europe, including the Nordic countries, reduce their contributions to UN agencies.
Emerging economies, mainly from Asia and China, are the new centers of global economic activity and are becoming increasingly attractive for labour migration, especially from Africa, where the world's largest population growth is recorded and is home to the highest percentage of potential migrants.
Second scenario: Collapse of nations, migration by sheer survival (Children of Men)
The world on fire. As in the film "Children of Men" by Alfonso Cuarón, this context of unresolved crises spreading around the world, while there is growth of strong men commanding governments. This scenario is the consequence of too many simultaneous tensions and crises in the global system. The impacts of climate change are very severe, scarcity of resources has been patented, and global entities have been canceled. Because global degradation has been gradual, many people have not realized how such a crisis came in to where they live. Alpha males governing by taking abrupt decisions, where there is no return or self-criticism.
The proposed scenario shows migration being highly affected by the context. A good part of migration is made up of displaced people and refugees. The number of global migrants and refugees grows at first, and then spirals upwards. Hundreds of millions of people move in search of survival, peace and security. These movements are unorganized and answers have been improvised. Some countries and cities remain as safe havens.
Due to extensive conflicts and people's movements, border control systems are completely ineffective and unable to face them. Migration control systems collapsed because the international community failed to develop multilateral migration governance regimes. The international protection system has ended up being irrelevant. Many people are moving, the number of displaced people has increased dramatically as well as the number of refugees.
Third scenario: Inclusive and sustainable development, recognizing the benefits of migration (The Shape of Things to Come)
Opening roads. This scenario, as proposed in the novel "The Shape of Things to Come" by H. G. Wells, spirit of international cooperation prevails. Initiatives are implemented to optimize the benefits of migration, socio-economic migrants inclusion and improvement of migrants perception into the countries of destination. Recognition in the value of collaboration, respect for the rule of law and human rights and its potential accelerating effect by meeting the development objectives is recognized worldwide.
The proposed scenario, migration remains as a sensitive issue, which is still politicized, but there is a broad consensus that it is an integral part of our globalized world. Global pacts are a springboard for governance of human mobility in the 21st century. Even though the world has achieved success in favor of those who require protection, assistance and sustainable solutions, still many people require solutions. The benefits induced by immigration are recognized and migrants play an increasingly important role and contribute socioeconomically to the communities that receive them. The benefits of inclusion are recognized.
The economic recovery of the G20 members and the emergence of new economies have been followed by a renewed demand of migrant workforce. The global proportion of migrants in relation to the world population remains unchanged by around 3%. In high-income countries, migration accounts for about 80% of population growth. Greater cooperation and the search for creative solutions have originated a more advanced and sophisticated migration governance. Countries have developed more comprehensive and coherent migration governance frameworks and recognize the contribution of migrants. A growing number of people can access regular migration routes. Migration is a permanent matter in all multilateral negotiation and cooperation forums.
A better protection of human rights of all migrants and refugees has been achieved, regardless of their status; all refugee and migrant children can access education within a few months of arrival; and children are no longer detained to determine their immigration status. Comprehensive responses have been developed for a great number of internally and internationally displaced people.
Xenophobia has decreased with the growing evidence and recognition of the positive contribution of migrants to development, as well as the recognition of social diversity as a value and a contribution rather than a threat. The fight against ethnic, religious or gender discrimination has progressed. Economic development and advanced technologies have contributed to substantially increase employment opportunities in many countries, especially in large cities, that absorb quite a number of migrants.
Multilateral agreements have been established to regulate people's mobility. Cooperation finally prevails over protectionism, facilitating trade and human mobility and integrated labour market systems. Migration and planned relocation are adaptive measures commonly used in countries facing the adverse effects of climate change.
Fourth scenario: Planned and controlled world by information technologies, less need for migrant workers (I, Robot)
Technopolis. As in the movie "I, Robot" by Will Smith, technology governs. Technology becomes part of all spheres of life: employment, entertainment, health, education, home, energy and human interaction. The trio: artificial intelligence, automation and technological development become pervasive. People, their lives, opportunities and decisions are usually defined by algorithms. The shortfall on individual freedom and submission to a "superior control" have gone unnoticed by the population.
The imagined scenario, human mobility and migration have changed radically, since non-qualified workforce is less demanded and more people are self-employed online. Global technology centers attract more highly qualified professionals. Technological elites have identified entire populations and countries and assign them specific roles, reinventing worldwide labour-division. Global migration decreases and irregular migration is almost non-existent due to high-tech borders and increased supervision of individual movement.
As a conclusion
To imagine and think about the future, is a risky task that frequently ends up in an incomplete, subjective, sometimes vacuous exercise that, normally, faces a number of heated discussions. However, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves, thinking about the future is not only essential but also healthy and responsible, particularly thinking about the future of migration.
Imagining migration's future is urgent, especially now, when we are witnessing the highest movement of people in modern history, which is presented in a political context with strong populist and nationalist overtones, peppered with growing inequality in and between countries; in addition to an environmental crisis and a growing interconnection and proliferation of information that is usually deliberately distorted.
The development and analysis of possible future scenarios for migration helps to open understanding and critically reflect on what we are doing and what our actions and inactions cause today and what will trigger in the short, medium and long term. Future can bring us any of the four scenarios previously presented or, perhaps, a little of each one. In today's acts rests the seed of what we will harvest tomorrow. What we do today with and for the migrants will define not only their future but also ours. The movie, the novel or the essay in which we want to live depends on us. Choose wisely.