Cities are centres of demographic, social, economic and political change, and magnets for migrants from near and far. The interplay between migration and urbanization poses both challenges and opportunities for the migrants, communities, cities and governments concerned. Chief of the Demographic Analysis Branch in UN DESA’s Population Division, Jorge Bravo, explains why.
What is the link between cities and migration? What are the trends and future estimates for these processes?
“Much of the internal population movements are from rural to urban areas, or between cities. Also, cities are in many cases the leading destination of international migrants, owing to the urban concentration of economic opportunity and availability of services. A number of cities serve as “global gateways,” hosting a large proportion of international migrants, partly because of the economic attractiveness of the cities, and also because of the migration networks that are located there.
Urban living is, increasingly, the global norm: about 55 per cent of the world population in 2017 was living in urban areas, and this figure is projected to reach 60 per cent in 2030. Most of the world’s migration is internal – within national boundaries. But the number of international migrants, or persons living in a country other than where they were born, is also significant and has increased globally from 173 million in 2000 to 244 million in 2015.”
Do we have any specific data on migrants living in cities?
“There are several studies on the issue. Professor Marie Price of George Washington University, for example, researched a global sample of 200 cities. She found that in 2015 there were 22 metropolitan areas with over 1 million foreign-born residents. Nine of these were in US and Canada, five in the Middle East, four in Europe, two in Australia, and one each in Africa and East Asia. Professor Price found that nearly one in every five foreign-born people inhabited one of these 22 major cities in 2015.”
How can we use this “gravitational pull” of cities to help migrants and spur development at the same time?
“Cities have more infrastructure and services to receive a larger number of migrants. But the degree of integration and the extent of migrants’ contributions depend critically on government policies, also at the local level. For example, research on the residential concentration of international migrants suggests that in both the U.S. and Western Europe, the areas with high immigrant concentration tend to be politically more favourable to diversity, while the opposite is true in areas with low numbers of immigrants. On a regional level, we have examples from South America. In countries like Brazil, Argentina and Chile, national and city governments have implemented flexible measures to provide documentation, residence and work permits to migrants.”
Recently, experts gathered at the UN to discuss sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration. What were some of their main conclusions and recommendations moving forward?
“The experts agreed that cities are the space where internal and international migration meet. They called for more and better data to effectively manage both processes, starting with comparable definitions of what is a city and who is a migrant. The existing information shows that refugees and migrants are mostly becoming city dwellers in their host countries. At the same time, there is no evidence to indicate that the arrival of migrants increases urban poverty. The experts also discussed empowering local governments, who have no governance over migration, yet are the ones who are most exposed to its consequences. We have also heard calls for including gender and environmental considerations into the debate on urbanization and migration.”