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The Perception Versus the Reality of Migration

December 7, 2011

A Monday New York Times article describes the latest report from the International Organization for Migration.

Perceptions of the impact of migration in some countries are so distorted that their citizens estimate that there are as many as three times the number of immigrants living there than is actually the case, a global migration body says in a report being released on Tuesday.

In “World Migration Report for 2011,” the International Organization for Migration, a 132-member intergovernmental body based in Geneva, warns that misinformation about migration fans “harmful stereotypes, discrimination and xenophobia.”

William Lacy Swing, director general of the organization, said that accurately informing the public about migration might be “the single most important policy tool in all societies faced with increasing diversity.”

This, he added, is particularly important in times of economic stress, when negative perceptions tend to surface.

“Migration is often the catch-all issue that masks public fears and uncertainties relating to unemployment, housing and social cohesion in host countries,” Mr. Swing said.

People in destination countries tended to significantly overstate the size of the migrant population, the organization said, based on polling from an annual survey, “Trans-Atlantic Trends.”

A chart accompanying the article shows that, in the United States, survey respondents estimated the share of the U.S. population which is made up of immigrants at 39%. In reality, immigrants only make up 14% of the U.S. population.

Misperceptions about the impact (as well as the volume) of immigration are also prevalent among policymakers. Senator Grassley has placed a hold on H.R. 3012 in the Senate because of his stated concern that the bill “does nothing to better protect Americans at home who seek high-skilled jobs . . . .”

This is despite numerous press reports of a shortgage of high-skilled workers, especially in the software industry. This week’s Bloomberg Businessweek has an article about the struggles online retailers face in competing for software developers to create and manage their online presence. The article profiles Target corporation, which recently assumed control of its online site from

Three weeks after the switch, the site crashed. It went down again a month later—and then again, and again. In the three months since Target took control, the site has crashed six times, making it the glitchiest major U.S. e-commerce site, according to website monitor AlertBot. . . .

Target’s Web woes are only the most obvious symptom of a big problem afflicting e-commerce: The dearth of talented engineers. Across all of tech, the job market is tight, with too many openings chasing too few people with technical skills. Retailers have an especially hard time finding qualified engineers because they lack the panache and pocketbooks of Silicon Valley companies.

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