‘How Migration Really Works’ brings calm rigor to a heated issue

In our polarized world, discussions about complex topics are often reduced to simplistic arguments based on ideology. And in the list of issues that seem impervious to rational analysis and discussion, immigration policy is surely near the top.       

In “How Migration Really Works: The Facts About the Most Divisive Issue in Politics,” Dutch sociologist Hein de Haas identifies 22 common “myths” about migration and subjects these myths to a clear and evenhanded analysis. Drawing on global data, he finds that almost all the arguments – made by both sides – represent “partial, simplistic, and often outright misleading views … which crumble in the face of evidence.” The book is an impressive, authoritative achievement on an issue about which it’s difficult to even agree on the questions that ought to be asked.  

De Haas debunks the idea that migration is at an all-time high, and concludes that “current levels of migration are neither exceptionally high nor increasing. In fact, over the past decades, global migration levels have remained remarkably stable.” But what about illegal immigration? He argues that, according to the evidence, these numbers are also “relatively stable.” Even in the United States – which experienced “a fast increase between 1990 and 2005” – the total number of unauthorized immigrants in the country has hovered around 11 million for the last 20 years. 

What about the claim that the world is facing unprecedented refugee and asylum crises? Again, not true, according to de Haas. While “Western societies have experienced levels of immigration and settlement that are higher than most expected a few decades ago,” most of the increase is due to legal immigration, “largely driven by labour demand.” He does not minimize or trivialize the problems that sudden surges of refugees create, but argues that “there is no scientific basis for the claim that … asylum systems are on the verge of collapsing.” 

Previous ArticleNext Article