The more migration is framed as a problem, global mobility expert Sandra Sequeira says, the more challenging it becomes
Who gets to move around the world and feel welcome where they go? It’s a small question but one with huge socioeconomic implications. Sandra Sequeira, Associate Professor of Development Economics at the London School of Economics is looking for an answer.
“There hasn't been a lot of political appetite to think about human mobility as a global right,” Sequeira says in a Plumia Talks live interview. “People want to move no matter why they're moving. We shouldn't just be focusing on episodes of conflict-driven, forced displacement.”
In a conversation with Plumia’s Lauren Razavi, Sequeira shares her thoughts on global mobility and moving beyond the damaging perceptions.
A sense of belonging
Much of Sequeira’s work is understanding how people integrate into new communities. “I focus on the concept of human mobility,” she says. “What are the drivers and the implications of voluntary migration, but also of forced displacement.”
She’s interested in fundamental economic questions such as: can someone get a local job or establish themselves as an entrepreneurs at a commensurate level to their skills and ability? “We want to pay attention to just having equality of opportunities relative to the host community,” Sequeira says.
Through survey work and quantitative analysis, Sequeira tries to understand how migrants feel in their communities. “When we talk about social integration, at least with the tools that economists have, we're thinking about how people have feelings of belonging and trust,” she says. “What we often call ‘social capital.’”
The measures of belonging she’s looking for include whether migrants feel that their children will become nationals, or if they feel like nationals in the host community. “What is the range of integration that we can observe in these different contexts? And how can we improve it?” she says.
The politics of moving
Sequeira says that with the exception of certain episodes, like refugee crises or wars, overall human mobility is small in global terms.
“Even though there are these episodes that again, make mobility very salient. And the reality is that there's very limited human mobility,” she says.
The percentage of migrants (both forced and voluntary) as a percentage of the global population hovers around 3.5%, much smaller than one might think from news stories about migration.
Despite this, media portrayals focus on one-directional migration. For example, migrants from the global south to the global north or those fleeing war to safety rather than the whole picture, which frequently involves people moving for voluntary reasons.
For Sequeira, the real problem with this framing isn’t the sensationalism. It’s how it politicizes the issue. “The more it is framed as a problem, the more challenging it will be to to advance from a political point of view,” she says.
There’s often a cognitive dissonance when it comes to migration. People want to move freely around the world themselves but have a negative view of migrants. “People can be very objective about other people's situations and the fact that immigrants can be bad for your country, and very subjective about the impact of your own human mobility,” she says.
The future of migration
Some advocates believe that making mobility a global human right is the way to go. If mobility is a human right, all countries will have to respect it on some level. However, Sequeira sees this framing as creating an enormous political problem.
When the language of human rights comes in, Sequeira says, you have to interact with the United Nations and other global organizations that can be slow to act and prone to gridlock. “Sometimes describing it as a ‘right’ may actually getting in the way of a more expedient political solution,” she says.
Owing to the legal and political challenges faced by viewing migration as a right, Sequeira says she takes a different tack. “As an economist, I favor an approach where we think about human mobility as a source of global prosperity,” she says. “Understanding how migration is associated with economic prosperity in both sending and receiving countries is the path for some political acceptance.”