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Earth Summit Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Should rich countries welcome immigration?
In the 48 least developed countries in the world, population is projected to triple by 2050.

With more mouths to feed, countries least able to cope will be squeezed further, leading to food shortages, ill health, and environmental decline.

At the same time the industrialised world has seen falling birthrates, leading to projected labour shortages.

It has been suggested that the major social crises of the 21st Century will be the by-product of the decline in available workforce.

Can the Earth sustain the growing population? Is it time for richer countries to open their borders and allow increased immigration to solve the labour shortage?


This debate is now closed.

Your reaction

Most immigrants have been working hard in developed countries. In UK, Indian's running corner shops, Chinese owning restaurants. All of them have contributed to the UK. So why do they refuse more people migrating from the developing countries if a greater workforce is needed? I believe they would contribute greatly to the countries which they migrate to.
Jinqiao Zheng, Beijing


Why does the West need to restrict market access to the goods and services

Raman, Pittsburgh USA
Trade and not aid is the often repeated prescription given to "grow" the third world out of poverty, but unfortunately, the developed countries often do not put into practise what they preach. Why does the West need to restrict market access to the goods and services that the third world are competitive in, like agriculture
Raman, Pittsburgh USA

Allowing the most wealthy and talented to leave their homes and arrive in the West would only worsen the divide. We need to act now to reduce birth rates in developing countries.
Andrew Baker, London, UK

Rich countries have contained their own population growth by massive programs in education, family planning, abortion and promotion of birth control. The goal is to have SUSTAINABLE population levels.
Peter, Johannesburg South Africa


Immigration brings vitality and spirit to a stagnating population

Brad, USA
I think that immigration brings two things to modern industrialized nations like the USA and the UK. It brings vitality and spirit to a stagnating population, and it also brings an economic spurt by keeping basic wages down in some industries. Look at the USA as an example. While it is true that the majority is still European based, the population has developed a vitality that is missing in most European countries from the many immigrants that now share the nation.
Brad, USA

To promote free trade without corresponding free movement of labour is at best naive and at worst a cynical exploitation that promotes a "race to the bottom" for poor countries who are attempting to encourage foreign investment. Whilst welcoming the benefits of migrant labour we must ensure that our focus is to assist in developing skills and providing genuine opportunities within poorer countries that prevent the brightest and most able from leaving.
Mark Love, London

If we stopped using fossil fuels at the rate we do the world would be more open to natural developments within countries suffering the blight of exploitation by the rich
Robert Sinclair Shand, Wick


Scrapping third world debt would be more beneficial then taking the skilled minority from the developing countries.

Matt, UK
Europe should become a fortress. We don't need or want anymore immigrants. Scrapping third world debt would be more beneficial then taking the skilled minority from the developing countries. We already have our own problems without adding to it be opening our doors to the whole world. We can help them even more by not supplying the poor countries with weapons. Instead send them condoms and food.
Matt, UK

It would be wrong to encourage immigration from poor to wealthy nations. Instead the infrastructure of the countries should be built up. I keep wondering why there are poor people (2.4 billion) left in this world considering that the USA alone gave approx. $10billion for the year 2000 and more than $50billion were given worldwide combined for the same year. Somebody must have gotten the money and it seems that the needy once again lost out.
Candice Klein, Scottsdale, AZ (USA)

The industrialized world has seen falling birthrates because people in western societies have been (for the most part) socialized to plan their families so they do not have more children than they can economically responsible for. This is not the case in the third world where those who have nothing will still couple to produce children that they cannot possibly provide for. This cycle repeats itself exponentially. The rest of the developed world cannot afford to underwrite such uncontrolled population growth. The skyrocketing population is a bigger threat to the world's environment than the abrogation of the Kyoto treaty a thousand times over. If the West allows an uncontrolled mass migration of uneducated, impoverished third world immigrants it will mean the end of our cultures, an end to our prosperity, an end to our environments and an end of our values.
Bill, Boston USA

Isn't the whole problem one of unequal distribution and consumption? The problem is not the needs of many but the wants of a few. Nature offers us all the basic right to sustain ourselves when she gives freely the soil, the sunlight, the rain, even the air we breathe- she doesn't discriminate who is worthy to have these, we make those selfish decisions. So why is everyone so afraid of opening our borders? What right do we have to claim any of these necessities of life to be ours exclusively?
Sue Stone, Brisbane Australia


Developed nations must give aid to developing countries, but must not share their homes with others

Shrinivas, India
Why should rich countries welcome immigrants from poor countries? Let the people from poor countries realise their own responsibilities regarding population control, education and eradication of poverty. Those who are educated and well placed should try to help their brethren to overcome these problems. The developed nations must give financial and other aid to developing countries, but must not share their homes with others.
Shrinivas, India

The somewhat scary answer to this question is a simple 'no'. The earth simply can not cope with the demands of such an enormous population - especially not where the bulk of this population will be concentrated. Sadly, we may find richer nations increasingly distancing themselves from the welfare of poorer countries. As awful as it sounds, I don't imagine too many Westerners would give up the standards of living we have become accustomed to in a hurry..
Andrew Rowlands, Australia/UK


Political borders should not limit our understanding of balance

O Della Pasqua, UK
Richer countries should realise that there are no borders within this planet. In modern times what happens to a tree in Venezuela may directly affect Finland. Political borders should not limit our understanding of balance. Immigration has become the scape-goat to hide the true effects of a consumption-driven Western society and unfair trading/resource flows.
O Della Pasqua, UK

Just the opposite should be encouraged. The rich world should discourage the brain drain so that the poorer part of the world can be more self-sustaining. The wise use of human resources will be the key.
MTex, USA


They should be doing something to narrow the economic divide between rich and poor

Simon Richardson, UK
If the rich countries do not welcome economic migrants, perhaps they should be doing something to narrow the economic divide between rich and poor. If the opportunities were the same in all countries, economic migration would cease.
Simon Richardson, UK

People migrate as they have done for many centuries, in search of a better life, warmer climates, more natural resources. Immigration is in fact more natural than national boundaries. Apart from a few adventurous people, nobody WANTS to leave their home country. As long as there is vast disparity in the distribution of wealth in the world, economic immigration will become unavoidable. The solution lies in a truly altruistic effort from the developed countries with the aid of organisations, like the WTO and the IMF to develop poorer countries by investing heavily in the education of the less fortunate, establishing stable governments and ending the exploitation of natural resources and cheap labour.
Ajay Jain, Sweden

The refusal of so many countries to look beyond their own national interests is the greatest stumbling block to anything ever being accomplished with earth threatening issues. In any case, the wealthier nations have lived in affluence with more than their fair share of resources and it's time to start sharing.
Samira Meman, USA

As in the last 10 years rich countries have seen the quality of life increase to ridiculous levels (changing mobiles twice a year is not necessary), third world countries have become poorer. If such gap between the two worlds keeps growing, migration will continue. As Ajay says, nobody wants to leave home, yet modern society has made us wish for an unsustainable lifestyle and we continue our search by going abroad.
juliana, colombia

Errr, what labour problems? Unemployment here runs at almost 8%! Labour shortage is just an excuse for pro immigration groups to make richer counties(who worked for their wealth by the way) to open their borders to people who flee countries rather than stay and do something about their problems. Why should we pay for the social problems of other countries.
andy, scotland

The suggestion seems to be that some countries should serve as population over-spill areas for others. What incentive would this give any country to limit its birth rate? Would the Chinese, for example, be taking such drastic measures if it were simply to make room for other nationalities? For those who reproduce fastest to be rewarded with extra territory is a recipe for global population disaster. Each country should be expected to take responsibility for its own population policy and cope with the consequences within its own borders. It is in any case unrealistic to suggest that migration could be a practical solution for more than a very small proportion of the vast numbers of people in need.
John Riseley, Farnborough UK

The western countries migrated and occupied vast areas of all continents, they drained all the resources from so called third world countries and now when it comes to sharing some of that accumulated wealth immigration becomes such an important issue. We have to be sensible about this and countries such as UK, USA, Australia have to look at their past and base their future polices accordingly.
khalid, Karachi Pakistan


Western countries are now faced with a moral dilemma... do we help these starving, overpopulated countries to sustain their increasing numbers?

Michael Barker, Pori, Finland
Many of the countries with population problems also suffer from hunger and poverty. In many third world societies, high infant mortality meant that to have support in your old age you needed to produce lots of kids. With that approach many go hungry. Western countries are now faced with a moral dilemma... do we help these starving, overpopulated countries to sustain their increasing numbers? By which we exacerbate the problem ... Or do we take that morally unpleasant step back and hope that from the misery of starvation those countries will learn (in a horrible way) that they cannot allow their populations to spiral out of control. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.
Michael Barker, Pori, Finland

Why is the population section of this concentrating on 3rd world population when an American child takes 50 times the resources that it takes to bring up an Indian child? Why should India curtail its population when America doesn't? The US is the 3rd most populous country after India & China, and is by far the highest consumer, and has not yet ratified the Kyoto treaty.
Matt Moran, Birmingham, UK

Allowing the "surplus" population, from nations which cannot control their growth, to migrate to other nations is not socially responsible. For one, it shifts the responsibility of providing social services and infrastructure, while putting an undue burden on taxpayers. Imagine one day you open your door and find a crib with two babies, while you already have some of your own. Scary huh? We need to make, and help, developing nations control their population growth or have them face the consequences.
Obed, Pasadena, United States of America


Why does a Bangladeshi need to travel thousands of kilometre? He knows the perpetual havoc of flood will kill him if he doesn't flee

Sharmila Sinha, New Delhi-India
The rich use our resources like different species of crops and fossil fuel to charge their wheels of development.They take our resources so why can't we use their land to live a better life. Humans by nature would rarely want to migrate to unknown places unless and until compelled to do so. Why does a Bangladeshi need to travel thousands of kilometre? He knows the perpetual havoc of flood will kill him if he doesn't flee. He knows his family needs to be protected. As Simon says shouldn't we be doing something to narrow the gap between the haves and the have nots before debating over the issue of migration and opening boundaries. On the other hand crossing boundaries helps us understand different cultures and consequently makes for a more sane society.
sharmila sinha, New Delhi-India

I have read that a great deal of the world's grain goes to feeding cattle, instead of people. It is not my place to say weather people should eat meat or not. However, much like people cutting back on fossil fuels or recycling to help the environment, they should consume food, especially meat, with consideration for people. I say this speaking mostly from my experience as an American. Unfortunately, many Americans do not think about the consequences of what they eat. I am sure there are fairly comparable situations in other countries as well, especially wealthier ones. I am normally idealistic but I fear that not enough people will ever feel it is up to them to make the necessary sacrifice it will take to correct this completely unnecessary problem. They will either not think about it or expect technology to fix it.
Melanie, USA

The EU will probably have to increase the immigrant labour force; but we should not bleed Africa dry of the skilled and talented. The EU needs to aid Africa with all the relevant Agricultural methods, so they can gain surpluses for export-to an EU without Agro-subsidies!
Phil Smart, England


The rich world also has the capital and institutions to deal with a growing population, both of which the third world lack

Richard Wilson, United States
I advocate opening the industrialized world up, including the United States to immigration. The developed world will experience a decline in population over the next 50 years, which will reduce the supply of labor, which will hurt the economy, also, as the population continues to age the ratio of workers to recipients of social security will decline, which will mean that in order to prevent all out bankruptcy, the developing world will need to raise taxes heavily on the workers, increase social security eligibility age, or slash benefits severely. Farther more, up until this recession, the industrialized world already had a shortage of workers especially in technology, but in other areas as well, with unemployment falling to 3.9% in the United States, and falling to below 2% in certain European countries. The rich world also has the capital and institutions to deal with a growing population, both of which the third world lack. That is why the industrialized world should, and must open their borders to immigrants.
Richard Wilson, United States


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