Humans have been migrating from land to land since the dawn of times. The mechanism was always the same, based on ''Pull'' and ''Push'' factors. Nevertheless, from time to time, the main reasons changed. For example, until 1830 people massively immigrated because of slavery, political or religious intolerance. But then, since the 19th century, it was due to the great impact of industrialization. In fact, we can state that in the beginning of the 20th century, Jews immigrated massively to the US for religious freedom, as well as Italians or Russians did for working. In the contemporary era, immigration is mainly a hope of higher wages and better quality of life. What makes immigration such a debated issue nowadays?
Actually, it can be modelled according to different issues, from political and legal to economical, to social- from refugees, to regional agreements, to national regulation or restrictions, to national economic growth to a wider argument concerning the approach of immigration on societies (multiculturalism). But, it also can lead to social opposition.
Types of immigrants:
Nowadays, people can immigrate because of persecution and war (refugees), 80% of wars became civil (inside national state borders); but this phenomenon is highly focused on opportunities. Therefore, we can differentiate newcomers with the intention of residing permanently from those that do not intend to remain in the new place. There are also the so-called brain-drained who find themselves moving in search of opportunities.
The human legal traffic is without doubt a global phenomenon, concerning, up to a certain extent, every corner of the world. Moreover, there are countries in which the number of immigrants is higher than the number of newcomers (the immigration rate is negative), and where it just works the opposite way (positive rate). The western societies (from Europe to North America to Australia) and some former Soviet ones represent the countries with a positive immigration rate. Often the countries already having a considerable number of immigrant population, also attract more immigrants, as the United States or Canada; but in other cases these countries with a multi-ethnic population are not that attractive because of the restrictive immigration policies.
The State's legislations are normally comprised by regulation which assures that their values are respected. Implementation of restriction laws avoids the lack of control over the phenomenon. If in the 20s, the Immigration Act (Johnson-Reed Act, 1924) aimed to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity, nowadays the restrictions are a reflexion of the need of preserving a certain social system. But there is a difference in interpretation of this restriction.
Some countries consider that the respect of their values is not contractible. Denmark fixed in 2011 stricter requirements for would-be immigrants who wish to marry a Dane, including a proof of financial independence and ''high commitment to Danish society''. But surely, restrictions are not aiming to promote xenophobic movements in Europe as countries like Denmark represent a model of democracy worldwide. However, sometimes, nationalist reasons make the rule, for example by fixing quotas. Many countries apply their restrictions by implementing laws on nationality, by allowing permanent residents to obtain the citizenship just after a long and interrupted period spent living in the national territory.
Regionally, the theme of immigration is a main question. The main problem is the disparity of national policies, and the difference on the approaches. Moreover, some countries are more exposed than others in the region, to immigration. In the European Union, 5 states are interested by 70% of refugee claimers. But the constitutional debate on Schengen Treaty is involving the member states, as it has been recently confirmed that they cannot avoid traffic of individuals if not under European Commission consultation.
The debate on the non-similar welcoming status between member states is creating a bi-directional process on integration: where is not just about homologation of foreigners to European standards, but also about European citizens and their welcoming status. There is a growing interest concerning the equality of treatment, and national jurisdictions are about to rule in favour of equal opportunities. This evident trend was a result of the events of last months like Stockholm and London riots as well as violent protests against disparity of treatments.
During the last decades, illegal immigration started to grow disproportionally due to the growth of immigration itself. Clandestine workers have an impact on legislation. Even though those advocating for unrestricted immigration call them ''undocumented immigrants'', still in the Immigration and Nationality Act of the United States, they are called ''illegal aliens''. Because of population growth, family reunification, wars and asylum, illegal immigration has become usual. Information is not credible about illegal immigration: Brazilian government estimated that the number of illegal immigrants is about 200,000; ranging between 35,000 and 120,000 illegal immigrants in Canada. In Europe, the amount of immigrants is even larger: numbers vary between 550,000 and 950,000 illegal immigrants in the UK, but 80% of all immigrants pass through southern European Union borders (Italy and Greece mostly).
Interestingly, many illegal immigrants originally arrive lawfully but overstay their authorized residence: many of them can be refugee claimants whose refugee application was rejected. In any case restrictions are not always limiting the number of newcomers. Some countries encourage immigration, as it represents the main source of future growth of the country. For example, the United States granted legal residence to 1,031,631 newcomers, Canada did the same by allowing an average number of immigrants close to 250,000 per year for the past years (684 per day).
But it is also evident that basing their economy on such a considerable source, the States must have a range of laws avoiding the breaking of internal rules. This is why migrant selection has been since the explosion of immigration a very common tool: positive migrants are those well-educated (for example ''brain drained'') whereas the negative ones are poorly educated. Many of those who migrated to America were negatively selected; a famous quote on the Statue of Liberty witnesses: ''Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free''.
Issues of adjustment
Apart from the legal and macroeconomic aspect of immigration, the social aspect is a fundamental question of our time. Immigrants often qualify as much as natives but they encounter many disadvantages. Immigrants are a minority in the majority of countries, and tend to be integrated differently. Often, a country has a dominant ethnic group, with a common dominant religion, language, and standards of living. Europe is an example of identities: the old continent is a mosaic of different ethnic groups, most of them identifying with a country. The idea of country is in Europe a parameter of ethnicity and nationality. The idea of being Romanian presupposes Orthodoxy, as the idea of being Irish is combined with Catholicism. This is slowly changing and in countries like the United Kingdom or France, where the foreign-born minority is even more important, even if still a minority.
The trend of the future will bring an inevitable mixture of ethnicities, in a global world in which immigrating is even more often, Europe is already presenting an uniform trait, as the majority of countries have at least a first generation of newcomers. On the other hand, countries like Sweden and the United Kingdom can count at least three generation of newcomers.
Big cities are already a good example of a context for this mixture of backgrounds. In a country with almost 20 million of Italian Americans, almost 3 million are focused on the city of New York, making it a city where there are more people with Italian origins than Naples. In Sydney or Toronto there are so-called Korea Towns.
The idea of major ethnic group is becoming even more insignificant. Opportunities, also in politics, are starting to be the common fact for minor ethnic groups in Europe. So from Sweden (for example Nyamko Sabuni, 1981) to Italy (Cecile Kyenge, 2013) there have been foreign-born ministers. Canada also has seen important major roles as Governor General of Canada (representative of monarchy) attributed to foreign-born or part of minorities persons: ''The right honourable'' Michaelle Jean, Adrienne Clarkson, Ray Hnatyshyn'.
Towards a multicultural society
The foreign-born population is contributing very much to creating the context for a multicultural society. In fact, multiculturalism is the legal approach of a society that encourages the difference of backgrounds by promoting different cultures. This is the opposite of the assimilation policy, in which newcomers are welcome, at the sole condition in which they renounce their original cultures in favour of the main culture of the country of arrival.
Canada (Canadian Multiculturalism Act, 1988) and Australia (until 1972) are pro-multiculturalism, aiming to preserve and enhance it. But also the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and other western countries have tended to assimilate such an issue, even though much criticism came from liberal-feminists, in particular.
What is sure about multiculturalism is that, if it works, it can avoid the growth of far-right. It is essentially a reaction to what people resent as ''culture oppression'', and xenophobia is a much higher sentiment when countries face crisis and the inevitable growth of unemployment: foreigners tend to be accused of stealing the jobs of the natives. Obviously, this vision has been discredited as losing one’s job can be something personal, but the reaction is the creation of extremist parties that are anti-European and anti-immigration. In France, Marine Le Pen, leader of FN, Dutch far right, the Finns Party, Danish People's Party, in Greece, openly neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, and Hungarian anti-Roma party, Jobbik: we observe in Europe a growing phenomenon of far right. Could the problem become a real threat to the European Union?