The history of the Pacific is a history of migration. Yet modern barriers to migration impede development in the Pacific island countries facing degraded resources, high rates of natural population increase, low-lying geographies, and limited opportunities for international movement through citizenship or preferred visa status. This paper examines international migration in the Pacific, and argues that there should be greater opportunities for the people of Pacific countries to migrate between their home states and the developed states of the Pacific rim. Creating more permeable borders is an important means of redressing past and current injustices, expanding opportunities for human development, and fostering stronger regional relations. Both the United States and New Zealand have been reasonably generous in facilitating migration from Micronesia and Polynesia. Australia stands out as the Pacific neighbour with the greatest possibility to develop new migration streams.
Key messages featuring in this months Discussion Starter include:
- Natural resources are distributed very unevenly across the Pacific, with some states being substantially under-endowed in terms of their capacity to carry their human populations.
- Many Pacific populations continue to experience high rates of natural increase and high net growth, except where the safety valve of immigration relieves the population pressure.
- There has been significant depletion and degradation of natural resources in some Pacific countries due to population pressures and over-exploitation.
- Climate change and rising sea levels threaten to cast some Pacific island states as the first victims of a global problem that is not of their making.
- The history of Pacific colonisation has been capricious and has left some Pacific islanders with liberal access to economic opportunities in developed states through migration, while others have none.
- Preferential visa quotas and seasonal worker schemes go some way towards satisfying the needs of Pacific islanders but there is scope for expanding the channels of access to broaden the scope of Pacific migration.
- Developed states should assist developing states of the Pacific by promoting controlled migration, not only because it is in their self interest to do so but because it is an effective means of giving development assistance and fostering stronger regional relations.