Review of Introduction to International Migration

Peter Stalker, The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration. 2nd ed. Oxford: New Internationalist, 2010. ISBN 978-1-904456-94-0
The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration is a concise introduction to current developments and patterns in international migration. In six chapters, Peter Stalker, a British freelance writer and former employee of the International Labor Organization, surveys the scope of current global migration flows and stocks; individual push and pull factors as well as structural frameworks that explain why people migrate; the role of established migration routes and migrant networks in channelling migrants to specific destinations; the economic benefits for sending and receiving societies and the migrants themselves; and the role and position of international migrants in an economically increasingly unstable world.
Some 190 million people currently live outside the country of their birth. Stalker groups these migrants into the five categories: settlers, temporary workers, professionals, unauthorized workers (so-called illegal or undocumented migrants), and refugees and asylum seekers. Throughout the text, he discusses all groups, with a larger concentration, however, on temporary workers and professionals. Various governments keep track of these migrants by either monitoring flows of migration – the annual movements of people; or by monitoring the stocks of immigrants – the number of foreign-born or foreigners (i.e. non-citizens).
Stalker’s description of both individual and structural migration theories is highly accessible. Numerous examples make abstract explanations concrete. Without dismissing push-pull, dual-labour market, or world system models out of hand, Stalker discusses both their usefulness and their limitations. Like much research on international migration, Stalker’s focus too is on the economic aspects of migration, especially the international supply and demand of jobs and workers. Numerous statistics are presented in tables and graphs, accompanied by several useful maps.
Traditionally established paths of migrations, especially from former colonies to former empires, explain migrants’ choices of destinations: “Indeed the industrialized countries deliberately started almost all the major international flows of migration of the past century” (42). Family reunification policies reinforce such migrant streams. The diverse roles and complexities of migrant networks are presented in great detail, including networks of family and friends; state-sponsored programs such as in the Philippines, Vietnam, and China; the private economy of labor brokers – so-called “body shops”; smugglers who help people to cross international borders without documentation; and traffickers who use coercion and deception to bring forced workers (especially children and women as forced sex workers) into other countries.
In much of his discussion, Stalker attempts to dismantle a number of popular myths about immigration and immigrants. He convincingly demonstrates that rather than taking jobs away from natives or being a burden on the welfare system, immigrants make receiving societies richer. In making his case, he carefully considers all sides of the argument and therefore allows readers ample evidence to draw their own conclusions. Through remittances – measured in hundreds of billions of dollars each year – migrants also contribute to the economies of their home countries. Stalker concludes by arguing that international migration will probably increase over the coming years, because “the disruption caused by globalization and industrialization in general are more likely to provoke additional emigration” (129).
The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration is a very readable book. On 143 pages, the author presents complex historical developments, current patterns, and diverse theories in a clear and engaging style that is accessible to an interested lay and undergraduate audience. Stalker’s narrative is global in reach, discussing migrations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America as well as in the more familiar territory of North America, Western Europe, and Australia. Yet, perhaps somewhat restrained by the heavy research focus on the latter “traditional” immigration and emigration countries in the English-language literature, Stalker too focuses on North America and Europe. While the author does not shy away from showing his pro-immigration position and his sympathies for migrants, this is nevertheless an even-handed account of the current state of research on international migration. His at times bold statements provide useful guidance, such as when he counsels that highly complex migration theories such as the world systems theory may not always be the best tool to cut a clear path through the thicket of migration data and phenomena (p. 24-25). Numerous references, a short bibliography, a list of contacts and online resources, and an extensive index make this book into a useful reference work and an excellent introduction to a complex field of research and an important current issue.
Alexander Freund, University of Winnipeg