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The Lancet

'Migrants are vital to the wellbeing of society': Study finds common myths about immigrants are false

The two-year research was published in the medical journal The Lancet.

A NEW STUDY has found that common myths surrounding migrants and public health are not supported by evidence despite being used to justify policies of exclusion. 

The research, published in the medical journal The Lancet, found that these myths – including claims that migrants are an economic and health burden – are harmful to society.

It debunked a number of negative stereotypes about migrants, including that they are disease-ridden, that they primarily come from different countries, that they don’t contribute to their host economies, and that they have more children than natives.

A two-year project between University College London and The Lancet, it also suggested that these myths deflect the positive contribution migrants make to global economies.

According to the research, there were more than a billion migrants on the move in 2018, but just a quarter of these (an estimated 258 million people) crossed an international border.

It also found that despite perceptions that migration is on the rise, the rate of international migration has remained relatively stable over the last four decades, rising from 2.9% in 1990 to 3.4% in 2017.

Economic reasons

The research looked at the perception that those who migrate to different countries make no contribution to the places to which they travel.

It revealed that around 65% of those who travelled across a border did so for economic reasons, while a much smaller proportion of refugees and asylum seekers did so.

And while the rate of international migrants almost doubled from 7.6% in 1990 to 13.4% in 2017 in high-income countries, those migrants were more likely to be students paying for education or labour migrants who made net contributions to their host’s economy.

In contrast, refugees made up a larger proportion of the total population in low-income countries compared to high-income countries (0.7% vs 0.2%).

Migrants were also found to bring a rise in the gross domestic product of their host countries, while also contributing to improved global wealth distribution.

In advanced economies, each 1% increase in migrants in the adult population was found to increase the gross domestic product per person by up to 2%.

An estimated €540 billion was sent by migrants to their families at origin in 2017, around three quarters of which were to low- and middle-income countries – an amount three times larger than official development assistance.

Healthcare workforce

The study also revealed that migrants constituted a “substantial proportion” of the healthcare workforce in many high-income countries.

Rather than being a burden, it reported that they were more likely to bolster services by providing medical care, teaching children, caring for older people, and supporting understaffed services.

When it came to receiving health services, they were also found to have an overall positive health benefit to societies, with the study calling for governments to improve migrants’ access to services and strengthen their right to health care.

Additionally, it noted that fear of deportation meant migrants would often forego seeking healthcare or assistance when they needed it, which hindered both individual and public health in their host countries.

Commenting on the study, Professor Ibrahim Abubakar of University College London said that populist discourse needlessly demonised the same individuals who upheld economies and bolstered social care and health services.

“Questioning the deservingness of migrants for health care on the basis of inaccurate beliefs supports practices of exclusion, harming the health of individuals, our society, and our economies,” he said.

“Migration is the defining issue of our time. How the world addresses human mobility will determine public health and social cohesion for decades ahead.”

Co-author Professor Terry McGovern of Columbia University in the USA added that the study showed how migrants were “vital to our wellbeing as a society”.

“Addressing the healthcare needs of migrant populations is an essential strategy to stemming costs associated with any avoidable disease burden in these populations,” he said.

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