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Is Migration a Coherent Field of International Law? The Example of Labor Migration

  • Joel P. Trachtman (a1)
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A critical characteristic of migration is that it involves people in all their complexity, and with all their complex needs. Therefore, migration, perhaps more than any other field of international law, is difficult to separate as a body of law from human rights, trade, taxation, investment, health, security, etc. In this brief essay, I will describe two critical, and distinct, linkages that prevent us from cabining migration as a separate field. Both arise in the area of labor migration. Indeed, it is through linkage with other fields of international law, such as trade and investment, that states could establish international legal commitments to liberalize migration.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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2 International legal commitments to accept immigrants should be distinguished from the growing number of bilateral agreements aimed at managing migration with respect to such issues as recruitment practices, remittances, and return. While these agreements govern the terms of migration, they do not obligate destination states to accept particular levels of migration. See, e.g., Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Undocumented Immigrants and the Failures of Universal Individualism, 47 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 699, 752–54 (2014).

4 Hans Fehr, et al., The Role of Immigration in Dealing with the Developed World's Demographic Transition, 26 (Nat'l Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 10512, 2004) (arguing that immigration growth can only solve demographic problems in the developed world if it is concentrated in high-skilled workers from the developing world). For recent news stories, see Greg Ip, Trump's Hard Line on Immigration Collides With U.S. Demographics, Wall St. J. (Feb. 22, 2017); Jonathan Soble, Japan Limited Immigration; Now it's Short of Workers, N.Y. Times (Feb. 10, 2017).

5 For a useful review, see Matthew Yglesias, The Case for Immigration, Vox (Apr. 3, 2017).

6 Marc R. Rosenblum & Wayne A. Cornelius, Dimensions of Immigration Policy, in The Oxford Handbook of the Politics of International Migration 245, 246 (Marc R. Rosenblum & Daniel L. Tichenor eds., 2012).

7 David H. Bearce & Andrew H. Hart, International Labor Mobility and the Variety of Democratic Political Institutions, 71 Int'l Org. 65, 67 (2017); see also Giovanni Facchini & Anna Maria Mayda, The Political Economy of Immigration Policy, (UNDP Human Development Research Paper 2009/3, 2009).

8 Bearce & Hart, supra note 7.

9 Sam Bucovetsky, Efficient Migration and Income Tax Competition, 5 J. Pub. Fin. Theory 249 (2003).

10 Tara Watson, Do Undocumented Immigrants Overuse Government Benefits, Econofact (Mar. 28, 2017).

11 The fact that the origin state does not protest, and perhaps does not see this state of affairs as the imposition of a negative externality, is not necessarily determinative. Many externalities seem “natural” until they are identified and sought to be internalized.

12 Kyle Bagwell & Robert Staiger, The Economics of the World Trading System (2002).

16 E. Glen Weyl, The Openness-Equality Trade-Off in Global Redistribution, Econ. J. (forthcoming).

17 Ruhs, supra note 13, at 24.

18 See Anu Bradford, Sharing the Risks and Rewards of Economic Migration, 80 Chi. L. Rev. 29 (2013).

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