International Migration: Definition, Trends & Consequences

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  • 00:00 What Is International…
  • 00:41 Refugees
  • 1:51 Brain Drains
  • 3:05 In Search of a Better Life
  • 4:03 Increased Opportunity…
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Tens of millions of people migrate every year for a variety of reasons. This lesson looks at many of those motivations and explains what implications such movement has for the world.

What Is International Migration?

Every year, millions of people cross international borders for a variety of reasons. Some cross borders to close business deals, while others cross for vacations. Still other people leave their homelands with no intention of ever moving back. They are called immigrants.

However, you also have people who leave one country for another that may or may not have an intent to return; they are called migrants and according to United Nations estimates, nearly one in every 40 people is a migrant. However, their experiences are vastly different and through their migrations, they have had a wide-ranging impact on the societies that they leave and the communities that they enter.


Open a newspaper every day for more than a week, and you're sure to find a story about refugees. A refugee is someone who crosses international boundaries to escape persecution, and they are nothing new. There are two general types of refugees. By most accounts, the luckiest are those who are able to gain asylum, or the right to settle, in another country. That presents the fastest way to enter a new society, although it does involve a great deal of abandonment of any hope of ever returning to their homeland.

On the other hand, and far more numerous, are those refugees who are unable to gain such asylum. They frequently find themselves living in refugee camps, makeshift settlements that often lack basic necessities like sufficient food and sanitation. The legal authorities in the countries that host these camps are often in a bind. They want to fulfill a humanitarian mission by allowing people to escape danger but at the same time, they want to avoid a flood of ill-prepared migrants coming to the host country.

Brain Drains

However, there is one type of immigrant that countries are often very willing to welcome. For highly-skilled immigrants, the world is really their oyster when it comes to determining where to live. For those with advanced or in-demand skills, many countries offer fast tracks to full residency and even citizenship. The thought process is fairly straight-forward; these high achieving individuals will add more to the economies of their new homes, be it through discoveries, investments, or just new jobs.

That does leave the issue, however, when so many high achievers leave a country that little domestic innovation can occur. This is referred to as a brain drain and is a fairly common occurrence. Famously, India produces many more researchers in science and engineering than end up working in that country, with many of the specialists migrating to the United States. However, it's not only STEM-related fields that cause a country to experience a brain drain. For years, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria have provided much of the Middle East with the professional class of businesspeople, doctors, and managers needed to help economies thrive.

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