New UN migration chief says private sector ‘desperate’ to take migrants despite negative narrative

GENEVA (AP) — The new head of the U.N.’s migration agency said Monday that the private sector is “desperate” for their countries to take in migrants to mop up labor shortages, especially in the West — endeavoring to steer a narrative away from reticence and suspicion about migrants in many parts of the world.

Amy Pope, the first woman to head the International Organization for Migration, sought to play up the economic benefits of migration for rich nations with aging populations and declining workforces — in the face of “build-the-wall” rhetoric in the United States to block migrants from Latin America and right-wing movements in Europe that want to keep foreigners out.

”We hear from … the private sector globally, but especially in Europe and in North America, that they are desperate for migration in order to meet their own labor market needs and in order to continue to fuel innovation within their own companies,” Pope, who is American, told reporters.

She said the evidence was “fairly overwhelming” that migration benefits economies by filling jobs, powering innovation or “fueling the renovation or revitalization of aging communities.”

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“Migration, on the whole, is a benefit. That’s not to say that the rhetoric around migration reflects the fact that it is a tremendous benefit.”

Governments who open up to migration often do so at their political peril: The Biden administration — which strongly supported Pope’s candidacy — recently gave work permits to nearly 500,000 Venezuelans, whose home country has been in economic and political turmoil in recent years to help get them to work, pay taxes and stop being a burden on public finances.

But critics insist such policies are likely to encourage migrants to flock to the United States, and say they take manual and blue-collar jobs and put downward pressure on wages.

Pope insisted that countries must ensure legal and proper “pathways” to migration, a longstanding call by U.N. institutions.

“The difference today is that 30 of the biggest economies have experienced very significant labor shortages — and we are seeing it everywhere,” she said, adding that agriculture, construction, health care and hospitality were among the sectors affected.

Pope said her first trip abroad in the job will be to East Africa, where drought and the impacts of climate change have driven many to flee. She said 80% of African migrants stay in Africa, and said her job was “not to focus just on south-to-north migration, which I know occupies a lot of the political space and a lot of the print space.”

She pointed to shrinking humanitarian aid budgets, the need to draw in the private sector into the “conversation” to support migration, and signs that migration is set to continue to grow.

“Whether it’s climate change, whether it’s conflict, whether it’s the inability to find a job or a future at home, or violence within neighborhoods or communities, more and more people are looking to find a better life somewhere else in the world,” she said of a message gleaned from her talks last week with migration experts in Asia.

Pope officially took over Sunday from Antonio Vitorino of Portugal, her former boss, whom she outlasted in a U.S.-vs.-European Union showdown earlier this year. The Geneva-based agency has only had two non-American directors-general since its founding in 1951, and today it brings together 175 member countries and more than 20,000 staff.

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