Global Economy & Migration

June 16, 2015

This resource is a suplement to a documentary about global labor migration, from developing to developed countries, at the end of the twentieth century. This module encourages critical thinking about the influence that global capitalism has on local economies and an individual's decision to migrate.


The new phase of global capitalism in the late 20th century has introduced significant changes to the human society. Globalization has recently transformedn local and global phenomena. This transformation can be seen in increasingly fast movements of capital, goods, and people as well as in today's real-time connections, reconfigured transportation routes, and increased consumer access to products and services. These increases are largely a result of communication and transportation technologies. Surely the most obvious consequence of global capitalism is the change that it exerts on economic structures. Foreign investment has transformed local economies, while international corporations reap significant profits.

Less obvious, however, is the effect that global capitalism has on individuals operating within macro-economic systems. Most importantly, changes in local economies often force populations to search for job opportunities in other parts of the world. Scholars refer to these economically-motivated migrations as "economic migration" or "labor migration."

Although they are considered voluntary migrants, many people who cross borders in search of better opportunities feel they have no choice but to leave their economically destitute homelands. Economically-motivated migrations do not necessarily involve the poorest of the poor, because international migration requires resources and connections. Since the mid-1980s, economic migration reached a new high point, and it has remained largely constant through the present day. In the contemporary world, economic migration has been especially characteristic of the developing world, where the penetration of international corporations has disrupted local economies. Many of today's economic migrants seek jobs in developed countries such as the United States, Germany, and Japan.


The documentary entitled Uprooted: Refugees of the Global Economy (2001), made by The Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, raises important questions about the impact of global capitalism on individual decisions in a time when large corporations cross nation-state borders at will. The documentary is based on interviews with immigrants from the Philippines, Bolivia, and Haiti that migrate to the United States. The interviews show how the penetration of global capitalism has forced people to leave their home countries.
Uprooted: Refugees of the Global Economy (National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights with Sasha Khokha, Ulla Nilsen, Jon Fromer, and Francisco Herrera, 28 min, 2001).

Discussion Questions

  1. List the reasons why Maricel (Filipino), Jessy and Jaime (Bolivians), and Luckner (Haitian) left their countries. Point out similarities and differences in their experiences.
  2. In what ways does serving the economic needs of people in advanced industrialized societies cause harm to people in less developed societies? International corporations show how commodities and financial resources move freely across borders. Is it that movement the same for people crossing borders in search of better jobs? Do people who are seeking work enjoy the same freedom to move across national boundaries? Support your answer.
  3. Global capitalism has both positive and negative attributes. List some of each. What do you think can be done in your daily life to minimize the negative attributes of global capitalism? Whose side (i.e. migrants or corporations) does the documentary take? What can we learn from that perspective? What do we miss from it?

Suggested Readings

Burawoy, Michael, et al. 2000. Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections and Imaginations in a Postmodern World. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Frieden, Jeffry. 2006. Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century. New York: W. W. Norton.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2001. Servants of Globalization: Women, Migrants and Domestic Work. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Sassen, Saskia. 1999. Guests and Aliens. New York: The New Press.