Most of these workers, at both ends of the skill spectrum, come from struggling economies dependent on their remittances back home.
 
However, the industrialised and wealthy nations where these workers flock to can't do without them, for reasons as different as an ageing
workforce, absence of much-needed skill sets and plain lack of numbers.

These nations tried to deter immigrants for years, but the new economic world order has come to be familiar with the Indian information technology expert, Peruvian and Filipina maids and Polish construction workers.

As more and more workers make for foreign shores, states in Europe, America, the Gulf countries and Australasia have started to accept that they are essential to their economies.

Britain changes tack

So much so that Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett said this month that the country could sustain an inflow of 172,000 immigrants a year.

UK's David Blunkett: No modern
country can be anti-immigrant

"No modern successful country can afford to adopt an anti-immigration policy. It is in our interests to harness the innovation, skills and productivity that new migrants can bring," Blunkett said.

The British government estimates that legal immigrants make up eight percent of the population but contribute 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Migrant workers inject about $100 billion into the impoverished economies of their home countries every year.

"A large number of developing economies rely substantially on remittances to balance their budgets and to remain afloat, very often remittances are their largest source of foreign earnings," Gervais Appave of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said.

Canada opens arms

At an IOM conference in Geneva on Tuesday, Canada said that it would welcome 220,000 new immigrants this year.

"We are all countries of migration with maybe more interests in common than we would like to admit"

Michel Dorais,
Canadian deputy minister for immigration
 

"We are all countries of migration with maybe more interests in common than we would like to admit," said Michel Dorais, the Canadian deputy minister for immigration.

The number of migrants worldwide has grown over the past four decades, from 75 million in 1965 to 175 million people last year,  and the trend is set to continue according to IOM.

A 2001 World Bank study estimated that families in developing countries receive $72.3 billion in remittances from relatives working abroad every year through official channels.

But the IOM believes that payments through official banking  channels reach up to $100 billion and the total is even greater once unrecorded cash payments are taken into account.

$200 billion remitted

"The estimate is that it's at least 100% more, you're looking at nearly $200 billion," Appave, the IOM's director of migration policy, added.

Frequent arrests and deportation
have not deterred migrants

Developing countries at the IOM conference explained that they needed to harness the trend, partly through bilateral deals with western countries to secure legal access for their nationals to labour markets and to improve their conditions.

The Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, and several Latin American countries are among those which have struck deals with economic powers such as the United States, Spain or Gulf states.

Stemming brain drain

IOM is also helping poor countries to stem the brain drain or to ensure that skills are brought back home along with the money.

A cryptologist from Democratic Republic of Congo or a statistician from Burundi, both working in Belgium, are among those who have agreed to return to their home countries for up to two months a year to teach in universities.

While European countries have realised that opening the door - if selectively - is one of the only ways to compensate for an ageing and dwindling national labour force, political leaders still need to convince their voters that migrants are valuable.

"That's not going to be easy. For the last 30 years governments across Europe have been saying essentially that migration is negative, not helpful and that message has taken root," Appave pointed out.