Typically, migration researchers and policymakers explore future international migration dynamics using linear projections of current trends and without considering global structural, social, cultural, economic and environmental changes which are likely to lead to fundamental shifts in migration patterns. Consequently, there is a need to think innovatively about migration and to prepare responses to potential, and unexpected, future migration scenarios.
To illustrate this need for a new approach, it is useful to draw a parallel with the current global financial crisis, which could not have been foreseen by 'inside of the box' thinking. Over the past two decades, many economic experts predicted that the 'age of turbulence', (characterised by large fluctuations in output in developed countries) was over. They believed that the financial system and the global economy had become so sophisticated that spectacular swings in economic activity had become something of the past. Nonetheless, we are in the midst of the biggest economic slump since the great depression.
In the same way, migration policies often fail to meet their stated objectives or have unintended, often harmful consequences, because of their short-term focus, and because they are based on a limited understanding of the complex forces driving international migration. Such policies are often developed without taking account of the wider global context in which migration occurs. It is unknown how fundamental changes in global demography, economic growth and environmental change will affect future migration patterns. Common assertions that population ageing in wealthy societies will fuel mass immigration or that climate change will force millions to migrate are often based on speculation rather than on a sound analysis of the complex and multi-level drivers of migration processes.
Because the future is full of uncertainties, we need innovative approaches to migration research and policy. In particular, we need unconventional yet rigorous strategies that allow us to develop a range of both expected and unexpected future migration scenarios.