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Increased occupational hazards among immigrant workers were described 100 years ago in Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, which exposed the scandalous living and working conditions of immigrants in the Chicago stockyards. At the same time Dr Alice Hamilton was establishing the field of occupational health in the USA by her studies of immigrant workers exposed to the hazards of lead, rubber, viscous rayon and other toxins.1 Unfortunately, increased occupational hazards to immigrant workers remain a reality today; it is just the origin of the workers and some of the jobs that have changed. The dramatic increase in global migration over the past decade has made this issue even more critical, but the debate on immigration has become mired in politics, and little has been done to understand the situation or decrease the inequitable burden of morbidity and mortality among immigrant workers.
How big is global migration? In 2005 there were an estimated 191 million global migrants, up from 155 million in 1990. It is estimated that 200 million people around the world live outside their country of origin. Dramatic increases in migration have occurred in the USA. The foreign-born population in the USA reached 37.9 million in 2007, comprising over 12.5% of the population and 16% of the adult workforce. In 1970 immigrants made up less than 5% of the US population. There were over 1.1 million legal immigrants in 2005, and an estimated 11 million undocumented foreigners were living in the USA in that year. The number of undocumented foreigners has been increasing by over 500 000/year. In Spain the number of foreigners living in the country is close to five million, an increase of 10-fold over the past decade.2 …