Migration and development: how to improve on a feeble new Human Development Report

HDR_2009_coverThe Human Development Report, published by UNDP, is traditionally the best of the UN annual tomes. This year’s HDR, entitled Overcoming Barriers, discusses migration. It’s a critical issue in development – moving in search of work and a better life has always been a strategy for people living in poverty as most modern-day Americans and Australians can testify (not including indigenous inhabitants, and we deported some of the Aussies, but you know what I mean). First, some highlights from the survey of the data, which explodes any number of stereotypes: ‘The 2009 HDR explores how better policies towards human mobility can enhance human development. It lays out the case for governments to reduce restrictions on movement within and across their borders, so as to expand human choices and freedoms. The overwhelming majority of people who move do so inside their own country. Using a conservative definition, we estimate that approximately 740 million people are internal migrants—almost four times as many as those who have moved internationally. Among people who have moved across national borders, just over a third moved from a developing to a developed country—fewer than 70 million people. Most of the world’s 200 million international migrants moved from one developing country to another or between developed countries Most migrants, internal and international, reap gains in the form of higher incomes, better access to education and health, and improved prospects for their children. Surveys of migrants report that most are happy in their destination. People displaced by insecurity and conflict face special challenges. There are an estimated 14 million refugees living outside their country of citizenship, representing about 7 percent of the world’s migrants. Most remain near the country they fled, typically living in camps until conditions at home allow their return, but around half a million per year travel to developed countries and seek asylum there. A much larger number, some 26 million, have been internally displaced. The share of international migrants in the world’s population has remained remarkably stable at around 3 percent over the past 50 years, despite factors that could have been expected to increase flows.[cheaper transport, communications etc] [The reason lies in increasing] government-imposed barriers to movement. Internal migration rates have also only increased slightly.’ (see graph)internal migration rates And what’s the HDR’s proposal? ‘Overcoming Barriers lays out a core package of reforms, which comprises six ‘pillars’. Each pillar is beneficial on its own, but together these offer the best chance of maximizing the human development impacts of migration: 1. Liberalizing and simplifying regular channels that allow people with low skills to seek work abroad; 2. Ensuring basic rights for migrants; 3. Reducing transaction costs associated with migration; 4. Improving outcomes for migrants and destination communities; 5. Enabling benefits from internal mobility; and 6. Making mobility an integral part of national development strategies.’ There’s some good detail under each heading, but I must admit, I find it a pretty disappointing list. Why?  Because it ignores the political realities of migration – anti-immigrant feeling is high all over the rich world and yet the debate seems paralysed, with no attempt to find new ways of ensuring that migration benefits all sides. What is the HDR’s response to this? To ignore it, apart from saying ‘you are wrong’ to the anti-migration lobby and making some rather feeble exhortations for ‘political leadership’, which basically consists of asking politicians to commit professional suicide by becoming advocates for increased migration. Hardly a winning strategy. This absence of political engagement contrasts with an excellent draft paper by Gonzalo Fanjul and Lant Pritchett (submitted to the new Global Policy journal), which argues that ‘labor mobility is a glaring, and as yet unaddressed, challenge to fair and progressive system of global governance.’ Gonzalo and Lant argue that since both unilateral liberalization and a binding, WTO-style international agreement are ‘politically radioactive’ in the rich countries, the answer will have to lie in what they call a ‘Goldilocks approach’ somewhere between the two, that is “adaptive” and “pluri-lateral”. How would this work? ‘Countries or other entities could join an organization by acceding to a minimal(ist) core set of standards.  The organization would then serve three functions:  (a) a registry of migration voluntary agreements among the nation-state members of whatever scope the nation-state members choose (bi-lateral, regional, open accession by a host, multi-lateral), (b) an implementation and dispute-resolution forum dealing with registered agreements, and (c) a capability to examine experiences and promote extension of success, tailored to circumstances.’ Such an organization would allow countries to experiment, learn and share that learning, while reducing some of the political risks in doing so. Gonzalo and Lant point out that lots of interesting experiments are already happening (as does the HDR, to be fair), but they are not being scaled up or passed on rapidly enough: ‘New Zealand has launched a temporary migration scheme for agricultural labor with explicitly developmental objectives; Canada and Jamaica have an innovative program in which cooperation in voluntary return of temporary migrants is encouraged by allocating fixed quotas to specific Jamaican localities; Spain is considering a range of “co-development” schemes with major migration partners.  There are innovations in improving aspects of existing large-scale flows—such as protection of the human rights of Indonesian migrants—by publicizing their rights and providing access to regular communication.  There are also existing large scale successful programs in managing repeat temporary migration, often just within sending countries but also involving bi-lateral agreements, such as those in the Philippines.  Individually, these are not “the solution” waiting to be adapted, but by having no organizational nexus in which lessons can be drawn and elaborated they lack sufficient dynamism to scale up and affect the system.’ Shame the HDR didn’t borrow more of these ideas. And the final word goes to Gonzalo (who – declaration of interest – is a friend and works for Intermon – Oxfam Spain); ‘why is no big international NGO campaigning on this? I fear our capacity for outrage is selective.’]]>

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4 Responses to “Migration and development: how to improve on a feeble new Human Development Report”
  1. Estenieau jean

    The migration issue is very complex and i don’t think there is a single solution to this problem.People from the third world countries mostly believe that moving to the developped countries is the best option that they have. I would say this is not always true; to survive in the developped countries you must have certain skills, some level of education and the willingness to suffer from the beginning. Not having these possibilities would not completely change the model of life from the third world countries to the developped countries.
    We must also emphasize the types of labor that the low skills migrants are providing within the developped countries. Is there a willingness from the citizens of the developped country to accept the low skills jobs? What will they do without those low skills workers coming abroad?
    I know the anti-migrant feeling is high from all over the developped countries but what would they do if there is no one to perform those dirty jobs?

  2. James Eliscar

    I will start by raising the question: what kind of development that we are looking for or we would like to see happening? For these recommendations to be implemented by countries – whether HDR or Gonzalo and Lant recommendations, there needs to be a consensus among nations of what should to be global development goals. Thus, the political will to make this happen. Stepping back to the question raise earlier, we know that migration has benefited sending national economies, but it benefits mainly those whose families working in developed economies and sending remittances to support and make small investments. As a result, these migrant families enjoy upward mobility in their societies with increase in purchasing power, consumption, and so forth. These sending countries are still borrowing money from lending institutions to run government programs. Secondly, migration is complex. In discussing migration and development, so often we do not take into account internally displaced, refugees and asylees – although they are migrants. These migrants are not powerful actors in economy. Therefore, how are we going to include them in development schemes, in terms of agents of development capable to contribute? Given that most forced migrants stay in the periphery of the country in which they fled and the periphery is poor, how are they contributing to development schemes? Since most migrants are internally displaced and these countries are poor, in my opinion, they will not find the opportunities needed to become powerful agents or actors in development. I will rather look at a development plan that will take these aspects into account and combining them with recommendations from HDR and Gonzalo and Lant.

  3. GCAntunes

    I agree with the comment posted by Estenieau Jean but, this point focuses on the smaller percentage of migrants from developing countries to developed countries. As the post states, this only accounts for 1/3 of the actual migration pattern, of which the majority is classified as internal migration or even international migration (on the scale of migration between developing nations and migration between developed countries). The real question then, in terms of the UNDP report, (and the post addresses this) is how will all sides be addressed in each migration pattern? How will migration between developing countries and developed countries be addressed? The same? differently?

  4. Mark Robertson

    The question of migration interests me as I know several individuals who have migrated to be able to send money home and others, some who work for me, who have made the U.S. their permanant residence. They still maintain their ties to their homeland, but decided to stay here and become citizens.
    I think the issue of migration needs to be better addressed weather it be internal, external, between devloping countries, or between developing and developed countries. People wouldn’t just move if they didn’t have to in most cases. It’s a way to survive. It’s easier to move internally, so that’s what most do, but sometimes people need more, or are willing to risk more for what they want.
    There will always be movements that want to limit migration that may be economically based over lost jobs or other ethnic issues. I think a sound policy needs to be developed as the author states to manage migration so it benefits those who migrate and those in the sponsoring nation. Good policies will protect and benefit all involved.