Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) SARPN thematic photo
Regional themes > Migration Last update: 2020-11-27  

 Related documents

Migration and Development: How to make migration work for poverty reduction

House of Commons International Development Committee

Sixth Report of Session 2003–04, Volume I

Report, together with formal minutes

[Download complete version - 464Kb ~ 3 min (106 pages)]     [ Share with a friend  ]


Beyond the myths of migration

The history of migration is that of people’s struggle to survive and to prosper, to escape insecurity and poverty, and to move in response to opportunity. Migration is not a panacea for development problems, but properly managed it can deliver major benefits in terms of development and poverty reduction.

Global flows of aid amount to $68.5 billion per year. The United Nations estimates that the Millennium Development Goals could be met if aid were increased to $100 billion per year. A slight relaxation of restrictions on the movement of workers – increasing the proportion of migrants in the workforce of developed countries to 3 percent – would deliver global gains of perhaps $150 billion per year. Remittances sent home by international migrants through official channels currently amount to $93 billion per year; with informal transfers included, remittances are likely to amount to around $300 billion per year. Migration delivers massive economic gains, which could be used for poverty reduction.

The costs and benefits of migration are distributed, unevenly, between and within countries and social groups. The balance and distribution of costs and benefits depends upon the nature of the migration in question, and on the links which migration establishes between places of origin and destination. This report shows how governments and others could - by shaping the nature of migration and the distribution of its costs and benefits - make migration work for the poor. But first it is necessary to deal with some of the myths which surround the subject.

  • Myth 1: Migration and migrants are problems to be dealt with.
    Wrong. First, migration presents both challenges and opportunities. In their determination to deal with the challenges, governments must not miss the opportunities. Second, migrants are not problems. They are people trying to improve their lives and must be treated accordingly.

  • Myth 2: There is a “tidal wave” of migrants about to crash our shores.
    Wrong. Migration is hugely important – economically and politically – because of the links it establishes between countries. But migration remains the exception rather than the rule. International migration has increased over the past 40 years, but still only 2.9 percent of the world’s population are international migrants.

  • Myth 3: Migration is primarily about people moving from developing countries to developed countries.
    Wrong. Most migration takes place within and between developing countries. Fully 40 percent of international migrants move between poor countries, and the number of migrants who stay in their own country far exceeds that of international migrants. To compare: there are 175 million international migrants; India has 200 million internal migrants; China has 120 million. As regards refugees, two-thirds live in developing countries and more than a third live in the least-developed countries.

  • Myth 4: It is the poorest, most desperate people, who migrate.
    Wrong. The poorest people often lack the resources to migrate. If they do migrate, they are likely to move locally. This has major implications for policy. First, it cannot be simply assumed that policies to help migrants - particularly international migrants - will also help the poorest people. Second, migration will not be stemmed by lifting people out of poverty. Nevertheless, improvements to governance in developing countries can reduce the motivation to leave, and - by encouraging remittances and return - can make that migration which does occur more development-friendly.

  • Myth 5: Migration harms the prospects of developing countries by causing a “brain-drain”.
    Not necessarily. Migration can lead to a “brain-drain” which harms the prospects of developing countries, but whether it does depends upon the nature of migration and the links it establishes between host and home countries. Flows of remittances and other resources, and the return of migrants with new skills, can offset the loss of migrants and may even lead to a “brain-gain”.

How to make migration work for poverty reduction

Migration journeys

Each stage of the migration journey offers entry-points for policy through which governments - in the UK and other developed countries, in developing countries, and at a multilateral level - can make migration work for poverty reduction.

  • Leaving and being left behind. Rich countries must not exacerbate the problems of the “brain-drain” for poor countries. International recruitment – including that of nurses and teachers – must be better regulated. The push factors which lead to migration from developing countries must be addressed. And opportunities for mutually beneficial arrangements – “triple-wins” - for migrants, migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries should be explored.

  • Travelling, arriving and living. More effort must be put into tackling trafficking, smuggling and illegal migration. Decisions about migrants’ status must be made fairly and quickly. Migrants must be enabled to live productive lives. Governments in host societies must ensure that migrants are not denied access to services, that migrants’ integration into host societies is supported, and that migrants’ rights are protected.

  • Returning, reintegrating and circulating. Flexible systems of temporary and circular migration, and ways of making return sustainable, should be established. If such schemes are to deliver development benefits, then development stakeholders must be involved fully in their design.

Resource flows: Remittances and the role of the diaspora.

Governments and others can shape and utilise the links which migration establishes between home and host societies, links which include remittances and the diaspora itself.

  • Remittances. The onus is on policy-makers to encourage the flow of remittances, to reduce the costs which migrants have to pay to send money home, and to improve the investment climate in developing countries so that remittances can be used productively and in ways which reduce poverty.

  • The diaspora. The diaspora and its members can be important agents of development. Governments have much to learn from a deeper engagement with the diaspora, its members and constituent organisations. The diaspora should be involved in discussions on development strategies, voluntary remittance schemes and sustainable return.
Managing migration for poverty reduction: Partnerships and policy coherence

Managing migration, particularly for poverty reduction, is beyond any single nation state. Effective and genuine partnerships must be established both bilaterally between migrantsending and migrant-receiving countries, and at the multilateral level.

Migration relates to many other issues including security concerns, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, international trade, agricultural subsidies, gender inequality and arms exports. Policies which seek to manage migration will have impacts in other areas, and vice-versa. Governments – individually and collectively – must do more to ensure that policies on related issues are coherent and support development goals.

The Department for International Development (DFID) told us that the debate on migration and development is at the stage where the trade and development debate was ten years ago; people are beginning to say that there is a development dimension to migration, but there is a lack of joined-up thinking at national and international levels, and some resistance to connecting the issues. We share this analysis and hope that this report, and DFID’s commendable efforts, will ensure that it does not take another ten years only to reach the stage we are now at as regards trade and development.

Octoplus Information Solutions Top of page | Home | Contact SARPN | Disclaimer