International report: migration good for developing countries

The final report of a four-year research project, involving field work in seven countries, shows that people who migrate from developing countries greatly increase their own income and bring many benefits to their families and communities back home. The project by the Global Development Network (GDN), an international organization headquartered in India, and the UK think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) also found that negative impacts on development such as ‘brain drain’ are usually counter-balanced by other positive impacts.

In the report called ‘Development on the Move’ which is published today (Friday, 21 May 2010), it is argued that migration should not be viewed as a ‘problem’ for development. While migration can create challenges, it allows people with few alternatives to improve their standard of living, to send money back to their families and their communities, and to enhance wider development outcomes through so called ‘spill over effects’, such as increased business creation and higher savings.

The project involved field work and research in seven countries – Colombia, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Jamaica, Macedonia and Vietnam. Using an innovative methodology, almost 10,000 households were surveyed to build up the most extensive picture of the impact of migration on developing countries ever compiled.

Another important conclusion of the project is that such are the incentives to migrate that sending out tough signals to deter movement or introducing overly restrictive ‘fortress-style’ policies are not likely to work. The authors argue that strategies to facilitate and regulate the movement of people from developing countries, through well managed schemes, will work better than policies that seek to ‘control’ migration too tightly or frustrate all opportunities to migrate.

Examples of positive impacts identified in the report include:

Typically between 70 and 90 per cent of migrants are reported to have experienced an increase in their real disposable incomes while abroad, the majority seeing large increases.
Money sent home by migrants can aid development at home. On average, more than half of the migrants from the countries studied remitted money home and in countries like Jamaica a third of all households receive some remittances.
These remittances can have important benefits for recipients. For example, in Colombia households that receive remittances are 12 per cent less likely to be below the national poverty line than those who do not.
Households with migrants can spend more on important things like health and education. In Ghana, households with absent migrants spend US$107 more per year on education than those without. In Jamaica, each additional returned migrant in a household increases healthcare spending by more than 50 per cent.
However, while migrants are often sending money home this does not act as a deterrent to work among remaining family members. For example, in Georgia and Jamaica having an absent migrant reduces the likelihood that anyone in the household is unemployed by around a third.
Many emigrants from developing countries return with new resources, skills and networks. In countries like Ghana and Macedonia, the report estimates of a ‘rate of return’ of around a third. In Jamaica, returned migrants make up almost 10 per cent of the entire country’s population.
Migration can also change attitudes. For example, typically more than 70 per cent of returned migrants on average say that there are more committed to achieve gender equality in their country of origin as a result of their experiences abroad.

The project director, Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, ippr Research Associate, says:

Migration is too good to stop. Migration offers one of the best routes to improving development prospects for individuals and countries alike. More people are on the move than ever before, and our study shows this mobility is generally having a more positive impact on social and economic development than previously thought.

Even where migration causes pressure points – such as ‘brain drain’ from some sectors in some countries at some points – the money, skills and ideas that migrants send home or bring back with them often outweigh the negative impacts.

The project coordinator Laura Chappell, a Senior Research Fellow at ippr, says:

There are lessons for policy makers in this report. An important one for Western governments is that a fortress approach to migration from the developing world is unlikely to be successful. As long as there are such imbalances in the global economy, migrants from poorer countries are going to want to come to countries where the economic opportunities are greater. The evidence shows that they and their families will generally benefit if they do so. In these circumstances, policies mainly designed to keep migrants out or kick them out may well be destined to fail. Managed migration can be achieved, but it needs to take into account migrants’ aspirations as well as concerns of local electorates.

GDN Chief Economist, Dr. George Mavrotas, says:

International migration has attracted a lot of attention recently and is expected to continue to do so for the years to come. This major and innovative project takes the debate on migration’s wider impacts on development to a new level by adopting a holistic view of the impacts of migration as a whole on development as a whole. This is an area that deserves certainly further attention as well as action by policy makers in the countries concerned and at the same time presents important challenges for policy makers in those developing countries heavily involved in international migration. Having said this, migration cannot of course be a panacea for development. Policy coherence is also crucial in this case to coordinate the positive overall impact of migration on development with other impacts emanating from the overall development process – a huge challenge in a post-crisis world.

GDN Senior Political Scientist & Program Manager, Ramona Angelescu-Naqvi says:

Development on the Move is a landmark contribution to our understanding of the myriad ways in which migration affects development. Shifting the focus from the impact on the receiving countries and from the traditional debates around remittances and brain drain to the range of economic and social impacts on migrant individuals, households, communities and economies, the report provides timely evidence of the scale and complexity of this phenomenon. So let’s look at what it means for a Ghanaian family or a Vietnamese individual to pack up and move to Europe or the US or Australia and what the ‘home’ governments can do to maximize the benefits of these citizens being temporarily or permanently abroad.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

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