Human Development Report Proposes Key Reforms to Enhance Gains from Migration

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Governments should undertake a series of policy reforms to maximize the benefits of migration and to better ensure the rights of migrants, according to the Human Development Report launched here today.

Governments should undertake a series of policy reforms to maximize the benefits of migration and to better ensure the rights of migrants, according to the Human Development Report launched here today.

"Migration, both within and across borders, brings significant gains across the board, which could be further enhanced by better policies at home and abroad," says the Report's lead author Jeni Klugman.

The Report Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development proposes reforms to migration policies, directed towards both destination and source countries that would ensure increased access and better treatment for migrants.

This is the latest publication in a series of global Human Development Reports, which aim to frame debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity, from climate change to human rights. It is an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Policy Proposals

Overcoming Barriers lays out a core package of reforms, six 'pillars' that call for:

  • Opening existing entry channels for more workers, especially those with low skills;
  • Ensuring basic human rights for migrants, in particular access to education and health services, and worker protections;
  • Lowering the transaction costs of migration;
  • Finding collaborative solutions that benefit both destination communities and migrants;
  • Easing restrictions on internal migration; and
  • Adding migration as a component for origin countries' development strategies.

Expanding opportunities

Overcoming barriers focuses first on people in developing countries and how disparities in opportunities shape the choices that people make when seeking to improve their lives. The poor have the least opportunities and resources to move within and between countries; yet, they have the most to gain from migration. Granting greater access to opportunities and ensuring fair treatment for migrants are essential if migration is to live up to its full potential as an avenue for human development that can benefit all concerned--from the migrant families to source and destination communities, according to the Report.

Barriers to migration come in a variety of forms. Migration through regular or legal channels is presently very constrained. Overcoming barriers proposes that governments expand access to movement for all people, but especially for low-skilled workers, conditional on labour demand.

Many destination countries either do not recognize credentials, such as university degrees or professional qualifications, or require time-consuming and costly verification processes. As a result, many highly qualified migrants end up working in lower skilled occupations that lower the benefit of moving, both to them and to destination countries. The Report urges governments to take steps to facilitate the transfer of such qualifications.

Overcoming Barriers found that in many cases, financial costs pile up even before a migrant has left her or his country. Fees for low-skilled workers are often the highest relative to expected wages abroad. For example, few migrant nurses from countries in Asia pay recruitment fees, but most domestic helpers do. The Report urges origin and destination governments to simplify and streamline procedures and reduce costs.

The Report cites numerous cases where recommended policies have been successfully implemented.

Regional arrangements--as in Europe and South America--have allowed significant liberalization of the movement of people. Sweden, for example, has implemented labour immigration reforms that allow work permits--for low-skilled workers coming from outside the European Union--to be transferable across employers. And New Zealand's Recognized Seasonal Employer Scheme, similar to a programme in Canada and more recently adopted in Australia, has created opportunities for seasonal work.

International public opinion research demonstrates that many people are willing to accept immigration if jobs are available. A comprehensive review of the available evidence in European countries, the United States and others suggests that migrant labour does not have a large overall effect on the employment of locals. For example, the massive inflows into the growing United Kingdom economy between 2004 and 2008, ignited by the accession of a number of new countries to the European Union, led neither to the displacement of local workers nor to increased unemployment.

Ensuring better treatment

Overcoming barriers calls on all parties to ensure the fair treatment of migrants. This includes offering language training, allowing access to basic services, an adherence to and provision of worker rights, and the combating of xenophobia, for example, through educational campaigns.

The Report echoes the call of a range of earlier reports on migration by the UN and non-governmental organizations, and last year's Global Forum on Migration and Development for governments to adhere to and provide basic human rights to migrants. Likewise, enforcement policies should be humane and follow the rule of law.

The Report finds that the treatment of migrants is often worst for irregular migrants--those that do not have the required documents to stay in the country or that have arrived through non-official means--and directly takes up this controversial issue. It reviews a range of approaches that have been adopted around the world by various stakeholders, including governments, the private sector and civil society, and encourages policy options that are more equitable and sustainable.

Overcoming barriers concludes that enhanced efforts to address mobility issues, especially connected to access and treatment, can bring significant gains for human development at the individual, community, national and global levels.

To access the Human Development Report and the complete press kit please visit:

About this report: The Human Development Report continues to frame debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity. It is an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Jeni Klugman is the lead author of the 2009 Report. The Report is translated into more than a dozen languages and launched in more than 100 countries annually. The 2009 Human Development Report is published in English by Palgrave Macmillan.

About human development: Human Development is the expansion of the freedoms that people have to live their lives as they choose. This conception--inspired by the path-breaking work of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the leadership of the late Mahbub ul Haq, and known also as the capabilities approach because of its emphasis on the freedom that people have to achieve vital 'beings and doings'--has been at the core of UNDP's approach since the first Human Development Report in 1990, and is as relevant as ever to the design of effective policies to combat poverty and deprivation. This approach has proved powerful in reshaping thinking about topics as diverse as gender, human security and climate change.

About UNDP: UNDP is the UN's global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. We are on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners. Please visit:


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Jean-Yves Hamel
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