Governments Should Seize Recession as Opportunity for Migration

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The global recession is a chance to reform policies towards migration, especially for low-skilled workers, according to the 2009 Human Development Report launched here today.

The Report Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development stresses that internal and international migration can significantly enhance human development among all concerned, including migrants, their families and home and destination communities. This is particularly important as countries around the world grapple with the consequences of the global economic downturn.

"Following recovery from the global recession, demand for migrant workers will return, therefore it is short-sighted to negate the benefits which migrants bring," says the Report's lead author Jeni Klugman. "Especially during the recession, debates and reforms on migration policies need to move ahead."

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).

Jobs crisis

A jobs crisis is generally bad news for migrants. Employers tend to call on migrants when they face labour shortages, but lay off migrants first during recessions. This is partly because migrants have a profile typical of workers who are most vulnerable to recessions--that is, they are younger, have less formal education and less work experience, and often work as temporary labourers. This pattern has already shown up in unemployment trends in Europe.

"Many migrants find themselves doubly at risk," says Klugman. "They are suffering unemployment, insecurity and social marginalization, but at the same time they are often portrayed as the problem. This is not the time for anti-immigrant protectionism, but for reforms which promote longer-term gains. Convincing the public of this will take courage."

Among the short-term measures that are important, the Report recommends giving laid-off migrants time to search for another employer or to wrap up their affairs. The Report also recommends that public and private sectors, as well as civil society organizations, help publicize employment outlooks in source countries. The registration of departing migrants could avoid another round of recruitment costs and mitigate the recession's costs to both current and prospective migrants.

Klugman highlights the Report's analysis of longer-term trends, which show that with recovery, many of the same drivers behind mobility will resurface, attracting more people to move. It is thus vital that governments put in place measures to prepare for recovery, such as allowing more people, especially those with low skills, to move legally to jobs where these are available.

Demographic and long-term economic trends

The world's population is expected to grow by a third over the next four decades. Virtually all of this population growth will be in developing countries, while most developed countries' populations will shrink and age. Trends on population and demographics are a sign to recognize the need for migrant rights and removal of restrictions on movement.

Overcoming barriers reviews data on public opinion over time for over 50 countries, and finds that many people are willing to accept immigration if jobs are available. The Report links migrant numbers to labour demand, so that inflows of new workers will be consistent with job vacancy levels. Based on demographic and economic projections, the Report contends that new job opportunities are bound to re-emerge.

The Human Development Report argues that destination governments need to look beyond the current economic crisis and begin to position their countries for recovery through structural reforms to liberalize and simplify regular channels for workers to fill jobs, along with ensuring the rights of migrants. Overcoming barriers sees the current downturn as an opportunity to institute a new deal for migrants, one that that will benefit workers at home and abroad and avoid anti-immigrant protectionism.

"This long-term approach should benefit the well-being of all," says Klugman.

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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