Human Development Report Challenges Common Migration Misconceptions

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Allowing for migration--both within and between countries--has the potential to increase people's freedom and improve the lives of millions around the world, according to the 2009 Human Development Report launched here today.

We live in a highly mobile world, where migration is not only inevitable but also an important dimension of human development. Nearly one billion--or one out of seven--people are migrants. The Report, Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development, demonstrates that migration can enhance human development for the people who move, for destination communities and for those who remain at home.

"Migration can be a force for good, contributing significantly to human development," says United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark. "But to realize its benefits, there needs to be a supportive policy environment as this Report suggests."

Indeed, migration can raise a person's income, health and education prospects. Most importantly, being able to decide where to live is a key element of human freedom, according to the Report, which also argues that large gains in human development can be achieved by lowering barriers and other constraints to movement and by improving policies towards those who move.

However, migration does not always bring benefits. The extent to which people are able to gain from moving depends greatly on the conditions under which they move. Financial outlays can be relatively high, and movement inevitably involves uncertainty and separation from families. The poor are often constrained by a lack of resources, information and barriers in their new host communities and countries. For too many people movement reflects the repercussions of conflict, natural disaster or severe economic hardship. Some women end up in trafficking networks, lose significant freedoms and suffer physical danger.

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 UNDP. Jeni Klugman is the lead author of the 2009 Report.

Challenging common misconceptions

The findings in this Report cast new light on some common misconceptions. Most migrants do not cross national borders, but instead move within their own country:
740 million people are internal migrants, almost four times the number of international migrants. Among international migrants, less than 30 percent move from developing to developed countries. For example, only three percent of Africans live outside their country of birth.

Contrary to commonly held beliefs, migrants typically boost economic output and give more than they take. Detailed investigations show that immigration generally increases employment in host communities, does not crowd out locals from the job market and improves rates of investment in new businesses and initiatives. Overall, the impact of migrants on public finances--both national and local--is relatively small, while there is ample evidence of gains in other areas such as social diversity and the capacity for innovation.

The authors demonstrate that the gains to people who move can be enormous. Research found that migrants from the poorest countries, on average, experienced a 15-fold increase in income, a doubling of school enrolment rates and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality after moving to a developed country.

Links to development

For the countries where migrants are coming from, the Report warns that migration is no substitute for development. However, mobility often brings new ideas, knowledge and resources--to migrants and to origin countries--that can complement and even enhance human and economic development. In many countries, the money sent back by migrants exceeds official aid.

Migrants' gains are often shared with their families and communities at home. In many cases this is in the form of cash--remittances--but the families of migrants may benefit in other ways too. These 'social remittances,' as they are called, include reductions in fertility, higher school enrolment rates and the empowerment of women.

The Report also argues that the exodus of highly skilled workers such as doctors, nurses and teachers--a major concern of a number of developing countries that are losing these professionals--is more a symptom rather than a cause of failing public systems.

When integrated into wider national development strategies, migration complements broader local and national efforts to reduce poverty and enhance social and economic development.

Taking down barriers

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, from basic services, like education and health care, to     the right to vote;
  • Lowering the transaction costs of migration;
  • Finding collaborative solutions that benefit both destination communities and migrants;
  • Easing internal migration; and
  • Adding migration as a component for origin countries' development strategies.

In terms of international migration, the Report does not advocate wholesale liberalization, since people at destination places have a right to shape their societies; but it argues that there is a strong case for increased access for sectors with a high demand for labour, including for the low-skilled. This is particularly important for developed countries because their populations are ageing--and this may increase the demand for migrant workers.

Easing access and reducing the cost of official documents are other important steps towards lowering the barriers to legal migration. Rationalizing such "paper walls" will help stem the flow of irregular migrants, the Report argues, as people find it easier and less expensive to use legal channels.

Overcoming barriers also calls on receiving countries to take steps to end discrimination against migrants. The Report stresses the importance of addressing the concerns of local residents and increasing awareness of migrants' rights, in addition to working with employers, trade unions and community groups to combat xenophobia.

Despite the cases of intolerance, research commissioned by UNDP for the Report demonstrates that people in destination countries are generally supportive of further migration when jobs are available, and appreciate the gains--economic, social and cultural--that increased diversity can bring.

Time for action

The world recession has quickly become a jobs crisis, and a jobs crisis is generally bad news for migrants. In a number of areas, the number of new migrants is down, while some destination countries are taking steps to encourage or compel migrants to leave. But now is the time for action, the Report argues.

"The recession should be seized as an opportunity to institute a new deal for migrants--one that that will benefit workers at home and abroad while guarding against a protectionist backlash," says Klugman. "With recovery, many of the same underlying trends that have been driving movement during the past half-century will resurface, attracting more people to move."

People are going to move, and thus Overcoming barriers provides the tools to better manage inevitable human mobility, laying out principles and guidelines for traditional immigration destinations, such as the United States and Europe, and new migration magnets, such as Costa Rica, Morocco and Thailand. The package of reforms put forward in Overcoming barriers depends on a realistic appraisal of economic and social conditions and recognition of public opinion and other political constraints, the Report observes. But, with political courage, they are all feasible.

Human Development Index

Also released today as part of the 2009 Human Development Report was the latest Human Development Index (HDI), a summary indicator of people's well-being, combining measures of life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and GDP per capita. It shows that despite progress in many areas over the last 25 years, the disparities in people's well-being in rich and poor countries continue to be unacceptably wide.

This year's HDI has been calculated for 182 countries and territories--the widest coverage ever. The estimates, which rely on the most recently available data compiled by the UN and other international partners, are based on 2007 data.

For more information on the latest HDI and to access the Human Development Report and the complete press kit please visit: http://hdr.undp.org

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: http://www.undp.org

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Jean-Yves Hamel
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