High-level Expert Policy Dialogue on Migration in the Post 2015 Development Agenda

Ms. Shamshad Akhtar Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Affairs Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson, 
Special Representative Peter Sutherland, 
Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Minister for organizing this timely event. Understanding migration: its aspects and dimensions, policies and its nexus with development is critical for thinking through on how to focus and strategize migration within the post-2015 development framework.

As the international community reflects on the development agenda for the next few decades, it is pertinent to recall that in the past decade, the migration community has already “put migration on the map.” The General Assembly’s first high-level meeting in 2006 on migration recognized migration as an intrinsic part of global development. The Global Forum on Migration and Development, for which Sweden is now the Chair-in-Office, was formed. This Forum offers a global platform to share information, to share good practice and to reinforce national, bilateral or regional cooperation. It also helps improve the evidence base for policy making, to harness migration benefits, to promote orderly and legal migration and to address associated challenges. The second High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development will take place in October 2013 and will further reinforce the integration of migration into the future development agenda.

Evidence based on good statistics and diagnostics are the lynchpin of understanding migration dynamics as they promote better understanding.

Numbers tell us an important story:

  • First, the global migrant stock increased from 1.3 percent in 1990-1995 to 1.8 percent in 2005-2010, even though population growth overall was slowing down in this period.
  • Second, while international migration is rising, it remains a relatively uncommon event. More than 9 of every 10 persons in the world are living today in their country of birth.
  • Third, as multi-polarity deepens, like aid, trade and capital flows, migration is no longer a North-South concern and debate only. Countries of the South are the origin for about 70 percent of all international migrants. Of these roughly half reside in other developing countries. South-South migration flows are equivalent to North-South migration (close to 73 million each) and size of North-North is also gaining momentum.


These dynamics of migration have implications for shaping the post 2015 agenda. Multi-directional flows of migration underscore the need for global action including both developed and developing countries not just as provider of cheap labor but as contributor of development.

Harnessing benefits of migration is critical. John Kenneth Galbraith noted that “Migration is the oldest action against poverty. It selects those who most want help. It is good for the country to which they go; it helps break the equilibrium of poverty in the country from which they come. What is the perversity in the human soul that causes people to resist so obvious a good?” Evidence confirms that migration can reduce poverty. However it cannot be a substitute for proper national planning and strategies to address development. So framing the migration debate solely on this ground perpetuates the myth that people largely migrate out of despair and that once a country reduces poverty, the need for migration disappears.

Migration is driven by needs and opportunities. Even the most advanced economies depend crucially on international migration. Low-skilled migrants are needed to do the jobs that natives often shun. Ageing societies are confronted not only with a shrinking labour force, but also with an increasing demand for care workers. Shortages of high skilled labourers are projected to worsen in the coming years. Popular concerns about major negative impacts on workers or government budgets are inconsistent with the results of numerous studies in countries like the United States, where the effect of immigration on wages and employment appears to be small, and where immigrant contributions in taxes exceed benefits received over the long run.

A similar argument can be made for remittances in the context of developing countries. The evidence suggests that remittances can contribute significantly to the improvement of human capital. Families receiving remittances can send their children to school and find access to health services. In many countries, remittances outweigh foreign direct investment and dwarf official development assistance. Recent World Bank projections suggest that these could reach $534 billion by 2015. Proper leveraging of remittances, which are private resources, for development would be good, but would require suitable vehicles and instruments backed by adequate safeguards and returns to attract flows. Remittances however cannot substitute development funding.

Migration has to feature in context of the Post 2015 development agenda.The question is how, what form and to what extent? Given the scale and impact of internal migration on national labour markets, poverty reduction, family cohesion, and development in general, there is merit in integrating it explicitly in the future UN development agenda, especially in connection to the sustainable development of urban and rural areas, as emphasized in the outcome document of Rio+20. The size and scale of internal migration and its challenges require special attention. On the policy front, relatively few governments are satisfied with the spatial distribution of population and with internal migration flows. Indeed, in 2011, almost 80 per cent of governments had policies to lower rural to urban migration, and nearly 70 per cent of countries had policies to reduce the inflow of migrants to large urban agglomerations. Yet the benefits of the movement of people are too evident, be it for work or family reasons, considering the commonly higher living standards and better access to services in cities, as compared to rural areas.

Some people tend to reduce the UN development agenda to the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. This is an oversimplification. At the United Nations, we speak about “The MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals”. While migration may not have been captured in the MDGs this does not mean that migration has been excluded from the UN development agenda — far from it. Getting too hung up on having goals and targets is not what we should be aiming at. Specifying universal, quantifiable, MDG like migration targets, may not make sense as the level and type of migration needed depends critically on the local context. The migration needs for Canada, the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia differ greatly, while the motivations of developing countries exporting labour vary, driven in part by the need to strengthen balance of payments.

This does not mean, however, that we cannot identify general principles for managing international migration: respecting the human rights of migrants, striving to make migration safe, orderly and legal, preventing forced migration, and so forth. It may be most helpful to countries if they can formulate and implement their own migration or migrant-related programmes, accompanied by measurable targets that they have chosen.

In view of these considerations, its best to think through a broader migration policy framework to facilitate, inform and influence and be integrated in the post-2015 development agenda and debates. Perhaps a multipronged approach would serve the migration and development agenda well.

First, migration, given its positive contributions and the population dynamics, may serve as an “enabler” or “means of implementation” of economic, social and sustainable development. To understand better the link between migration and development we require a robust system of data collection, including administrative data systems for documenting migratory events and dedicated surveys for measuring the impacts of migration on poverty, health, education, etc.

Second, international migration can be reinvigorated through a global partnership for development. Emphasis here should be towards reducing the barriers to, or the costs of, migration, by opposing unscrupulous recruitment practices, by enforcing non discrimination between immigrants and natives, and by promoting bilateral and regional labour agreements. One could treat international migration like cross-border trade under the current MDG8, seeking to reduce barriers while recognizing, of course, that migrants are people, not goods or services.

Third, migration can reinforce the development agenda. For example, by mutually recognizing diplomas and skills, by facilitating the transnational portability of pensions and other benefits, by reducing the costs of transferring remittances, and so on. While difficult to capture in simple, quantitative indicators and to attach to clear, unambiguous targets, we should nevertheless strive to monitor their implementation in a rigorous and objective manner.

Fourth, structuring global platforms which recognize that migration is a normal, necessary and indeed desirable feature of globalization. Promoting voluntary movement, reducing barriers and eliminating forced migration, whether natural or man-made, should be our goal. International migration, including its relation with development, has been addressed in many outcome documents of UN conferences and summits. As early as 1974, the Bucharest World Population Conference recommended that countries with slow population growth should encourage immigration. Chapter Ten of the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development remains the most comprehensive negotiated text on international migration to date. And the 2005 World Summit Outcome acknowledged the need to capture the benefits of migration, to address its negative impacts, and to protect migrant rights.

In conclusion, while sharing some thoughts I look forward to hearing of other views. This would be beneficial as at the UN substantive work is underway to develop the post-2015 Development Agenda. The Secretary General’s High Level Panel is expected to meet in few weeks in Bali to deliberate on the post-2015 framework and among others will discuss global partnerships and financing ideas. The Panel is to submit its report by end-May 2013. The United Nation Technical Team and the UN Development Group are further holding a range of internal and external consultations, respectively. Drawing from these streams, the Secretary-General’s report on accelerating and enhancing the MDGs framework for post-2015 will be discussed in September 2013. In the meantime, the State-sponsored 30 member Open Working Group will be discussing the sustainable development agenda which will result in more focused SDGs for deliberation at the 2014 GA session.

Thank you.