Throughout human history, migration has been a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life. Today, globalization, together with advances in communications and transportation, has greatly increased the number of people who have the desire and the capacity to move to other places.
This new era has created challenges and opportunities for societies throughout the world. It also has served to underscore the clear linkage between migration and development, as well as the opportunities it provides for co-development, that is, the concerted improvement of economic and social conditions at both origin and destination.
International migration today
The total number of international migrants has increased over the last 10 years from an estimated 150 million in 2000 to 214 million persons today. Migrants would constitute the fifth most populous country in the world.
Migration is now more widely distributed across more countries. Today the top 10 countries of destination receive a smaller share of all migrants than in 2000.
49% of migrants worldwide are women.
Remittances have increased exponentially: up from USD 132 billion in 2000 to an estimated USD 440 billion in 2010, even with a slight decline due to the current economic crisis. The actual amount, including unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels, is believed to be significantly larger.
Migration and development
The lure of a well-paid job in a wealthy country is a powerful driver of international migration. The attraction has intensified as income differentials among countries continue to grow. This holds true not only regarding the large and growing differentials between high and low-income countries, but also with regard to the more dynamic and the less dynamic developing countries.
Many advanced and dynamic economies need migrant workers to fill jobs that cannot be outsourced and that do not find local workers willing to take them at going wages. Population ageing also underlies this growing demand, as it gives rise to deficits of workers relative to dependants. And as younger generations become better educated, fewer in their ranks are content with low-paid and physically demanding jobs.
Migration may reduce wages or lead to higher unemployment among low-skilled workers in advanced economies, many of whom are themselves migrants who arrived in earlier waves. However, most migrants complement the skills of domestic workers instead of competing with them. By performing tasks that either would go undone or cost more, migrants allow citizens to perform other, more productive and better-paid jobs. They also maintain viable economic activities that, in their absence, would be outsourced. By enlarging the labour force and the pool of consumers and by contributing their entrepreneurial capacities, migrants boost economic growth in receiving countries.
At the point of origin, deeper poverty does not lead automatically to higher migration. The poorest people generally do not have the resources to bear the costs and risks of international migration. International migrants are usually drawn from middle-income households. However, when migrants establish themselves abroad, they help friends and relatives to follow and, in the process, the costs and risks of migration fall, making it possible for poorer people, though not for the poorest, to join the stream. Low-skilled migration has the largest potential to reduce the depth and severity of poverty in communities of origin.
Mounting evidence indicates that international migration is usually positive both for countries of origin and of destination. Its potential benefits are larger than the potential gains from freer international trade, particularly for developing countries.
The United Nations and Migrants
On 4 December 2000, the General Assembly, taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, proclaimed 18 December International Migrants Day (A/RES/55/93). On that day, in 1990, the Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (A/RES/45/158).
Member States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are invited to observe International Migrants Day through the dissemination of information on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, and through the sharing of experiences and the design of actions to ensure their protection.
The 132 Member States that participated in the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, conducted by the General Assembly on 14 and 15 September 2006, reaffirmed a number of key messages. First, they underscored that international migration was a growing phenomenon and that it could make a positive contribution to development in countries of origin and countries of destination provided it was supported by the right policies. Secondly, they emphasized that respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all migrants was essential to reap the benefits of international migration. Thirdly, they recognized the importance of strengthening international cooperation on international migration bilaterally, regionally and globally.
Although the High-level Dialogue stressed that international migration could contribute to development, it recognized that international migration was not a substitute for development. All too often, migrants were compelled to seek employment abroad because of poverty, conflict or violations of human rights. Peace and security, good governance, the rule of law and the provision of decent work in countries of origin ensured that people migrated out of choice instead of necessity. International migration needed to be an integral part of the development agenda and should be part of national development strategies.
Following the High-level Dialogue, the Government of Belgium launched a process to establish the Global Forum on Migration and Development as a voluntary, non-binding and informal consultative process, led by and open to all States Members of the United Nations and observers. By providing a venue for Governments to address issues related to international migration and development in a systematic and comprehensive way, the Global Forum brings together Government expertise from all regions, promotes dialogue, cooperation and partnerships, and fosters practical and action-oriented outcomes at the national, regional and global levels.
Since the 2006 High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, intergovernmental cooperation in the area of migration has increased markedly. Various regional intergovernmental groups and consultative processes have been focusing increasingly on the development dimensions of international migration, although they have done so in different ways and with different perspectives. The need to understand better the issues raised by international migration in relation to development, to exchange experience and know-how, and to build common positions has propelled more countries to join regional groups and some regional groups to cooperate with each other. It seems that the High-level Dialogue served as a catalyst to generate considerable activity in this area.