Focusing on new trends in migration

The past 10 years have seen a steady increase in the number of international migrants across the globe, now totaling 214 million people. Ahead of the upcoming Commission on Population and Development, which is set to focus on new trends in migration, John Wilmoth, Director of DESA’s Population Division, highlighted the issues at hand as well as other demographic trends affecting development beyond 2015.

Gathering representatives and experts from a large number of UN Member States, the Commission on Population and Development will meet in New York from 22 to 26 of April. “It is a very important year at the United Nations, for the discussion on international migration in particular, because we’re planning also for the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development”, said Mr. Wilmoth, referring to another high profile event scheduled to take place in October this year as part of the 68th session of the General Assembly.

Mr. Wilmoth also affirmed the importance of migration as part of the ongoing discussions on the post-2015 development agenda. “Migratory movements both within countries and across international borders are very important examples of population dynamics and illustrate the role of population dynamics in development processes more generally,” he explained.

Increased complexity in size and movements

Mr. Wilmoth described the work preparing for the upcoming Commission, where they intend to start off the meeting by featuring a more general discussion on some of the current patterns and trends, helping Member States to understand the overall situation.

“We work on documenting the size of the migratory flows around the world, the shape and the direction of the trends, and what we observe is that there has been an increase in the complexity, size and changes in the direction of these flows over time,” Mr. Wilmoth explained. He also pointed to the increase in the number of international migrants from around 155 million in 1990, to about 214 million in 2010.

Mr. Wilmoth also highlighted that even though international migrants represent about 3 per cent of the world’s population, the total number of migrants is most likely higher. “If we count internal migrants by any definition, any reasonable definition, we would be at over 10 percent of the world’s population,” he said.

Contributor to social and economic development

“What we have observed over the last decades, is that migration when governed fairly, can make a very important contribution to social and economic development and that is true both in the countries of origin and in the countries of destination,” Mr. Wilmoth said. “I am almost certain that countries would want to consider the relationships between migration and development in particular,” he added.

“In countries of destination, immigrants increase the productive capacity of the economy and contribute to economic growth. In their countries of origin, migration can help to alleviate problems of underemployment and through remittances can contribute to the economic and human development of those areas of the world,” Mr. Wilmoth said.

He also shared his hope that the Commission will encourage countries to think about practical measures to harness the various benefits of migration and to address challenges. “I think it is possible that countries could institute measures that would lower some of the costs of migration,” he said, giving the example of allowing people to have multiple entry visas. This would make it possible for people to migrate in circular patterns or return to their countries of origin without fear of not being able to come back to the host country.

“I hope that countries will find an opportunity to focus on the importance of protecting the human rights of migrants as part of the upcoming Commission,” Mr. Wilmoth added. “Migrants whose rights are well respected are best able to participate in the broader process of social and economic development in their host and origin societies,” he said. “On the other hand, migrants who have an irregular legal status are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and I hope that the Commission will address this issue as well”.

New patterns of population flows

When discussing new trends in migration, Mr. Wilmoth pointed to the fact that there has been a large increase in the number of migrants who move from less to more developed countries. “In many of the more developed countries, the per cent of the population that is foreign born has increased very significantly in recent decades,” Mr. Wilmoth said, also referring to some of the challenges that this presents for the integration process in hosts societies.

Mr. Wilmoth also described movements taking place between countries of the so-called global South. “There are these new poles of economic activity in the various countries that are growing very rapidly, for example China, Brazil, India, providing an attraction for migrants from other countries of the global South,” he explained. “So there are new patterns taking place in countries that don’t have the same experience of mass immigration as some of the Northern countries,” Mr. Wilmoth added. “For them it’s a particular challenge how to establish a set of migration policies that enables and encourages that movement.”

Population dynamics beyond 2015

As the world community prepares for the development agenda to succeed the MDG framework beyond 2015, Mr. Wilmoth shared some of the important population aspects that need to be secured. “The issues that really matter first are the issues related to population health, which have been well reflected in the MDGs framework that exists,” he explained, also suggesting a broader focus on health spanning the entire life course.

“But we’ve also been talking a lot about population dynamics,” he added. This includes migration, urbanization, population growth, and population ageing, which are often referred to as population megatrends. “These are the big mass movements of population that have very important implications for social and economic development and for human well being across the board,” he said.

“All of these present important opportunities for development, but also challenges to countries as they try to find ways to manage these flows of people,” he added. “In all cases we need to be thinking about policies that focus on managing those trends and possibly affecting them in a desirable way, but also on policies that allow us to adapt to those changes,” Mr. Wilmoth concluded.

For more information:

DESA’s Population Division

46th Session of the Commission on Population and Development