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Migration & Refugees

Migrant Contributions to Development: Creating a “New Positive Narrative”

Though the benefits of migration outweigh the costs, public perception is often the opposite and negatively impacts migration policy.

Pakistani migrant workers build a skyscraper in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2017 (IPS) - Despite the “undeniable” benefits of migration, barriers including public misconceptions continue to hinder positive development outcomes, participants said during a series of thematic consultations here on safe, orderly, and regular migration.

At a time where divisive rhetoric on migration can be seen around the world, member State representatives, UN agencies, and civil society gathered at the UN for a two-day meeting to discuss migrants’ contributions to sustainable development as well as the challenges in harnessing such contributions.

In her opening remarks, Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour noted that though the benefits of migration outweigh the costs, public perception is often the opposite and negatively impacts migration policy.

“This must be reversed so that policy is evidence-based and not perception-driven. Policies responding to false perceptions reinforce the apparent validity of these erroneous stereotypes and make recourse to proper policies that much harder,” she added.

Among such evidence is the 575 billion dollars in global remittances transferred by international migrants to their families, almost 430 billion of which went to developing countries.

These essential lifelines, which are are three times larger than official development assistance (ODA) and more stable than other forms of private capital flows, have contributed to progress on key aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in migrants’ countries of origin, including poverty reduction, food security, and healthy families.

Benefits can also be seen in the countries where migrants reside as 85 percent of migrant workers’ earnings remain in the countries of destination.

Migrants also tend to fill labour market gaps at all skill levels in countries of destination, advancing economic growth, job creation, and service delivery.

Participants noted that this contributes to a “triple win” scenario for the country of origin, country of destination, and the migrants themselves.

“When migrants succeed, societies do too,” said Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and International Security of Egypt and one of the sessions’ moderators, Hisham Badr.

Contributions of migrants to development in origin and destination countries go beyond financial remittances and include transfers of skills and knowledge and entrepreneurship.

Despite representing 13 percent of the overall population in the United States, immigrants made up over 20 percent of entrepreneurs, building businesses from popular search engines to environmentally-friendly cars.

In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 2016 had at least one founder who immigrated to the U.S. or was the child of immigrants. According to the New American Economy, those firms alone employed almost 20 million globally and generated more than 5 trillion dollars in revenue.

This diaspora is also often “bridge-builders,” maintaining strong links to their countries of origin.

However, participants noted that inadequate policies stand in the way of positive development outcomes.

“The crucial issue is not that migration and development are linked, but how they can be leveraged to create positive development outcomes,” Badr told delegates.

Arbour noted that that cost of sending and receiving remittances remains excessively high. Currently, the global average cost of transactions is over 7 percent, significantly greater than the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target of 3 percent.

The lack of access to financial services also poses a major obstacle as it prevents the investment of remittances into productive activities and sustainable development in remittance recipients’ communities.

Arbour stressed the need to boost financial inclusion, calling it “low hanging fruit.”

Participants particularly highlighted the importance of integrating migration into development planning, including the need to engage with the diaspora to create more effective migration and development policies.

Numerous UN member States have already launched initiatives to include the diaspora, including Jamaica, which hosts a biennial conference to motivate greater involvement in the country’s socio-economic development.

During the consultations, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) launched a similar platform for diaspora communities to contribute to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), the UN’s first intergovernmentally negotiated and comprehensive agreement on international migration, which is expected to be adopted in 2018.

“Diaspora communities have emerged as key influencers in global development practices,” said iDiaspora Forum moderator Martin Russell.

“The iDiaspora Forum is a platform designed to initiate ideas, learn lessons, and share best practices. Diaspora engagement is a booming industry,” he added.

In the final panel of the meeting, which aims to gather input and recommendations to feed into the GCM, Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Managing Director Marta Foresti pointed to the compact as a unique opportunity that the international community cannot afford to miss.

“With the global compact, we can create a new positive narrative,” she concluded.

Organized by the president of the General Assembly and co-facilitators including the Permanent Missions of Mexico and Switzerland, the informal session is the fourth in a series of six to take place this year.

The last two consultations will take place in Vienna from 4-5 September and Geneva from 12-13 October on the issues of smuggling of migrants and irregular migrants, respectively.

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