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
International migrants numbered 191 million in 2005: 115 million lived in developed countries and 75 million in developing countries. Between 1990 and 2005, high-income countries as a whole registered the highest increase in the number of international migrants (41 million).
Three quarters of all migrants lived in just 28 countries in 2005, with one in every five migrants in the world living in the United States of America.
Migrants constitute at least 20 per cent of the population in 41 countries, 31 of which have less than a million inhabitants.
Female migrants constitute nearly half of all migrants worldwide, and they are more numerous than male migrants in developed countries.
Nearly 6 out of every 10 international migrants live in high-income economies, but these include 22 developing countries, including Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, Kuwait, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
About a third of the 191 million migrants in the world have moved from one developing country to another, and another third have moved from a developing country to a developed country. That is to say, “South-to-South” migrants are about as numerous as “South-to-North” Migrants with tertiary education constituted just under half of the increase in the number of international migrants aged 25 or over in OECD countries during the 1990s. Nearly 6 out of every 10 highly educated migrants living in OECD countries in 2000 came from developing countries.
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.