Don’t just pay lip service to migrants’ contributions – back them with policies

By David Khoudour, Head of the migration and skills unit at the OECD Development Centre

The new development goals recognise migrants’ huge economic contributions in remittances and taxes, but we need flexible migration policies that support them.
The international community no longer considers migration a threat. This, at least, is what an optimistic observer could infer from the final document adopted at the conference on financing for development in Addis Ababa this month. The accord signed at the end of the meeting – the Addis Ababa action agenda – acknowledges the positive contribution of migrants to the development of countries of origin, transit and destination.

This comes against a backdrop of anti-immigrant feeling, with migrants often seen by the public as a drain on state finances and a threat to social cohesion and security. By recognising that migrants contribute to inclusive growth and sustainable development, the heads of state and government gathered in the Ethiopian capital gave a strong signal, which hopefully will be followed by concrete changes in the way the world handles migration.

The recognition of the contribution of migrants was also at the heart of an event on leveraging migration, remittances and diaspora contributions for financing sustainable development, organised jointly by the Global Migration Group, the OECD Development Centre and the World Bank during the Addis Ababa conference. The meeting brought together high-level representatives from the International Labour Organisation, UN Women, the World Bank, the OECD and Switzerland. The participants insisted on the need to adopt policies to help reduce the social costs faced by migrants, in particular women, and also called for lower recruitment and remittance costs. They underlined the need to mobilise savings and philanthropic contributions from the diaspora, foster the international portability of pensions and social security benefits and promote the integration of immigrants. Putting migration at the heart of development strategies was also an important consideration.

These recommendations are reflected in the Addis Ababa action agenda, which describes the need to “ensure safe, orderly and regular migration, with full respect for human rights” through strengthened international cooperation. The international community commits in particular to lower the costs of recruitment for migrants as well as of the costs of sending remittances. Thus, the accord commits to “reducing the average transaction cost of migrant remittances by 2030 to less than 3% of the amount transferred”. It particularly focuses on low-volume and high-cost corridors, with the goal of having no remittance corridor cost higher than 5% by 2030. The document also stresses the portability of earned benefits as well as the recognition of foreign qualifications and skills.

The signatory countries underlined the importance of adopting communication strategies to explain how migrants contribute to development. This is particularly important in countries of destination, where the positive role of immigrants is often overlooked and the negative impacts overestimated. To change perceptions, one must first acknowledge an economy’s needs for foreign workers, especially in ageing countries, and then recognise the economic contribution immigrants make to the host country.

To be sure, the costs associated with immigration need to be addressed, in particular the potential negative effects on social cohesion. This is precisely why it is so important to implement concrete anti-discrimination and integration policies. To this end, it is vital to invest in quality education for all migrant children, regardless of their migratory status. Migrant-receiving countries should also adopt housing strategies that avoid concentrating migrants in the poorest areas – this would promote immigrants’ economic and social inclusion and the second generation’s social mobility.

Recognising the positive contribution of migrants is one thing; adopting coherent policies in line with such recognition is another. How will migrants contribute to the development of their countries of origin and destination if migration policies become increasingly restrictive around the world? The only way for those who signed the Addis accord to meet their commitments will be if they adopt flexible migration policies, so that migrants can contribute even more to sustainable development.

This article first appeared in The Guardian on July 24, 2015. Read it anew here:

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