Migration is accelerating – How can everyone benefit?

By Laura Parry-Davies, Digital Communications Officer, OECD Development Centre

The number of migrants in the world has increased by more than 46% in the last 30 years. Yet, global development agendas have, up-to-this-point, failed to adequately integrate the role of human mobility into country strategies for growth and wellbeing. What needs to change?
Experts from the World Bank, African Union, United Nations University Centre for Policy Research and the OECD Development Centre discussed – drawing on related work and insights – as part of the OECD Development Centre’s 60th Anniversary Dialogues.

The narrative needs to change

Migration is a continuum, it’s a global concern and – whether for immigration, transit or as a place of return – it touches every single country. Yet, negative narratives around migrants and migration are obstructing political conversations and making positive policy change difficult, Professor Heaven Crawley, Head of Equitable Development and Migration at United Nations University Centre for Policy Research, says. To address this blockage, and to allow migrants to fully contribute socially and economically, the international community needs to find new ways of addressing stigmatizing and xenophobic narratives.

The reality is that most migrants travel to improve the lives of their families, both in destination countries and at home, and they play an important role in filling skill-gaps in developed countries Ambassador Namira Negm, Director of the African Migration Observatory, and the African Union points out. Changing the way the world sees and interacts with information on migration is a cornerstone for unblocking minds and shifting policy conversations. Engaging with different audiences and communicating, not just the statistical evidence, but the emotional and human consequences of migration is essential, Crawley underlines.

  • The MIDEQ Hub’s animation campaign is a good example of how positive narratives can be shaped that help societies understand what is happening on a human level, and therefore, what policy responses might be most appropriate.

Promoting the right skills for available work

Migration boosts the number of working-age people in destination countries and helps fill shortages and diversify economies, which in turn can encourage more trade and investment. But skill-matching between the needs of the Global North and the workers in the South, is a current challenge, Caglar Ozden, co-director of the forthcoming World Development Report 2023 on Migrants, Refugees and Societies and Lead Economist of Development Economics at the World Bank says. 

At present, many low-income countries with high potential for migration lack the resources to equip their people with the information and skills needed in destination countries. If not addressed, destination countries are likely to receive a higher percentage of migrants who cannot fill the required labour gaps, thus potentially becoming burdens to the state. This, in turn, can lead to polarization, social tension, conflict and other issues typically plaguing the current debates on migration, Ozden points out.

Enhancing partnerships between origin and destination countries will allow countries to develop mutually beneficial programmes that promote demand-orientated skills-development that will lead to better and more secure job opportunities, he suggests.

  • The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is an example of a system that could address skills mobility and transfer – in addition to investment and trade, Jason Gagnon, Head of Migration and Skills Unit at the OECD Development Centre point out. By opening regular trade pathways, the AfCFTA will allow migrants to share knowledge and use their skills to aid national goals. Remittances sent home also serve to support families, bolster economies, and increase possibilities for innovation.

More people at the table

To ensure that migration-related funding and programmes are realistic and implementable, we need to broaden the terms of the discussion, Gagnon says. To do this, we must look beyond migration policymakers. People in trade, investment, finance, and agriculture all have a vested interest in migration – and all need to be included in the decision-making process.

It is also important to remember that there are already many people working on migration, and a great deal of expertise around the various challenges and opportunities it presents in local contexts. We need to empower these experts and give them more credibility, and more platforms to be heard. This will generate richer and more contextualised projects that can respond to local policy interests.

Building local capacities for data collection and transfer is another essential piece of the puzzle, Crawley insists. To do this though, beyond providing training, we need to have more honest conversations with stakeholders on what we mean by “evidence-based policy making,” “the role of evidence”, and “the kinds of evidence that are useful” for forming migration strategies.

Collaboration is also needed at the cross-border point in negotiations, Ambassador Negm adds. While many talks are occurring between countries, decisions on migration are often made in isolation, she says. This can create a mismatch in policies and make practical implementation of decisions impossible.

All together now

This is not just a top-down process, migration is intricately woven into society as-a-whole – and into most aspects of development. As such we need “whole of society” and “whole of government” approaches and solutions.

If this discussion brought forward one core element, it is this: We need to create enabling environments for migration and development to take its course. We need to open pathways, to realign the narrative, and to create opportunities for circularity and inclusion at every-level.


This blog reflects the views of this DevTalks’ speakers, as put forward by them on 29 November 2022, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise.