Migration brainstorming session emphasizes ingenuity, hands-on approach
On February 27, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, in cooperation with the Migration Policy Institute, hosted a brainstorming session on migration and development in the run-up to the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GF), which will take place in Belgium in July 2007.
Representatives from the Belgian government pointed out that in contrast to the approach in New York, where starting a dialogue rather than reaching resolutions was the focus, the agenda of the GF will concentrate on practical approaches, policy tools and government-led initiatives. It will promote a hands-on approach for policy makers to exchange best practices, identify obstacles to better migration management, explore innovative policies and initiatives, and promote fresh collaborative approaches among stakeholders. Development was explicitly included in the title of the Global Forum since the link between migration and development appears to be more consensual internationally than a discussion of migration policies only.
The goal of the brainstorming session was to provide conceptual and intellectual input into the agenda-setting process. During the meeting, some of the latest research on the issues of remittances, policy coherence, and human capital development was presented in order to help finalize the agenda of the GF and promote an open debate between representatives of different government agencies that are involved in and impacted by migration policies. This is to ensure that new approaches to migration management address both the development needs of sending countries while at the same time consider security, integration, and labor market concerns of industrial countries. This brainstorming session presented a rare opportunity to think in detail about the underlying concepts and definitions of international migration.
The discussion began by addressing the main challenge at the upcoming Global Forum, which is the creation of political will in both the United States and Europe to overcome the migration fatigue related to the negative discussions about illegal migration. The objective is to encourage politicians to consider migration as a phenomenon that benefits both sending and receiving countries.
In today's debate, stakeholders often only distinguish between permanent and temporary migration; permanent migration implying the indefinite relocation of a migrant to a host country whereas temporary migration allows workers to enter a foreign country for a very specific - and often very limited - period of time before returning to the country of origin. One way to change the current debate about the impacts of migration on both sending and receiving countries would be to reconsider existing permanent and temporary migration schemes and find a way to encourage increased circular migration. Both of these schemes have their advantages and disadvantages with regards to integration and development aspects.
According to some participants permanent migration tends to promote better integration of migrants in the host society and, on average, leads to a more sustainable flow of remittances. But it also fuels the fear of the native population of too much foreign infiltration and an increased supply of workers for a limited number of available for jobs. Temporary migration on the other hand ensures that foreign workers - at least theoretically - return to their countries of origin once the demand for their work slows down. It also prevents brain drain, a phenomenon which sending countries often quote as one of the main negative effects of permanent migration. However, temporary migration also discourages migrants from integrating into the host society and thus can lead to social tensions between migrants and the native population. Moreover, host countries are faced with the challenge of how to enforce the temporary nature of this kind of labor migration. Temporary migrants often stay in the host country illegally after the end of their employment period out of fear that restrictive immigration policies will hinder them from returning to the destination country for a second or third time.
Circular migration schemes, meaning setting up corridors in which migrants can move between sending and receiving countries, could prove to be a triple-win solution for both sending and receiving countries and the migrants themselves. Specifically, circular migration is characterized by migrants moving to a specific destination country on a fairly permanent basis while keeping close ties with their country of origin by undertaking regular and often very extended trips back to the homeland in order to invest or work for a certain period of time. Based on this definition, destination countries will have a steady supply of needed workers in both skilled and unskilled occupations that are responsive to the country's political and socioeconomic climate while countries of origin benefit from the inflow of remittances of migrants living abroad and their investments and skills upon return. Moreover, circular migration policies would provide migrants with improved legal channels to move back and forth between countries and thus potentially lead to a decrease of illegal migration. In recent papers by the European Commission as well as by UN agencies, circular migration has been recommended as a future policy tool for better migration management, for economic reasons as well as for security considerations (e.g. to stem illegal inflows of unregistered migrants.)
Some experts pointed to the case of Morocco in the 1970s and 1980s which implemented policies have created an atmosphere which allows for and encourages more circular migration. Back then, Morocco's relation with its diaspora community was characterized by tight controls and discouragement of integration out of fear that migrants would form a political opposition 'from outside'. Moreover, integration was perceived as endangering vital remittances transfers. However, stagnation in remittances in the 1990s and a growing consciousness that repressive policies alienated migrants rather than binding them closer to Morocco state prompted the Moroccan government to adopt a more positive attitude towards dual citizenship and voting rights for migrants living abroad.
Most participants agreed that encouraging migrants to integrate in host societies while at the same time providing them with an opportunity for regular returns has been one of the most effective instruments for promoting remittances and thus foster economic development in the country of origin. But it was also stressed that migration policies have to be accompanied by broader economic growth policies in order to take real advantages of the benefits international migration potentially has to offer.
Other presentations at the workshop focused on the general importance of remittances on development and the impact of migration on health sectors in developing countries. Everyone agreed that remittances are a major source of external development finance. However, they are private money and therefore should not be considered part of a country's official development assistance. Thus they should not be taxed by governments or directed towards specific development projects. Instead, the development community should work together with the private sector in order to decrease costs of remittances services and find ways to indirectly leverage remittances flows to improve financial access of migrants, their beneficiaries, and the financial intermediaries in the countries of origin.
Regarding migration and health issues, some experts presented empirical evidence against the popular assumption that it is mainly the outward migration of doctors and nurses from Africa to developed countries that contributes to an African medical brain drain. While not denying the dire situation in many developing countries' medical sector it was pointed out these countries suffer more from medical personnel moving from rural into urban areas or moving into jobs outside the health sector altogether because of better wages or working conditions than from movements out of the country. Thus, emigration should not be considered a cause but rather a symptom of bad health care systems in many developing countries and it will take more than restrictive migration policies for health personnel to improve medical conditions in developing countries.