As part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone.
However, at the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, we are facing unprecedented challenges. According to the 2023 SDG Report, just 15 percent of the Sustainable Development Goals targets are on track; progress on a further 48 percent is weak and insufficient; and we have stalled or gone into reverse on more than 37 percent of the SDGs.
How can we tackle these challenges? How do we look towards achieving these goals when we are falling behind?
Part of the answer lies in migration. Migrants often bring significant benefits to their new communities in the form of knowledge and skills, strengthening the labour force, investment, and cultural diversity. They also play a role in improving the lives of communities in their countries of origin through the transfer of skills and financial resources, thus contributing to positive development outcomes.
Here are some facts about the potential of migration for development:
- Recent evidence shows that every additional 1% of immigration has the potential to boost GDP growth by 2% in destination countries (IMF, 2020).
- Since 2015, remittances have been one of the largest sources of external finance flows to low and middle-income countries (World Bank, 2021).
- Migrant remittances are a lifeline in times of crisis, exceeding $831 billion per year globally (World Bank, 2023).
- Studies in 38 countries show that migrants, including those with irregular status, give more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in individual benefits (OECD, 2018).
However, if migration is poorly managed, it can also negatively impact development. Migrants can be put at risk, communities can come under strain and development gains can suffer. This is why including migrants in our communities is key.
The extent to which migrants can contribute to development is directly linked to their ability to access services, integrate into society, and stay connected with their communities of origin. For example, when migrants have access to rights such as decent work and healthcare, States can more easily collect tax revenues and positively impacting the country's social security and social protection systems.
Inclusion and social cohesion are base values that benefit communities and migrants alike. In moments of conflict and economic uncertainty, attitudes towards migrants become more polarized. The effects of a global pandemic have also exacerbated mistrust and individualism. As a result, communities lose cohesion and governments can sometimes feel pressure to limit human mobility, even while labour market shortages persist, and despite recognition during the COVID-19 pandemic that migration is both necessary and valuable.
Migrants played a key role in responding to the pandemic, especially in sectors such as health care and agriculture as essential workers. Some of the worst-hit countries depended heavily on migrants for the provision of healthcare. Remittances also contributed to paying for education, food and businesses, and proved invaluable for saving lives. Remittances kept an inflow of resources even as investment and aid to low- and middle-income countries became unavailable.
Most migration that takes place is safe, legal, orderly – and is not only inevitable but beneficial. It has improved the lives of countless migrants, families, and origin and host communities. We should not focus efforts on trying to stop migration, but rather on creating conditions in which migration is a choice and not a necessity, takes place along regular channels and acts as a catalyst for development.
This vision of migration has a blueprint: the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The GCM offers a roadmap to include migrants in sustainable development efforts by reducing migration’s risks and harnessing its opportunities. The adoption of the GCM, which finds its roots in the 2030 Agenda, and the creation of the United Nations Network on Migration, creates a new push to achieve the SDGs by addressing challenges and providing actions to strengthen the contribution of migrants and migration.
One of the 2030 Agenda’s central promises is to leave no one behind. It seeks peace and prosperity for all. To achieve this, migrants and migration must be considered in all aspects of implementing the SDGs and its targets.
Given that migration is a fact of life, the priority is facilitating, not restricting, migration, as is expanding the possibilities for people to realize their human development aspirations and potential through mobility. The 2030 Agenda supports this inclusive view of migration. The Sustainable Development Goals, if effectively implemented, could help move migration governance and cooperation at local, national, regional, and global levels towards a holistic approach that benefits everyone.
1 in 8 individuals in the world are on the move. Migrants must be an integral part of the solution. Well managed migration is key to sustainable development, prosperity, and progress.