Migration and development: A symbiotic relationship

Migration and development: A symbiotic relationship


Do immigrants work competitively or do they take away jobs from nationals? Do they contribute to the economy or saturate services? Evaluations about the impact of migrants in another country, especially when it comes to a constant flow between two territories, are often based on perceptions, not data. Koen Voored, Doctor in Development Studies and researcher at the Institute of Social Research of the University of Costa Rica, highlights, in the specific case of the migration of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica, that numerous myths invade the feeling of respect of Costa Ricans towards the neighbors from the North, but, when contrasting it with real information, it is discovered not only that those who migrate from Nicaragua rarely do so in search of a welfarist state, but, in return, contribute more to the economy than they cost. How does the impact of migration reflect in other countries in the region?


Impact of migration in Developing countries

According to the Development Center of the OECD and the International Labor Organization, in its study "How Immigrants Contribute to Developing Countries' Economies", migration can have a positive impact on several economic aspects for the country of destination, in this case, a developing country. The study, which included 10 countries with medium and low incomes, highlights three areas in which migrants contribute to the economic development of their new home:

  1. Labor Markets, when they integrate better into the market, the more they manage to contribute in services and products. It is important to note, although the income of migrants usually increases from 3 to 6 times when they move to a country with a higher income than their place of origin (data from Moving for Prosperity: Global Migration and Labor Markets), in contrast, the work they access is usually under worse working conditions, which should worry us;
  2. Economic growth, the study noted that it is unlikely that migrants depress the GDP per capita of a country. On the contrary, in general, their contribution to economic value is usually higher than that of the native population;
  3. Public finances, data from OECD countries showed that the net fiscal contribution of migrants in the countries is usually positive, although limited.

The data retrieved from this Study is an average, it is recommended to study case by case as results can differ between countries in development. 

Likewise, in this study from the OECD and the ILO, five possible policies are listed so that States can increase the economic contribution of those who migrate, in the receiving communities:

  • Adapt migration policies to the needs of the labor market. When market spaces are identified, it is possible to find regular ways for labor migrants to supply them.
  • Improve the protection of the rights of those who migrate and fight against discrimination, as stated by the World Bank in another report, when migrants have better quality of life the higher their economic contribution is.
  • Invest in the integration of migrants; In the same line of the previous point, the lack of integration can influence the economic and social contribution that these people can potentially bring.
  • Take advantage of the effects of immigration on the economy, rethinking policies with employment networks, encouraging investment and supporting the growth of the formal labor sector, to allow greater economic contribution of migrants.
  • Optimize the monitoring of the economic effects of immigration, because although most countries currently collect information on migration flows, more and different indicators are required to be able to create a comprehensive analysis and act accordingly.


And what is the benefit for developed countries?

Not only can developing countries benefit from the arrival of foreigners. According to a report from The Hispanic Institute, despite the geographic and cultural differences of the States of Iowa and Nevada of the US, immigrants in both cities show an increasing purchasing power, a trend that seemingly will continue on the rise.

In the report, the economic and academic contributions of immigrants or descendants of immigrants in the northern country are identified. Among many other data, the first aspect highlights the rate of participation in the workforce of children of foreigners (66%), which slightly exceeds the participation of children of Americans (62.2%), as well as lower unemployment of children of foreigners (4.1%) compared to the children of nationals (4.4%).

It is striking that, similar to what was reported in the OECD and ILO study, the report of the THI indicates that the children of foreigners with a lesser degree than a bachelor, earn less money than nationals for the same the work: a call to strengthen policies, education and culture against discrimination.

On the other hand, in terms of academic achievements there are positive figures for immigrants in the US, although the academic level decreases when dealing with Mexican population. This fact, coupled with ethnic and racial prejudices, also influences the economic indicators of this group specifically. Even so, both in Iowa with agricultural work, and in Nevada in the hotel industry, entertainment and construction, the immigrant population has managed to contribute to the local economy, so far as to be accepted by nationals who indicate that these people are willing to accept job offers rejected by Americans. After all, even if immigration policies harden, the labor demand for jobs usually carried out by migrants does not diminish.

Migration for those who migrate and their families, potentially has a positive impact on their economic well-being, on their possibilities of increasing academic degrees and on reducing infant mortality. If migrants can favor the host country, why do we not also assist them? The economic scope is only a fraction of a complex group of implications and issues.

The missing link: using new data for migration governance

Autor: Guest Contributor

The lack of consistent data and collection techniques among countries inhibits the accurate identification of migration trends, as well as the impact that migration has on the institutional framework, economy and wellbeing of people in a country or region.

What are the challenges in migration data?

The first objective for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration stresses the importance of investing in the collection and use of accurate data to conduct evidence-based policy-making.

However, due to lack of technical resources, human capacity and/or funding, many states share limitations in the systematic collection and management of migration data.

According to IOM’s Migration Data Portal, there is more data collected on topics like migrant stocks and remittances, whereas topics such as migration flows, smuggling, migrant health, integration and the impact of migration policies have significant data gaps.

Many developing states simply don’t have the capacity to collect and systematize data at a nationwide scale. For example, according to IOM’s regional report, all ten Commonwealth Caribbean countries have departments or offices dedicated to the development of statistical information, but Jamaica is the only country which has collected migration data that can be systematically disaggregated.

Disaggregated data is particularly valuable, allowing states and organizations to have information on people that is comparable by sex, age, migration status and other relevant characteristics. This way, needs for specific migrant groups like children or women can be made visible and addressed.

The gaps in migrant data can also be largely attributed to the lack of mechanisms that facilitate information sharing between different government agencies and organisms.

All countries maintain records on entries and exits, visas, and permits, but many of them implement different data collection and management practices. Thus, policies between and in states are sometimes incoherent, and countries must work with only patches of information, which restricts their ability to apply a holistic government approach to migration governance.

Amidst these challenges, countries and the international community continue to work towards effectively filling these gaps to attend peoples’ needs.

The promise of new data

In the past, the main method of collecting data was through traditional sources like household surveys, national censuses and administrative records. These sources have a high cost and limitations, like inflexible designs in surveys for example.

Today, new or innovative data sources such as geospatial data, satellite imagery, mobile device data and social media data are gaining momentum fast. These sources represent a huge opportunity given the increased availability of digital records, wider coverage, timeliness, and practically no limitations on how frequently the information can be updated.

The potential applications of new data for migration seem promising. Big data in particular can help anticipate migration trends and movements based on data from social media platforms like Facebook or even from online searches. This same data can also contribute to monitoring public opinion and media discourse on migration at a much lower cost than public surveys.

Nevertheless, the use of new data (especially big data) presents several challenges:

  • Ethical and privacy issues: Automatically generated data raises concerns about confidentiality, misuse and security risks such as surveillance. In the case of IOM, our Data Protection Manual outlines our principles and standards for data governance.
  • Information bias: Big data is inherently biased. Social media and mobile phone users naturally do not represent the entire population, since some segments are over-represented, while other segments don’t use or have access to technology due to factors such as age, sex and economic level. 
  • Technical challenges: Data held by private actors or government entities may be difficult to access or use due to security or legal reasons. One could also encounter weak security systems and inappropriate infrastructure for data collection and management. Additionally, technological change and innovation occur at a fast pace, leading to issues of data continuity.

The way we process and share information is changing, so it’s only responsible that we also work on integrating new and traditional methods with new ones, while improving expertise in new types of data, data analytics (such as machine learning) and use. For management and use, interagency coordination is key, as well as the collaboration with both private and public sectors to transform data into policies that impact real people’s lives and contribute to sustainable development.

Along this line, IOM is currently in the process of implementing a project financed by the International Development Fund (IDF) to strengthen the institutional capacities for migration through the development of a migration information system that will allow Mesoamerican and Caribbean countries to have data on migration relevant for the design of migration policies. 

One of the main activities of this project consists of creating a Regional Network for the development of a Virtual Information Platform for Migration Governance (VIPMG). This Network will work on the exchange of migratory information (records of international arrivals and departures, residences, returns and other administrative data), as well as strengthening coordination and information flows between countries.

This platform aims to include preliminary statistics and analytics of administrative data to provide decision-makers with evidence-based information to support policy-making, thus assisting in improving data management capacities in order to use administrative data to its full potential, and provide information to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals related to migration.

The Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) also aims to fill gaps in data migration(such as data on returning migrants and registration coverage) and enable informed decision-making, but is focused on populations in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). NTMI has generated reliable information on migration, displacement and its relationship with development for its stakeholders in the region. 

Other resources:

IOM’s Migration Data Portal: https://migrationdataportal.org/

IOM’s Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS): https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/DMM/IBM/updated/midas-brochure18-v7-en_digital-2606.pdf

UN Global Working Group (GWG) on Big Data for Official Statistics: https://unstats.un.org/bigdata/

IOM report, More than numbers: How data can have real impact on migration governancehttps://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/industries/public%20sector/our%20insights/how%20migration%20data%20can%20deliver%20real%20life%20benefits%20for%20migrants%20and%20governments/more-than-numbers.ashx

 Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) project (Gestión de Información de Movilidad Humana en el Triángulo Norte): https://mic.iom.int/