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.
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 governance: https://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/