This report summarizes the presentations and conversation that took place during the Migration Policy Institute-Migration Information Source meeting on "Using Remittances and Circular Migration as Drivers for Development" hosted by the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California San Diego on April 11 and 12, 2003. The meeting brought together 20 international experts from academia, research institutions, government, and multilateral organizations. The fields of expertise represented included demography, geography, refugee protection, development economics, sociology and immigration law and policy, reflecting the complex and diverse array of issues relevant to "migration and development." The goals of the meeting were to:
The synopses below closely track the agenda of the meeting, but also reflect the broad range of related issues that arose in the course of discussion.
I. Migration and Development: What's New, What's Old, What's Out
Introduction: Migration and development have been discussed together for well over 30 years. The meeting began with a critical overview of thought on the topic, aimed at discarding flawed concepts, reviewing old debates and identifying new trends. Rather than attempting to settle questions that have long resisted conclusive answers, the meeting focused on building the knowledge base needed to develop coherent policies that maximize the development potential of migration. Discussion was guided by realism about the limited ability of the state to influence positively migration outcomes and by recognition of the determination, hard work, and contributions of migrants themselves. There is a growing awareness of the need to move discussion away from a single-minded focus on state policy to one that also looks at migrants themselves; several attendees spoke of a need for "immigrant policies" in addition to "immigration policies."
Advances in research and thinking on migration informed this discussion. Old themes have reemerged in new contexts, new trends have been studied, and difficult debates continue.
Old and discredited ideas:
Old, but reemerging ideas:
An Enduring Debate: Migration continues to raise difficult questions about the nature of development itself. On one level, development is the alleviation of poverty, and migration clearly contributes to this. Migration that results in remittances raises the incomes of the families of migrants and sustains many poor households. Much of that additional income is spent on debt repayment, housing, food, and basic health care and education, roughly in that order. Thus, migration and remittances contribute to progress toward some of the UN's 8 Millennium Development Goals.
On another level, however, development entails long-term structural change: improvements in knowledge, human capital, and infrastructure and the creation of efficient and accessible markets, governments, public services, and other institutions. When viewed through this second lens of development, the effects of migration become more complicated. Some analysts worry that migration, rather than promoting the structural changes needed for development, may actually delay them while creating unsustainable local and family economies. This argument draws a parallel to natural resource windfalls and posits that migration's potential is squandered if it raises incomes without boosting human capital and institutional capacity. According to this line of thought, migration may rob developing countries of their most motivated and innovative people, delaying institutional change. Further, the world's very poorest do not often migrate internationally, blunting migration's impact on poverty.
This philosophical bend does not necessarily lead to different research and policy prescriptions, however. Whether or not labor export constitutes "real" economic development, widespread agreement exists that stopping migration is neither possible nor desirable. Instead, public policy should focus on maximizing the development benefits of migration by increasing the positive impact of remittances and taking advantage of the learning and business opportunities offered by circular migration and the transnational connections that migrants create. No matter where they stand in this debate, experts agree that remittances and the other benefits of migration are the private rewards to the exceptional hard work, risk and initiative of the migrant. Public policy made in the name of economic development must first and foremost reflect this reality: that the basic units of migration, and the most important actors for development, are migrants themselves, not the state. In particular, policies toward remittances must enhance the opportunities available to migrants and their families through innovative financial instruments and incentive-based programs that also further broader development goals.
II. New Issues Related to Circular Migration
Introduction: The popular legend of immigration is that migrants move to a receiving country, settle there permanently and are assimilated into a new culture. The reality is that this story represents an increasingly smaller proportion of all migration: a growing proportion migration is circular (migrants return to their sending country, once or many times over a period of time) and "transnational" (migrants move to migrant communities in one or more receiving countries while maintaining strong social, business, and political ties to the sending country.) Although this shift is not as obvious or pronounced for all immigrant groups, these new paradigms of migration represent a potential lever for development: financial, human and social capital gained abroad can have powerful benefits for the source country if migrants return or maintain strong ties. Unfortunately, migration policy still has not addressed these predominant forms of migration and remains grounded in the binary concepts of "permanent" and "temporary" migration. Innovation is needed to help sending countries promote circular migration and use it for development and to assist labor importing countries in developing better temporary labor migration programs.
New knowledge and developments in circular migration
Temporary labor migration: The good, the bad, and the difference.A first step toward integrating circularity into our policy frameworks will be to devise temporary labor migration programs that work well. Experience with temporary labor migration has not been universally positive for migrants, sending countries or receiving countries, but good models and clear lessons do exist.
The good: Mexico's temporary agricultural labor program with Canada has been generally successful both in protecting worker rights and promoting circularity. The Mexican government recruits workers for jobs arranged through a Canadian employer's association. The agencies involved certify and monitor both workers and employers. Last year, 12,500 workers participated. In 28 years of operation, no Mexican migrants are thought to have overstayed their visa, only 5% have returned before their visa expired and a number of workers return to the same employer year after year. Switzerland, too, has had a successful temporary visa program that allows migrants to work in the hotel and service industry for nine months per year. Participation in the program has reflected the ongoing development of the sending countries: Southwestern European migrants have been gradually replaced by eastern European workers.
The bad: Temporary labor programs have an enormous potential for abuse, particularly when they are unilaterally administered and their rules are not carefully enforced by the receiving authorities. H-2A and H-2B visas granted by the U.S., the overwhelming majority of which go to Mexicans, are tied to specific jobs. The system gives employers and recruiters an enormous amount of power over migrants; with little regulation and enforcement on either side of the border, migrants may pay a recruiter for a visa only to end up working for sub-standard wages or conditions. In practice, the system may also be encouraging illegal, long-term stays.
The difference: Future temporary labor migration programs should:
III. New Issues Related to Remittances
Introduction: Remittances sent back by migrants continue to be a powerful financial force in developing countries. Many countries, such as Jordan, Nicaragua, or El Salvador receive remittances estimated to total 10% or more of GNP. After foreign direct investment and trade-related earnings, remittances are the largest financial flow into developing countries, far larger than official development assistance. Unlike development aid, remittances are spent directly by the families of migrants, so in many respects remittances are a very efficient way to raise the incomes of people in poor countries. However, the costs of transmitting remittances remain high and the wider development effects of remittances are far from clear. There are ways that policy can make remittances a more effective development tool, but interventions must be prudent, incentive-based and informed by further research. New Knowledge and Developments in Remittances
Comments on Policy toward Remittances
IV. Data and Research needs
Introduction: Better data and better-guided research is needed to inform policy on migration and development. In particular, migration research needs to focus on and understand better circular and temporary migration, look more at the community and long-term effects of migration and reconcile differences in research and data collection methods with economists and financial institutions. Particular needs brought up by issues in migration and development include:
Summary Remarks: As evidenced by the number and range of data and research needs identified, migration and development is a field where unanswered questions and unsettled debates still abound. A few clear points emerge, however:
Policymakers and researchers alike must not forget that the fundamental units of migration are migrants themselves. Policies must be built around migrants to give them incentives and disincentives that further both the aims of receiving countries and the development aspirations of sending countries.