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Recognizing Their Evolving Migration Roles, Emerging Economies Overhaul Their Immigration Systems

Recognizing Their Evolving Migration Roles, Emerging Economies Overhaul Their Immigration Systems

The rising middle classes in several strongly growing middle-income countries — together with tighter border enforcement in many established immigration destinations — are refashioning the migration landscape for many countries that have long thought of themselves as countries of emigration or transit. Recognizing their new positions in the global mobility system, several governments have begun to put into place structures to proactively manage the flow of people across their borders.

With external border security in both North America and Europe continuing to be a political and policy priority, crossings have become more dangerous and more and more migrants have found their onward movement blocked. The result: they have become indefinite residents in "transit" countries such as Turkey, Morocco, and Mexico.

Issue No. 2 of Top Ten of 2013

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Rise of the Middle Class

At the same time, rising incomes in many economies that border major immigrant destinations such as Europe and the United States are feeding the growth of a new middle class, contributing to these countries becoming destinations in their own right. Mexico and Turkey, for example, have each seen their per capita gross national income (GNI) more than double over the past ten years. As incomes rise, demand for certain services often provided by immigrant labor (such as caring or cleaning services, and more broadly, seasonal work) has also increased — as has the need for systems to accommodate the circulation of high-skilled international professionals.

While the share of foreign-born residents in these countries remains low in comparison with established immigration destinations, for countries that perceive themselves primarily as sources of international migration, growth in migrant stocks has been significant. In Mexico, the foreign-born population has grown by an average annual rate of almost 6 percent since 2000, while in Turkey it has risen by around 3 percent per year.

Developing Legal Frameworks

Until recently many of these states lacked the legal framework to manage their changing migration realities. Recognizing the need for a more comprehensive management of mobility, as well as the need to deal proactively with those already living within their borders, governments have begun taking steps to put into place new, forward-looking legal frameworks to govern immigration.

In April 2013, Turkey adopted a new Law on Foreigners and International Protection, comprehensively changing the country's migration management system. The law not only lays out procedures for granting visas and international protection, it also establishes a new Directorate General for Migration Management within the Interior Ministry with authority to implement the new law.

Most importantly, the law creates a Migration Policies Board that brings together the Undersecretaries of all relevant government ministries, the Presidency of Turks Abroad, and the General Director for Migration Management to monitor the implementation of migration policy and develop new strategies and procedures through secondary legislation (regulation). The Migration Policies Board also has the authority, with guidance from the Ministry of Labor, to determine the number of foreign workers needed annually by the Turkish labor market, and is responsible for ensuring cooperation and coordination with non-national government stakeholders, such as NGOs, universities, international organizations, and local government. The existence of the board institutionalizes cooperation between many of the most relevant migration actors and seeks to ensure a whole-of-government — and whole-of-society — approach to migration policymaking.

Mexico also has taken steps to create a more comprehensive migration governance framework. In 2011, the Mexican Congress unanimously approved a sweeping law that seeks to develop a migration policy that, among other things, respects migrants' human rights, facilitates the international movement of people, meets the country's labor needs, ensures equality between Mexican natives and immigrants, and facilitates the return and reintegration of Mexican emigrants. The initial provisions took effect at the end of 2012, making 2013 the first full year under the new legislation. The law goes a long way toward accepting Mexico's recent reality as a country of immigration — increasingly a fact in the country's public discourse — creating simplified visa streams and a legal framework to govern immigration decision-making that reduces the amount of discretion held by individual officials.

While Morocco is not yet as far as Turkey or Mexico in its policy development, the government in September 2013 took an important step toward developing a legal migration framework. Saying that he recognized that Morocco had become a "host country" for immigration, King Mohammed VI announced the government would begin developing a new comprehensive immigration policy over the next few months. This announcement was followed in October by the unveiling of a plan to legalize between 25,000 and 40,000 unauthorized migrants in Morocco. The program would seek to regularize the status of unauthorized migrants on a case-by-case basis and aim to align Morocco's asylum procedures with international standards.

The legal frameworks that countries such as Morocco, Turkey, and Mexico have begun to put into place represent an important step toward recognizing their new role as migration destinations and taking control of their immigration futures. The full impact of these new systems will only become clear several years after they have been fully implemented, and further policy development and fine-tuning will likely be needed as labor market and migration trends evolve.


MPI Research


Agence France Presse. 2013. Eyeing EU, Turkey adopts migration and asylum law. April 5, 2013. Available online.

---. 2013. Morocco unveils 'avant-garde' scheme to recognize illegal immigrants. November 12, 2013. Available online.

Papademetriou, Demetrios G., Doris Meissner, and Eleanor Sohnen. 2013. Thinking Regionally to Compete Globally: Leveraging Migration & Human Capital in the U.S., Mexico, and Central America. Migration Policy Institute. Available online.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2013. International Migration 2013. Available online.

World Bank. 2013. World Development Indicators- GNI per capita, PPP. World DataBank, Available online.