Complex Relationship Between Migration and Development Suggests Narrowly Targeted Assistance May Do Little to Reduce Migration and Could Increase It in Short Term
WASHINGTON — As policymakers in Europe and other high-income countries search for ways to reduce unmanaged migration, they are paying new attention to addressing the drivers of migration, in particular the lack of economic opportunities in countries of origin.
The logic, embedded in the European Commission’s 2015 European Agenda on Migration for example, suggests that if development assistance can improve livelihood prospects in countries of migrant origin, outward migration will decrease.
A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) policy brief cautions that the nature of migrant decision-making and the complex relationship between migration and development suggest development assistance may be a blunt tool for reshaping migration patterns—and indeed one that could increase migration flows over the short term.
“Initiatives that focus narrowly on building household assets through ‘livelihoods development’ activities … without simultaneously creating opportunities to use these new assets locally may end up intensifying rather than redirecting migration ambitions by removing barriers to emigration without addressing the reasons it occurs in the first place,” write MPI researchers Susan Fratzke and Brian Salant.
The brief, Moving Beyond “Root Causes:” The Complicated Relationship between Development and Migration, notes that numerous studies have found that, as countries become richer and their citizens have more resources at their disposal, emigration increases, at least initially. And while employment may decrease the likelihood that an individual will migrate in some contexts, in others it appears to increase those prospects.
Little solid research has been done on the extent to which development policies reshape migration, but the brief suggests shifting the focus of development assistance away from increasing individuals’ skills and assets toward the creation of opportunities at the local, regional or national level. Investments in the broader economic or governance structures that are a prerequisite for economic growth and stability may offer more alternatives to emigration in the long run. In the shorter term, destination-country policymakers may need to accept the idea of working with, rather than against, migration trends to reap the development benefits of migration.
“Where migration has become a well-established strategy for dealing with risk or getting ahead, achieving a complete and quick reversal of this dynamic is unlikely, and efforts to do so may do more harm than good,” the authors write. “Instead, looking for ways to facilitate safe and legal migration, particularly at the regional level, may offer a more realistic solution.”
The brief is the second in a series, “Towards the Global Compact for Migration: A Development Perspective,” that results from a partnership between MPI and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The series aims to provide evidence and policy ideas to the negotiations for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
Additional briefs in the series will be published over the next few months, and will be collected here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/international-program/global-compact-migration.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.