The Regional Migration Study Group was an MPI-led initiative that aims to promote human-capital development in North and Central America as a key to strengthening the competitiveness of the region as a whole.
Migration shapes and defines the U.S. relationship with Mexico and, increasingly, much of Central America to an extraordinary degree. Thus, getting migration and the issues that fuel and surround it right is vital to the region’s long-term stability, prosperity, and its competitiveness in a fast-changing and unforgiving global economy. Yet prior to the Study Group’s inception in 2010 there were few systematic conversations about what a collaborative, regional approach to these issues might look like.
What Has Been Done?
In the three years since its founding, the Regional Migration Study Group—consisting of two dozen former officials, civil-society leaders, policy intellectuals, and specialists in the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and co-chaired by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, and former Guatemalan Vice President and Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein—pursued its mission to develop and promote a longer-term vision of how to build a stronger social and economic foundation for the region by enhancing the region’s human-capital infrastructure.
The Study Group's First Phase
The first phase of the Study Group's work culminated with a final report that outlines the powerful demographic, economic, and social forces reshaping Mexico and much of Central America and changing longstanding migration dynamics with the United States. With 14 findings and recommendations for policymakers in the region, the report offers a forward-looking, pragmatic agenda, focusing on new collaborative approaches on migration and human-capital development to strengthen regional competitiveness. Read the final report here.
In the Study Group’s first phase (2010-2013), MPI joined forces with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin America Program/Mexico Institute, a partnership that was named one of the top 20 collaborative relationships among think tanks by the 2013 Global Go To Think Tank Index, published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program. In the same ranking, the Study Group’s ground-breaking report Thinking Regionally to Compete Globally: Leveraging Migration & Human Capital in the U.S., Mexico, and Central America was named the 11th best report in the world produced by a think tank in 2012-2013.
This core report marked the culmination of the Study Group members’ thinking and analysis, laid out in 29 publications (21 reports, and a special issue of eight articles in MPI’s online journal, the Migration Information Source), biannual formal meetings, and regular meetings and briefings with policymakers throughout the region.
The key lesson from this work is that building up the region’s human capital—through education and workforce development reforms that gradually develop common standards in key sectors across the region—will offer better economic opportunities for the region’s citizens, creating an engine for growth in each country and strengthening the region’s competitiveness.
In the second phase, the Study Group promoted its recommendations with policymakers, the business sector, and civil society in the region, and worked on further projects to develop and certify human capital. Focus issues that guide the thinking in 2015 and beyond are human-capital development in high-growth sectors with large pools of available jobs in the middle-skill range. Vocational and technical education skills are key in 21st century labor markets where jobs for workers are not necessarily secured by attaining the highest educational levels, but by making smarter educational choices.
The Study Group also identified and promoted regional efforts for the harmonization of qualifications and standards across North and Central America. Expected benefits from adopting common regional standards—including in education, program accreditation, and licensure and registration regulations—abound: Increased quality of educational standards, greater collaboration and knowledge exchange across borders through the building of denser networks between educational and training institutions, and the potential for greater mobility are among the low-hanging fruits common standards can create.
For these fruits to ripen in the future, however, collaboration across sectors is indispensable. The Study Group gave special emphasis to concrete on-the-ground initiatives in the region, fostering an inclusive approach bringing together stakeholders from the private sector, civil society, governments, and intergovernmental organizations alike. Combined with high-level consultations with the regions’ key policymakers, the Study Group worked to shape the discussion around complex issues of human-capital development, and to provide policy recommendations grounded in nonpartisan research, delivering facts and evidence.