Discussion on Migration and Development: Using Remittances and Circular Migration as Drivers for Development
Although the relationship between migration and development has been widely discussed and debated for more than 30 years, a number of unanswered questions and unsettled debates remain. On April 11 and 12, 2003, the Migration Policy Institute-Migration Information Source meeting on “Using Remittances and Circular Migration as Drivers for Development” held at the University of California, San Diego sought to advance the dialogue. This report summarizes the key talking points of the meeting and offers some key summary remarks.
The report traces the evolution of thought on migration and development, discussing old and discredited ideas as well as new and emerging trends. Specifically, the report finds that a renewed interest in understanding the role of remittances, currently outpacing the growth in official development assistance, in development has materialized as discussions over migration’s implications on “brain drain” have shifted towards discussions of “brain gain” and “brain circulation.” In addition, the report also notes the rise of “replacement” migration flows which link the migration patterns of, for example, Canadian, South African and Cuban doctors. Recognizing that migration often fosters an exchange of ideas and practices between diasporas and home countries, the report emphasizes the growing awareness of “political and social remittances.”
The report also provides an overview of new issues related to circular migration and remittances. Despite the increasingly circular and transnational patterns of migration, the author finds that migration policy remains severely limited by binary conceptions of migration as either “temporary” or “permanent.” Nonetheless, the author does note a couple of successful bilateral arrangements, such as the temporary agricultural program established between Canada and Mexico, that have proven successful in promoting both the protection of worker rights and circularity. Noting the increasingly important role of remittances to domestic economies, the report highlights that in countries such as Jordan, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, remittances account for 10% or more of total GNP. Furthermore, following foreign direct investment and trade, remittances, which can offer an effective means to increase the household-level income of the poor, represent the largest financial flow to developing countries.
In addition to discussing the need for better informed data and research on migration and development, the report concludes with a handful of summary remarks on which agreement has been reached, namely: that dire consequences will result if governments attempt to limit or control migration; that data collection and public policy on migration and development lag far behind researchers’ more nuanced understanding of migration and development; that migration is closely linked to a number of key development issues, but further coordination and collaboration is needed; and that government policies must see the central role of migrants themselves and offer incentives and disincentives to advance development goals.