15 June 2006

In a series of articles published by several international papers, Secretary General Kofi Annan highlighted the link between immigration and development. In support of that welcome communications initiative, we join in sharing the main points made by the Secretary General who proposed a standing forum led by all 191 Member States. Governments could share ideas and discuss best practices and policies related to international migration and how this phenomenon ties in with global development.

Presenting a wide-ranging 90-page report entitled "International migration and development" to the General Assembly, Mr. Annan described the exhaustive study as "an early road map for this new era of mobility," and said that "the advantages that migration brings are not as well understood as they should be."

At the same time, Mr. Annan stressed that his proposal for a government-led consultative forum on migration and development would not produce negotiated outcomes or recommendations, but rather would make new policy ideas more widely known, add value to existing regional consultations, and encourage an integrated approach to migration and development at both the national and international levels.

In his Forward to the report, he also said that such a forum would "allow governments to establish a common understanding, based upon the best evidence, on the areas of migration policymaking that have the greatest potential to contribute to development."

"Most of all, such a forum would maintain our focus on international migration issues, while signalling that international migration is a normal but crucial element in the development process."

Migrants not only take on necessary jobs seen as less desirable by the established residents of host countries, the report finds, but also stimulate demand and improve economic performance overall. They also help to shore up pension systems in countries with ageing populations.

For their part, developing countries benefit from an estimated $167 billion a year sent home by migrant workers. The exodus of talent from poor countries to more prosperous often poses a severe development loss. But in many countries this is at least partially compensated by migrants’ later return to, and/or investment in, their home countries, where profitable new businesses are established.

"It is for governments to decide whether more or less migration is desirable," the Secretary-General says in his introduction. "Our focus in the international community should be on the quality and safety of the migration experience and on what can be done to maximize its development benefits."

Migration has become a major feature of international life. People living outside their home countries numbered 191 million in 2005 -- 115 million in developed countries, 75 million in the developing world. One third of all current immigrants in the world have moved from one developing country to another, while about the same number have moved from the developing world to the developed. In other words, ‘South-South’ migration is roughly as common as ‘South-North,’ according to the report. But migration to countries designated as "high-income" -- a category which includes some developing countries, such as the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- has grown much faster than to the rest of the world.

Furthermore, migration is not a zero-sum game, the report finds. It can benefit both sending and receiving countries at once. Significantly, many countries once known for emigration -- Ireland, the Republic of Korea and Spain among them -- now boast thriving economies and host large numbers of immigrants.

The report reviews several promising policy developments, such as multiple-entry visas that provide more fluid and better regulated access to needed immigrant workers, support for immigrant entrepreneurship and host-country training programmes, international cooperation to increase training of skilled workers in migrant-sending countries to allay ‘brain drain,’ and country-of-origin outreach to overseas diasporas.

It also recognizes governments’ right to decide who is allowed to enter their territory, subject to international treaty obligations, as well as their capacity to work together to upgrade economic and social benefits at both ends of the migrant voyage, and to promote the well-being of the migrants themselves.

"We find that while countries share people through migration, they often neglect to share knowledge about how to manage the movement of people," Mr. Annan writes. "We need to learn more systematically from each other."

Traditionally considered too controversial for a global institution to handle, the issue of international migration has recently been moving up the UN agenda. Last year, the independent Global Commission on International Migration presented a report and recommendations to the Secretary-General, while in 2005, the International Labour Organization adopted a non-binding Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration.

A Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Peter Sutherland, is now engaged in preliminary talks with governments, leading up to a "high-level dialogue" to be held by the General Assembly on 14 and 15 September, focusing on the relationship between migration and development. The report is intended to spur that discussion.