Human Development Report 2009 - Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development

06 Oct 2009


Migration not infrequently gets a bad press. Negative stereotypes portraying migrants as ‘stealing our jobs’ or ‘scrounging off the taxpayer’ abound in sections of the media and public opinion, especially in times of recession. For others, the word ‘migrant’ may evoke images of people at their most vulnerable. This year’s Human
Development Report, Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development, challenges such stereotypes. It seeks to broaden and rebalance perceptions of migration to reflect a more complex and highly variable reality.


This report breaks new ground in applying a human development approach to the study of migration. It discusses who migrants are, where they come from and go to, and why they move. It looks at the multiple impacts of migration for all who are affected by it—not just those who move, but also those who stay.


In so doing, the report’s findings cast new light on some common misconceptions. For example, migration from developing to developed countries accounts for only a minor fraction of human movement. Migration from one developing economy to another is much more common.


Most migrants do not go abroad at all, but instead move within their own country. Next, the majority of migrants, far from being victims, tend to be successful, both before they leave their original home and on arrival in their new one. Outcomes in all aspects of human development, not only income but also education and health, are for the most part positive—some immensely so, with people from the
poorest places gaining the most.


Reviewing an extensive literature, the report finds that fears about migrants taking the jobs or lowering the wages of local people, placing an unwelcome burden on local services, or costing the taxpayer money, are generally exaggerated.
When migrants’ skills complement those of local people, both groups benefit. Societies as a whole may also benefit in many ways—ranging from rising levels of technical innovation to increasingly diverse cuisine to which migrants contribute.
The report suggests that the policy response to migration can be wanting. Many governments institute increasingly repressive entry regimes, turn a blind eye to health and safety violations by employers, or fail to take a lead in educating the public on the benefits of immigration.


By examining policies with a view to expanding people’s freedoms rather than controlling or restricting human movement, this report proposes a bold set of reforms. It argues that, when tailored to country-specific contexts, these changes can amplify human mobility’s already substantial contributions to human


The principal reforms proposed centre around six areas, each of which hasimportant and complementary contributions to make to human development: opening up existing entry channels so that more workers can emigrate; ensuring basic rights for migrants; lowering the transaction costs of migration; finding solutions that benefit both destination communities and the migrants they receive; making it easier for people to move within their own countries; and mainstreaming migration into national development strategies.


The report argues that while many of these reforms are more feasible than at first thought, they nonetheless require political courage. There may also be limits to governments’ ability to make swift policy changes while the recession persists.

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