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Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century
Managing Labor Migration in the Twenty-First Century


Occupational Distribution of Employed Workers, March 2002
Occupational Distribution of Employed Workers, March 2002

January 2011 Volume 18 Number 1

IOM: World Migration Report

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been publishing a biennial World Migration Report (WMR) since 2000. Its fifth report, released in November 2010, focused on Building Capacities for Change in governments to improve migration management. IOM noted that the number of international migrants rose from 150 million in 2000 to 214 million in 2010. If current trends continue, there could be 405 million international migrants in 2050.

The Building Capacities report has two parts. Part A reviews migration management challenges in six areas; Part B reviews global and regional migration trends. For each challenge, there is a 10-step outline of the migration challenge and suggestions for building government capacity to deal with it.

Chapter three covers labor mobility. The labor forces of developing countries are expected to increase over the next two decades by about the current size of the labor force in industrial countries, 600 million. The challenge is to deal with the combination of rural-urban migration and youth bulges in developing countries amidst aging and shrinking labor forces in industrial countries. The report asserts that migration from developing to industrial countries is part of the answer: "Real demand exists at both high- and low-skilled levels for migrant labour [in industrial countries] but, in the absence of adequate legal channels for migration, this demand is met, in many instances, through irregular migration or employment, reflecting the continuing dependency of economies in many parts of the developed world on cheap, unprotected migrant labor." (p11).

Managing labor mobility, according to the WMR, begins with assessing labor market "needs" for migrants, protecting migrants during recruitment and employment, and assisting migrants to return and reintegrate. Employers set the legal labor mobility system in motion by requesting permission to hire migrant workers; the challenge for governments is how to respond. The WMR discusses the two ends of the response spectrum: set an annual quota and give employers easy access to migrants, with the quota serving to protect local workers, or require employers to undergo labor certification, that is, try to recruit local workers under government supervision on a job-by-job basis. Most labor certification systems do not cap the number of work permits.

The WMR discusses the MOUs and bilateral agreements that regulate the movement of some migrant workers and highlights examples of IOM assisting in the recruitment and return of temporary migrant workers. IOM operates Migrant Resource Centers (MRCs) in some migrant-sending countries to advise potential migrants how to seek a job abroad legally; the WMR suggests that some MRCs could develop eventually into credible recruitment agencies.

Most labor mobility is managed unilaterally, as migrant-receiving governments regulate the entry and employment of foreign workers and migrant-sending governments regulate migrant recruitment and departures. The WMR favors MOUs and bilateral agreements instead of unilateral migration management schemes. It mentions favorably government programs that aim to help returning migrants to re-integrate into the local labor force.

Chapter four covers irregular migration. It emphasizes that 85 to 90 percent of international migration is legal, and that some unauthorized migration occurs because migrant-sending and ?receiving countries do not open sufficient legal channels. The chapter lays out a ten-step process to deal with irregular migration, beginning with better data and regularization and ending with partnerships and cooperation. As with labor mobility, the chapter asserts that guest worker programs can reduce irregular migration: "Establishing legal work programs or increasing the number and types of work permits issued can provide an alternative to irregular migration for some migrants." (p37).

Chapter five deals with migration and development. It recommends that migrant-sending governments include migration in their development plans (many governments use the level of formal remittances as a shorthand measure of the benefits of international migration) and grant special privileges to citizens who remit and invest. Governments can create links to their diasporas abroad to encourage trade and investment links. A major recommendation is to promote circular migration, defined by the GFMD in 2007 as "the fluid movement of people between countries?linked to labor needs of countries of origin and destination, can be beneficial to all involved." (p53) It is not yet clear whether, after creating the data bases to match local workers and jobs, and negotiating circular mobility agreements, the resulting remittances and development impact justify the high upfront investments.

Similarly, the report says that proposals to "train to retain" health-care and other professionals by not giving them degrees recognized in other countries, or following ethical recruitment guidelines that do not target public health care workers for foreign jobs, may limit the ability of individuals in developing countries to achieve their potential.

Chapter six deals with integration, chapter seven with environmental change, and chapter eight with migration governance. The report concludes that climate change is more likely to contribute to internal than international migration, and both developing and industrial country governments are urged to invest more in migration management. The ten-step plan to better migration governance begins with a national migration policy or plan that sets out national priorities while adhering to international norms. Implementing the national migration plan requires inter-governmental coordination, better data and research, and more sophisticated evaluation of migration policies.

Part B reviews global and regional migration trends. It begins with the UN estimate of 214 million international migrants in 2010, including 57 percent in high-income countries. (p116) The report notes that there are 20 cities with more than a million foreign-born residents (nine are in North America), and that many of the major destinations of migrants, such as Russia and Germany, are also major origins of migrants (p117).

There are several special migrant populations, such as the 26 million internally displaced persons (almost 20 percent in Sudan), the nine million refugees (which rises to 15 million with people in refugee-like situations and Palestinians), and health care migrants (almost 30 percent of doctors and 10 percent of nurses born in sub-Saharan Africa are abroad). There were 2.8 million international students in 2007; a quarter are from China, India, and Korea, and a third are in the US and the UK (p120).

The regional migration overviews begin with UN migrant stock estimates and the World Bank remittance estimates before turning to the effects of the 2008-09 recession on migration flows. For example, Africa had a migrant stock of 19 million in 2010, as nationals of one sub-Saharan country moved to another. A third of Africa's migrants are in West Africa, where Ivory Coast had 2.4 million migrants in 2010; Ghana 1.9 million; Nigeria, 1.1 million; and Burkina Faso a million. Other significant migration countries include South Africa, which had 1.9 million migrants in 2010; Kenya, 800,000; and Sudan, 750,000.

Most of the 57 million migrants in the Americas were in the US (43 million) and Canada (7.2 million); Argentina with 1.4 million migrants and Venezuela with a million followed. Asia has about 60 percent of the world's people but only 30 percent of the world's migrants. The Asian countries with the most migrants and the highest shares of migrants in their populations are the Gulf states and, except for Dubai, they were among the least severely affected by the 2008-09 recession. Australia had almost five million migrants in 2010, and New Zealand almost a million.

Europe's stock of 73 million migrants was a third of the global total, with 60 percent of Europe's migrants in five countries: Russia, 12 million; Germany 11 million; and France, UK, and Spain about 6.5 million each. The 2008-09 recession increased unemployment significantly among foreign and foreign-born workers, but most stayed in the higher-wage countries to which they had moved rather than return to countries that were suffering even more. Policy changes in countries from Russia to the UK aim to reduce the influx of migrant workers, but return bonus programs in the Czech Republic and Spain attracted few jobless migrants who agreed to leave and not return.

IOM's fourth WMR in 2008 dealt with labor mobility, aiming to highlight "policy options that might contribute to the development of broad and coherent strategies to better match demand for migrant workers with supply in safe, humane and orderly ways." Mobility is used to emphasize departure and return while migration, according to the WMR, emphasizes departure and settlement abroad. Part A reviews trends in international labor migration, separating high- and low-skilled migrants, students, and internal and irregular migration. Part B discusses policy responses to improve labor migration management, highlighting pilot programs that move migrant workers over national borders to achieve development and other goals.

The introduction to WMR 2008 notes that there were 191 million international migrants in 2005 and summarizes five causal factors that stimulate international migration, that is, demographic and economic differences between nation states, globalization or trade liberalization, and demand-pull in aging industrial countries matched by supply-push in youthful developing countries (p3). Revolutions in communications and transportation that reduce migration costs, as well as more rights for individuals, enable more people to learn about opportunities abroad, move to take advantage of them, and remain abroad.

Chapter one reviews globalization, contrasting the rising shares of trade in GDP and foreign stocks in investor portfolios, both about 15 percent, with the stable three percent international migrant share of the global labor force. The chapter reviews estimates of the gains from more labor migration, citing a $200 billion estimated gain from increasing the number of developing country workers in industrial countries. Migrants and their employers would receive most of the benefits, and WMR 2008 says that the distribution of the benefits of migration depends on "how the movements are actually channeled and managed." (p43)

Chapter two turns to highly skilled migration, noting that 10 percent of developing country nationals with at least two-years of college education have moved to industrial countries. There were about 40 million adult immigrants living in OECD countries in 1990, and almost 60 million in 2000. About 40 percent were considered skilled. A quarter of these 24 million skilled immigrants in OECD countries were from developing countries, suggesting that six million skilled immigrants in OECD countries in 2000 were from developing countries.

Chapter three deals with low-skilled migration, emphasizing distortion in migrant-receiving countries as some employers and sectors depend on migrants willing to work for low wages, and dependence in sending countries, as migrants, their families, and regions and governments rely on foreign jobs and remittances. In seeking to send more low-skilled migrants abroad, governments may have to confront trade offs between migrant numbers and migrant rights, especially labor market rights that have costs, such as the cost of providing equal wages and benefits.

Chapter four deals with international students, distinguishing between policies that aim to help educational institutions maximize revenue by admitting and charging international students versus policies that treat international students as probationary immigrants, as when graduates who get job offers from employers can stay and work. Chapter five deals with tourism, chapter six with family migration, and chapter seven with internal migration. Chapter eight deals with irregular migration.

The chapters in Part B begin with the need for improved data and research. Chapter 10 covers the integration of guest workers in receiving countries and human development policies in sending countries, while Chapter 11 deals with managing labor migration in destination countries. Chapter 12 covers migration and development, Chapter 13 reviews the global standards-based framework for managing migration, such as ILO and UN Conventions, the evolving WTO GATS negotiations, and regional agreements and consultative processes. Chapter 14 concludes with a 10-point plan to improve migration management that centers on persuading governments to anticipate labor migration and develop policies to make it legal and useful to the development of migrant-sending areas.

IOM. 2010. World Migration Report 2010 - The Future of Migration: Building Capacities for Change. IOM. 2008. World Migration Report 2008: Managing Labour Mobility in the Evolving Global Economy.
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