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October 2017, Volume 23, Number 4

Global Migration

The UN General Assembly in September 2016 proposed a Global Compact for "safe, orderly, and regular" migration led by of Mexico and Switzerland to develop a compact to be signed by UN member states in Fall 2018. There will be a separate Global Compact on Refugees to more equitably share the burden of hosting the world's refugees.

The goal of both compacts is to develop common principles to strengthen global governance of migration and to promote the positive contributions of migrants, including migrant workers.

What does better global migration governance mean? For two centuries, economists have been preaching the virtues of freer trade, arguing that comparative advantage ensures that most people in trading countries are better off because the winners from trade win more than losers lose, so that winners can compensate losers and leave everyone better off.

Improving trade governance led to the World Trade Organization, which facilitates the reduction of barriers to trade by allowing governments to use reciprocity and most-favored-nation (MFN) as the basis of negotiations. Reciprocity means that governments offer concessions, such as reducing tariffs, in the hope of winning similar concessions from other countries. MFN means that any concession granted to one WTO member must be granted to all 164 member countries. Governments can complain to the WTO if another member country violates free-trade rules.

The WTO, a "related organization" of the UN rather than one of the UN's specialized agencies, reduces barriers to trade by organizing negotiating rounds for governments that can last a decade or more. Globalization in the 1990s and the increasing number of developing country WTO member states prompted the Doha Development Round in 2001 to reduce barriers to trade in agricultural products, where developing countries often have a comparative advantage, to protect the intellectual property rights of firms often based in industrial countries, and to ensure that freer trade accelerated development.

The Doha round stalled, in part because countries at very different levels of development did not have symmetric interests. For example, opening the US market to more farm goods from developing countries does not necessarily lead to more airplane sales to a poor country where few people can afford to fly.

Improving migration governance is unlikely to lead to a parallel World Migration Organization for several reasons. First, there are often differing interests between developing and industrial countries that make migration akin to agriculture in trade negotiations. Developing countries have a surplus of low-skilled workers that some governments would like to encourage to move to richer countries so they have wage-paying jobs and generate remittances. Industrial countries are divided. Employers such as farmers are eager to hire low-skilled migrants who are willing to accept low wages and tough working conditions, but most governments aim to protect native low-skill workers with rising minimum wages and labor standards.

Second, trade and migration are fundamentally different. The goal of freer trade is to lower barriers to movement of goods such as cars and TVs that move over national borders, but does not deal with the safety of goods in the process of movement. By contrast, safe, orderly and regular migration says nothing about how many migrants should move over national borders, only that those who move should move under safe, orderly and regular conditions.

Improving migration governance means agreeing on a normative framework to protect the people who cross borders. This has proven to be difficult. ILO Convention 97 in 1949, when people were being reshuffled in Europe after WWII, enshrined the principle of non-discrimination in the workplace. This means that all workers should receive the same wages to avoid future conflicts, as when governments intervene in other countries to protect "their" compatriots.

ILO Convention 143 in 1975, after most European countries stopped recruiting guest workers, called on governments to enact sanctions against employers who hired unauthorized workers and to integrate settled guest workers and their families.

As unauthorized migration rose in the 1980s, some governments tried to protect their citizens abroad. These efforts culminated in the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families to reaffirm the rights of legal and irregular migrants.

ILO and UN "migrant rights" conventions have been ratified by fewer than 50 countries, almost all migrant senders, suggesting that negotiations dominated by migrant-sending governments can lead to hollow global instruments. All persons have basic human rights under fundamental UN human rights conventions that they retain when they are outside their country of citizenship, but it has been difficult to win agreement on additional migrant rights.

There is little agreement on exactly what a robust migration regime should include? Should it focus on the rights of migrants, or should a global migration regime emphasize the benefits of workers moving to higher wage countries? Most international migration is regional, involving people who move to a nearby richer country, suggesting more potential for regional rather than global migration agreements.

Jordan Compact. Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon host over four million Syrian refugees, including 655,000 in Jordan, although some estimates suggest that there are a million Syrians in Jordan. Jordan, a country of 10 million that includes 30 percent foreigners, has been receiving $700 million a year in donor grants to help care for the Syrian refugees in the country.

The unemployment rate for Jordanians is 16 percent, and 30 percent for youth, prompting the government to restrict the right of Syrians to work in order to preserve jobs for Jordanians. However, the Jordan Compact of February 2016 offered the government $1.7 billion in grants and low-interest loans if Syrians were allowed to work. After Jordan issues 200,000 work permits to Syrians, its products will be able to enter the EU without tariffs.

Businesses located in 18 special economic zones (SEZs) throughout Jordan can get preferential access to the EU market by having at least 15 percent Syrians in their workforce during through 2018 and 25 percent Syrians after 2018. Jordan has a large garment industry, accounting for 20 percent of its GDP, that relies on Asian guest workers to produce clothing for the US market under the Jordan-US free-trade agreement.

Jordan obtained over $900 million in funding for the compact by February 2017, but had issued fewer than 39,000 work permits to Syrians during the agreement's first year. Legal Syrians are entitled to the minimum wage of 220 Jordanian dinars ($311) a month and social security. Explanations for why so few Syrians applied for work permits range from the preference of some Syrians to continue receiving aid from NGOs to fears that having regular employment in Jordan would dim their chances of being selected for resettlement outside Jordan.

UNESCO. The US in October 2017 announced that it was withdrawing from the UNESCO, the Paris-based UN agency that promotes international cooperation in areas of education, science, culture and communication. The US withdrew in 1980 and rejoined in 2003, but since 2011 has withheld $550 million in funds because UNESCO gave membership to the Palestinian territories. Israel announced that it would also leave UN.

UNESCO in 2017 had designated 1,073 World Heritage sites in 167 countries, including 832 cultural, 206 natural, and 35 mixed, including 53 in Italy, 52 in China, 46 in Spain, 43 in France and 42 in Germany.