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April 2018, Volume 24, Number 2

GCM, Data, IOM

The UN General Assembly in September 2016 proposed a Global Compact for "Safe, Orderly, and Regular" Migration (GCM). The goal is to have world leaders sign the GCM in December 2018 and commit to "common principles" and "action items" to strengthen global governance of migration and to promote the positive contributions of migrants.

The US in December 2017 withdrew from negotiations for the GCM, saying that the 2016 New York Declaration establishing the GCM process includes "numerous provisions that are inconsistent with US immigration and refugee policies and the Trump Administration's immigration principles."

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres in January 2018 acknowledged that international migration is not well managed, but insisted that "public perception? wrongly sees migration as out of control?[leading to] increased mistrust and policies aimed more at stopping than facilitating human movement."

This is not how migration is being discussed in many of the industrial countries that hosted two-thirds of the world's 258 million international migrants in 2017. President Trump has emphasized the crimes committed by some migrants, while leaders of several Eastern European countries used harsh language depicting migrants as criminals or spreading disease and refusing EU demands that they accept some of the migrants arriving in Greece and Italy.

The EU justified its agreement with Turkey that returns migrants who arrive illegally in Greece after March 20, 2016 as an humanitarian gesture aimed at reducing lives lost at sea.

Pope Francis in April 2018 criticized Christians who emphasize opposition to abortion above social causes such as poverty and migration, saying that poor migrants are "equally sacred" to the unborn. The Pope's comments came in an apostolic exhortation, which is below the level of an encyclical. Pope Benedict XVI, by contrast, specified opposition to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage as "nonnegotiable" values for Catholics.

Zero Draft. The Mexican and Swiss GCM coordinators released a "zero draft" of the GCM on February 5, 2018 that includes 22 actionable commitments, from better data to enhancing the portability of social security benefits. The UN aims to review progress toward achieving migration goals with a new International Migration Review Forum every four years beginning in 2022.

The first priority is to obtain better data on migration, followed by a commitment to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030 that aim to speed development so that people migrate out of choice rather than necessity, that is, reduce the push factors. Recommendation three is to provide better information to migrants before departure, while they are en route, and once they are in destinations, and four calls on governments to provide identity documents to migrants.

Recommendation five deals with labor migration. It calls on governments to open "regular pathways" that reflect "demographic and global labor market realities" by developing model labor mobility agreements by sector, such as for agriculture and hotels, and at all skill levels. These pathways into destination countries should reflect labor demand and supply and involve input from local stakeholders. The draft asserts that all migrants should be able to bring or unify their families abroad.

Recommendation six calls for fair and ethical recruitment, including prohibiting recruiters from charging fees to migrant workers and having expansive joint liability, so that the beneficiaries of the work of migrants are jointly accountable for any labor law violations of contractors and subcontractors. This recommendation calls for visa portability, so that a migrant worker recruited by one employer could change to another employer.

Recommendations five and six include "wish list" items likely to be rejected by migrant-receiving countries for several reasons. First, most countries determine whether employers need migrant workers on a job-by-job basis, which means that migrant workers are tied to a particular job that the government agrees cannot be filled by local workers. If governments adopted the GCM recommendation, they would effectively admit a certain number of workers and expect them to find jobs. This might protect them from exploitative employers, but could also leave migrants unemployed and homeless.

Second, matching workers with jobs involves costs, and prohibiting recruiters from charging workers means that job-matching costs must be paid in other ways, such as lower wages. Temp agencies that do not charge workers for jobs also pay them lower wages. Workers who invest in education and earn credentials often find foreign employers who pay any job-matching costs. Someone must pay to match low-skilled workers with jobs, and if employers pay all job-matching costs, they may offer lower wages.

Lower wages may be an acceptable trade off for no worker-paid fees if workers do not have to borrow money to work abroad. Surveys suggest that most low-skilled workers who borrow money to cover migration costs do so at low or no interest from friends and relatives. It may be more useful to coordinate efforts to reduce the very high migration costs of some workers in some corridors rather than embrace a new guest worker model that is not likely to be embraced by the countries to which it is addressed.

The GCM essentially calls for immigration rather than temporary worker programs to move workers over borders. Immigrants may normally arrive with their families and change employers, and can become naturalized citizens within a defined amount of time.

UNSG. The UN secretary general issued a report in January 2018 that said managing migration entails balancing governmental concerns about four major issues: markets or employers requesting workers, the rights of migrant and local workers, culture and language that may be influenced or changed by migration, and security and terrorism concerns. Governments vary in response to these four concerns, and may change their policies in response to particular incidents, especially terrorism.

The report is aimed primarily at governments in countries receiving migrants, and urges them to open doors wider to legal migrant workers, to protect migrant workers during recruitment, employment abroad, and return or re-integration, and to offer temporary protected status to vulnerable migrants who are not refugees but need protection. There are no priorities among the long list of shoulds, and no analysis of the trade offs between competing goods in the recommendations. For example, is there competition between the "goods" of opening doors wider to migrant workers and ensuring that migrant and local workers are fully protected? If yes, which good deserves priority, protecting local or migrant workers?

Similarly, if governments give vulnerable migrants who are not refugees work permits and the right to have their families join them and receive services, will this cause more people to make risky moves? Will the exodus of those most able to seek protection reduce incentives to deal with the underlying issues that are prompting outmigration?

The report's first conclusion that migration's benefits exceed its costs and urges governments to open doors to migrants while being "attentive to the needs of local communities and labor forces" who are affected by migrants. Most of the economics-related recommendations deal with protecting migrants from high recruitment fees and from exploitation while abroad. The report calls on host governments to allow migrants to benefit from the social programs to which they contribute, which may increase migrant worker costs and reduce employer interest in hiring migrants.

The second recommendation calls on destination country governments to open doors wider to migrants satisfy "demand for labor that domestic workers cannot satisfy, but [for which there are] insufficient legal pathways" for migrant workers. Destination countries are asked to anticipate their demographic and labor needs to justify expanding pathways for regular labor migration and family unification. In turn, migrant-sending countries should cooperate to accept the return of irregular migrants. However, some of those who are deported are likely to re-migrate, so destinations should consider regularizing unauthorized migrants. There is no discussion of how to resolve the contradictions in these recommendations.

The third consideration is security in migrant-receiving countries. Governments must protect their borders and determine what foreigners do inside them, but the report criticizes governments that aid in the interception of migrants in transit countries and the detention of migrants who arrive illegally, especially children. The report calls for inter-governmental cooperation against traffickers, and warns against demonizing migrants.

The fourth observation is that many people who move irregularly are vulnerable but are not refugees as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention. It applauds governments that give vulnerable non-refugees such as those displaced by climate change temporary protected status, and urges governments to lay out paths by which those who have had TPS for years can form or unite families and become immigrants and citizens.

The report calls for whole-of-government migration plans, subnational migration policies, a framework for "fair and accessible legal access by migrants at all skill levels to meet labor market needs everywhere," and bi-national agreements to manage labor migration that reduce recruitment fees. There are calls for gender-sensitive migration policies, special protections for child migrants, and calls to respect human rights.

The UNSG's report is a laundry list of "shoulds" for governments, but does not lay out priorities. There is no distinction between the numerous recommendations, such as those that are fundamental and should be implemented immediately and those that are desirable but less urgent. For example, the recommendation to open doors wider to migrant workers should prioritize the fundamental question of whether migrant workers are truly needed.

No UN agency has developed a methodology to determine if there are labor shortages and whether admitting migrant workers is the best way to resolve them, in part because making labor shortage determinations requires weighing competing goods. In market economies, price and wage adjustments bring supply and demand into balance. Employers who cannot find workers are expected to raise wages, which reduces the demand for and increases the supply of labor.

Governments may have reasons NOT to allow normal market adjustments to occur, as when they do not raise the wages of health care workers to avoid raising the taxes that pay their wages. Such trade offs between taxes, wages and shortages underlie many migration dilemmas, and the UNSG report provides no guidance on how to resolve them. Instead, it asks governments to admit migrants, and to ensure that both local and migrant workers are fully protected.

As with the iron triangle of health care, which wants easy access, low cost and high quality, there is a trade off between desirable goals in labor migration that requires policy makers to choose between competing goods. The UNSG report would have been far more useful if it had tackled trade offs in labor migration.

Unrwa. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees was established in 1949 to support Palestinians displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Unrwa is a de facto government in the Gaza strip, operating most schools and health care services, but the largest number of Palestinians, some two million, are served by Unrwa in Jordan.

Unrwa had a $1.25 billion budget in 2016, including $370 million from the US; President Trump reduced the US contribution by $65 million in January 2018.

Unrwa allows refugee status to be passed from parents to children, and does not remove refugee status from those who are resettled in another country, so the number of Unrwa refugees has increased from 700,000 in 1948-49 to 5.2 million in 2017, including 1.7 million who in Unrwa-administered camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Data. The UN reported 258 million international migrants in 2017, up 10 million from 248 million in 2015 and almost a doubling of the 152 million in 1990; 3.4 percent of the world's people lived in another country at least a year (

There were 146 million migrants in more-developed countries, 57 percent, which made almost 12 percent of residents of more-developed countries international migrants. More-developed countries are defined by the UN as those of Europe, Canada and US, Australia and New Zealand and Japan.

A separate category distinguishes high-, middle-, and low-income countries. There were 165 million in high-income countries, 64 percent; high-income and less-developed countries include Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Gulf oil exporters. Middle-income countries such as Mexico, Morocco and Turkey had 32 percent of the world's migrants, and low-income countries from Bangladesh to Zimbabwe had four percent.

The US had the most migrants, 50 million or almost 20 percent, followed by 12.2 million each in Saudi Arabia and Germany; 11.6 million in Russia; 8.6 million in the UK; and 8.3 million in the UAE. The 11 countries that each had six million migrants or more had 53 percent of the total, including France, Canada, Australia, Spain and Italy.

The number of migrants increased by 85 million or almost 50 percent since 2000. Three-fourths of this increase in the stock of migrants was in high-income countries, and half was in more-developed countries, highlighting the importance of distinguishing between high-income and more-developed countries.

High-income countries have a higher share of the world's migrants, but more developed countries like the Gulf oil exporters have not been adding migrants equally. For example, the US accounted for 18 percent of the increase in the migrant stock between 2000 and 2017, slightly less than its 20 percent share in 2017, while Saudi Arabia accounted for eight percent of the increase, less than its five percent share of the 2017 stock.

By region, Europe had 78 million or 30 percent of the migrant stock; Asia, 80 million or 30 percent; and North America, 58 million or 22 percent. Men were 52 percent of the migrant stock in 2017 and women 48 percent.

The highest shares of migrants among residents were in Gulf oil exporters such as the UAE, 88 percent; Kuwait, 76 percent; and Qatar 65 percent. Switzerland had a 30 percent migrant share; Australia, 29 percent; Canada, 22 percent; and the US, 15 percent. Countries with fewer than one percent migrants include Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Vietnam and China.

There were 26 million refugees (including Palestinians) in 2017, including 4.5 million in more developed countries and 21.4 million in less-developed countries. By income, there were 4.2 million refugees in high-income countries, 17.7 million in middle-income, and four million in low-income. Turkey hosted the most refugees, 3.1 million; followed by Jordan, 2.9 million; Lebanon, 1.6 million; Pakistan, 1.4 million; and Germany, 1.3 million.

IOM. IOM launched a portal in December 2017 aimed at making migration data readily available ( While data cannot resolve which of the competing goods should be chosen when dealing with migration issues, data can make these trade offs more visible to policy makers.

The portal uses maps to highlight the fact that almost all countries send and receive migrants. The leading countries of immigration are the US, Germany, and Russia; these three countries accounted for a third of the 244 million international migrants in 2015. The leading countries of emigration are India, Mexico, Russia, and China; these four countries accounted for 20 percent of international migrants in 2015.

Gulf oil exporters have the highest shares of migrants, and population giants such as China and Indonesia have the lowest shares of migrants.

Remittances do not match shares of migrants. The US tops source countries, with outgoing remittances of $138 billion in 2016; followed by Saudi Arabia, $44 billion; UAE, $31 billion; UK, $25 billion; and Canada, $23 billion. India, China, the Philippines and Mexico were the leading recipients of remittances.

The leading individual remittance corridors in 2016 were US to Mexico, $28 billion; US to China $15 billion; US to India, $13 billion; US to the Philippines, $10 billion; and US to Guatemala, $7 billion.

The average cost of sending $200 from one country to another was about seven percent or $14 in September 2017. The World Bank says that banks often charge 11 percent of the amount transferred, Western Union and similar money transfer firms charge six percent, and new mobile phone transfer firms charge three percent. Western Union says that migrants work hard for their money, and want assurance that it will reach intended recipients.

The IOM portal maps a number of policy measures, including whether labor migration policy is restrictive or not. IMPIC rates how restrictive OECD country policies are toward labor migration, and finds Turkey to be most restrictive and Chile and Mexico to be least restrictive, suggesting that countries receiving many migrants suddenly are more restrictive than countries receiving few migrants.

Trafficking. The ILO estimates there are 21 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. In the US, the Department of Justice obtained 500 convictions of traffickers in 2017, while the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 4,460 cases of trafficking in the US in 2017.

The ILO estimated that 168 million children aged five to 17, 11 percent of all children were employed in 2012. Almost 60 percent of employed five- to 17-year olds had farm jobs.

Myanmar. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh between August and December 2017 as the Burmese army retaliated for attacks on police stations by burning Rohingya villages and killing anyone who resisted. Human rights activists described the Rohingya exodus as the largest ethnic cleansing since the Rwanda genocide, a charge denied by Burmese leaders, who call the Rohingya Muslims (kalar). About four percent of Burma's 53 million people are Muslims.

Burma became independent in 1948. The military junta began to restrict the rights of Rohingya in 1962, and made many Rohingya stateless in 1982.

Many Burmese believe that Rohingya Muslims are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. They accuse UN agencies of aiding Rohingya militants and applaud efforts to drive Rohingya Muslims out of the country. De facto Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her resistance to the Burmese military dictatorship, was criticized sharply for refusing to denounce the Burmese military response against the Rohingya.

Bangladesh has 160 million residents on land the size of Iowa, which has three million residents, making it the most densely populated very poor country. The Bangladeshi government does not want to integrate the Rohingya, keeping them in camps and denying them the right to work and cell phone service. The Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh is now the world's largest.

In November 2017, Bangladesh and Burma announced an agreement to allow Rohingya who could prove they left Myanmar after October 2016 to return. However, the Burmese government said it could check only 300 people a day, and would resettle returning Rohingya in "model villages" rather than the farms they used to own in Rakhine state. Residents of model villages and temporary camps are usually dependent on international agencies for food.

The World Happiness Report ranked the Scandinavian countries as best: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia; the US ranked 18th. Burundi and Central African Republic ranked last. The data are based on the Gallup surveys from 2015 to 2017 that asked people to imagine a ladder with steps numbered 0 to 10 and to report their step

The major six factors affecting happiness were income per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and corruption levels. The happiness of a country's immigrants is almost identical to that of its population at large, so migrants moving to happier countries report being happier.

UNSG. 2017. Making Migration Work for All (A/72/643).