Published on People Move

Engaging Business to Maximize the Benefits of Migration

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While significant progress has been made in consulting civil society in national, regional, and global migration policy debates, it has proved hard to engage the business sector. This is to the detriment of corporate success, effective government policy, and migrants’ rights. The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Migration focuses on forging alliances between business and government to maximize the benefits of migration.

One reason why business have been reluctant to engage is that in many countries migration has become a ‘toxic’ issue in political and public discourses, and businesses are concerned not to tar their reputations by engaging in this debate. In addition there can be tensions between the respective objectives of business and governments with regards to migration, for example flexible labour markets can be hard to reconcile with national security. To an extent this also reflects different priorities: ultimately business is concerned with stakeholders and governments with voters; businesses need to make profits and governments to win elections. And as a result business and government also have different time horizons for achieving positive results from migration.

But engaging business is important. There are numerous examples where a failure to engage has undermined the interests of business, government policy, and migrants themselves. Cumbersome visa policies can block talent mobility and undermine innovation and competitiveness; red-tape has reduced efforts by private companies to reduce the costs of remittances; while a failure to match migration policies with labour market dynamics has resulted in competition for jobs between migrants and nationals. Such outcomes risk widening the gap between business and government, and undermining confidence in migration policies.

There are other ways too that engaging business can be beneficial, summarized here as ‘5 Rs’:

• Businesses can help rally support for migration, as governments are finding it increasingly hard to make the case for migration;
• Businesses have responsibilities towards migrants, especially to provide decent work and protect migrants’ rights;
• Business can help represent migrants, especially by mobilizing migrant entrepreneurs;
• Business can provide resources, and there is space for innovative public-private partnerships on migration; and
• Business can provide a reality check, and help governments escape electoral cycles and the media agenda

The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council has been working to strengthen partnership between government and business, using a strategy based on ‘5 Cs’:

• Giving credence to what business are saying;
• Building confidence with businesses through consultation;
• Working with business councils as a representative of the private sector;
• Engaging with credible partners in the private sector; and
• Focusing initially on businesses with a direct interest in migration, and building outwards in concentric circles

Our Council has found good examples of government-business engagement to maximize the benefits of migration, but we believe that more needs to be done. Getting this engagement right can drive business innovation, help rebuild public confidence in government, and give migrants the chance to excel and earn respect.


Khalid Koser

Deputy Director and Academic Dean, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Geneva

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