Published on People Move

Leveraging economic migration for development

This page in:

An important publication will be launched today at the World Bank HQ at a high-level event (it will be livestreamed). The publication describes how economic migration can be leveraged for development and what role could the World Bank Group and other MDBs play in that process. It provides an update on migration data for the period 2000-18, and on migration’s drivers and impacts referencing relevant literature; discusses changes in the international governance surrounding migration during 2017-19, including the adoption of the Global Compact on Migration; and suggests areas of activities for international financial institutions. Also, it provides a template for migration diagnostics in sending, receiving, and transit countries.

Several important stylized facts are presented in the paper. For example, the typology surrounding forced and voluntary (or economic) migration, and that surrounding internal and international migration is often misunderstood or misrepresented. The paper presents an important clarification on typology, reproduced in table 1. Whether it is internal or international, economic migration is significantly larger than forced migration – over 90 percent of migrants are economic migrants.

No wonder, then, that there are many benefits to (economic) migration – for migrants, for the countries of origin and for the countries of destination. Recent analytical evidence on the impacts of migration on host communities appears to be more positive than, say, three years ago. This is important to note, because the number of international migrants is expected to (continue to) rise significantly driven by income gaps, demographic imbalances, and climate change.

Table 1.1.:  Typology of Migration and Forced Displacement

Typology of Migration and Forced Displacement
Sources: UNHCR, UNDESA, World Bank,UNDP (2009) Human Development Report
FCV=Fragility, Conflict and Violence
Note: Data on migrants and refugees refer to 2018, but data on
internal migration refers to 2005. Climate-driven IDPs refer to those displaced by natural disasters; data reported is three-year average, reported by IDMC. There are no data on mixed flows or climate-driven international migrants.
*Refugee data include 5.5 million Palestinian refugees, but do not include 3.5 million asylum seekers.

The paper also points out that migration poses challenges to migrants, the countries of origin and the destination countries. The rise in immigrants’ share in population in the high-income OECD countries – from 10 percent in 2000 to nearly 14 percent in 2018 – has led to concern among policy makers. If you ask a person in a high-income country how many migrants are there in the country, the average answer is larger than the reality by a factor of two or more. On average, respondents estimated that immigrants made up 28 percent of the population, while the actual share is 12 percent (figure 1). The misperception persists even about people born in the country who are citizens.

Figure 1. Perceptions vs reality: survey respondents’ estimates of immigrants’ share in population vs. the actual population share

 Figure 1. Perceptions vs reality
Sources: Calculations by World Bank staff using data from UNDESA, Ipsos (2018), Eurostat, U.S. Census Bureau, Migration Policy Institute, Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, and Germany’s Federal Statistical Office (Destatis 2011).

Migration is not a substitute for development at home, but it can be leveraged for development. Viewing migration through a development lens can suggest promising ways to deploy the World Bank Group’s knowledge, finance, and convening power to catalyze collective action to address migration at the global, regional, national,and local levels. The paper has identified four broad areas for Bank involvement in migration programs beyond its other activities that may affect migration. Those areas are (i) supporting safe and regular (legal) labor mobility, (ii) supporting the migration-related indicators specified in the Sustainable Development Goals (reducing recruitment costs paid by migrant workers, reducing remittance costs, leveraging remittances, and mobilizing diaspora resources for development), (iii) generating knowledge for policy making, and (iv) supporting global partnerships. These areas are sufficiently broad to cover most of the objectives of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM).

At a global level, the Bank, through KNOMAD, is in a position to respond to the GCM’s call for support by continuing to provide timely data and analytics on migration and remittance flows. In addition, the Bank – through its country management units– is in a position to provide data, analytical evidence, and program evaluations, or simply consistency checks, if countries require assistance in their preparations for the International Migration Review Forums (scheduled to take place every four years, beginning in 2022) and the Regional Migration Review Forums (every four years, beginning in 2020).


Dilip Ratha

Lead Economist and Economic Adviser to the Vice President of Operations, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000