Most migrants and their families have skills and attributes that strongly match the needs of destination societies. The social and economic benefits associated with their migration are typically much larger than the costs – and this is true for both destination and sending countries. These are key takeaways from the World Banks’s new World Development Report (WDR) titled “Migrants, Refugees, Societies.”
Centering migration in its annual flagship publication is a significant shift in the Bank’s relationship with migration. Historically, the Bank (and broader international development community) has approached development with a much narrower lens, focusing its efforts on localized development initiatives. Rather than a powerful tool to be harnessed for sustainable economic development, migration has been seen as a negative byproduct of poverty, the effects of which need to be mitigated.
The WDR mirrors a broader shift in the global consensus on the need for migration. Faced with population decline resulting from decreasing birth rates, wealthy countries are starting to suffer from crippling labor shortages. Meanwhile, over a billion people are either living or want to live across international borders, and the number of people born in low-income countries is growing far faster than the number of jobs.
The World Bank now acknowledges that well managed migration can be a powerful force for prosperity with benefits for all: economic migrants, refugees, and those who stay behind, and for origin and destination societies. Rather than engaging in ideological debates about whether migration is good or bad, it tries to answer a different, and much more important question: how can migration work better for global development?
This is at the heart of LaMP’s work as we help address market failures and regulatory barriers that impede safe and effective labor mobility. We do this by proposing and delivering innovative and market-compatible solutions that create sustainable labor mobility systems worldwide.
The WDR argues that when people bring skills and attributes in demand in the destination country, there are net gains for themselves, as well as for both their countries of origin and destination. These gains materialize regardless of migrants’ motives, skill levels, or legal status but both destination and origin countries can design and implement measures that further increase the benefits of migration and effectively address its downsides.
The WDR finds that “by far the largest” group of people on the move do so in response to economic interests, motivated by the knowledge that there are employers demanding their skills and attributes. This is an important acknowledgement, as it allows us to focus on the tremendous opportunity in front of us. High income countries have large unfilled labor demand and low-income countries have the right labor supply to meet this demand. We now need to find ways to translate these words into action.
At LaMP, we work to expand opportunities for migrants with strong skill matches, maximize gains during their journeys and help mitigate any related negative effects. For example, we are developing a program to connect workers across Latin America with the 150,000 jobs cruise employers need filled; building and implementing a low cost worker voice mechanism to monitor and improve recruitment practices; and designing training and financing solutions for potential migrants in India, Colombia, El Salvador and beyond.
The WDR marks a historic shift in recognizing the potential of well-managed migration as a powerful force for global development. This shift will have far-reaching impact, as it paves the way for vital funding to be directed towards labor migration, unlocking immense development opportunities that far surpass even the most effective development tools we know. We have a long way to go, however, as labor migration currently receives less than 0.4% of official development assistance and 0.5% of private foundation money for sustainable development.
We need to translate the powerful insights contained in the new WDR into action by directing more operational funds from the bank towards labor migration. As we embrace this new era, organizations like LaMP are at the forefront, building a field that is committed to helping create sustainable labor mobility systems, lifting millions of workers and their families out of poverty. Our partner, the People on the Move Initiative is looking to help donors incorporate mobility into their giving, Malengo is pioneering educational pathways, Imagine Foundation is removing barriers for tech workers, Talent Beyond Boundaries is opening doors for displaced people, and Por Causa is working to change narratives.
We hope many more will join the effort. By embracing the potential of migration, addressing its challenges, and maximizing the gains for everyone involved, we can harness the transformative power of labor mobility for the betterment of individuals, societies, and the world as a whole.