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Migration Task Force Meeting, New York City 2008

April 11, 2008 - April 12, 2008
Columbia University   New York City, New York, United States

Migration is one of the most hotly debated topics in this globalized world. Whereas the movement of technology and capital has become increasingly more open, the movement of people across countries has not enjoyed such freedom. On the contrary, it is tightly controlled and often mismanaged.

Migration has benefits. As labor moves from a country where productivity and wages are low to one where they are high, output will tend to increase, resulting in an acceleration of world economic growth. Migrants may also fill niches where there is an undersupply in the labor market of the country of destination (agriculture, construction and low-skilled service activities). To that extent, they complement local labor in the host country. Furthermore, once migrants receive a higher level of income than they used to have in their home country, they may send remittances back home to help their family members that have been left behind. In many migrant countries, remittances are much higher than official development assistance or foreign direct investment, and are extremely important sources of income for those families that receive them. OECD studies have shown that if the labor markets of US, EU and Japan allowed only 4% of their labor force to come from foreign sources, the global welfare would increase by over USD 160 billion. World Bank estimates the gains are even higher.


On the other hand, there are costs in migration. As people leave their home country, families are broken and communities lose valuable human resources. The loss of human capital also implies the loss of public sector investments in training of such labor. In turn, host countries face a process of adaptation to the extent that migrants do not complement but rather compete with local workers in the job market. The increase in the supply of workers may keep wages low and the arrival of populations of different races, ethnicities or religions may result in social tension leading to discrimination as well as xenophobia and fear of foreign takeovers.

There may also be positive as well as negative effects on public sector finances in the host country. On the one hand, migrants are a source of additional tax revenues, but direct taxes will not be forthcoming in the case of some undocumented migrants. Migration may also create temporal financial strain in the public health and education systems at the state and local level, though this effect may be limited by the fact that migrants tend to come from highly productive age groups and have few dependents.

All together, the movement of people across borders creates opportunities but also poses challenges for the people and the state at both ends of the migration process: in the home country and host countries. Despite the complex effects of migration, few studies have analyzed this phenomenon comprehensively; the overlapping benefits and costs of migration remain an understudied and intensely disputed topic.

The Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD) has created a Task Force with scholars from different disciplines, research interests and nationalities, with the aim of closing this academic and public policy gap.

IPD is studying the costs and benefits of migration through three different but complementary migration flows:

1. Documented permanent migration (particularly professionals from underdeveloped to developed nations, including US visa lotteries, Filipino nurse programs, etc.).
2. Documented temporary migration (guest worker programs, e.g., Turkish labor to Germany, seasonal, circular, short or long-term migration, between North-South, South-South, Mode IV);
3. Undocumented or irregular migration (temporary or permanent, i.e., Mexico-USA, or Africa-EU).

The different modalities reflect large differences in migration policies. These policies differ significantly as to the room they provide for migrants to become permanent residents and citizens in the host country, as well as to the criteria that increase the probability of being granted resident status, particularly educational and professional qualifications as well as family links with existing migrants. European Union is particularly interested in managed migration, which they call "circular migration". Canada has also adopted different types of circular migration programs. The US is still largely dependent on irregular migrants to meet the shortfall in their labor supply. But the US is also contemplating short-term or temporary foreign labor.

We attempt to study trends in these different "types" of migration (e.g., have modalities 1 and 2 been decreasing in recent years, leading to larger undocumented flows? Are policies aimed at controlling irregular flows working?), and, particularly, to analyze migration policies in order to present public policy recommendations that address the following six questions:

1. How can migration flows be better managed better? We will analyze the demographic and economic trends in both developed and developing countries that make migration inevitable. We will look at these trends - both the push and pull factors - and the role of skills in the migration framework. We will examine whether migration opportunities for low-skilled workers and steady inflows of remittances dampen the demand for skills and education in the country of origin.

2. What are the linkages between regular and undocumented migration? When the legal flow is overly regulated or choked, it encourages irregular migration. The challenge is to find the optimum level of regulation in migration flows.

3. How can economic development be maximized through migration? What effect do remittances have on countries of origin? How can remittances, which are often spent on consumption, be converted into investment? The key policy challenge is to maximize the multiplier effects of remittances. It is an imperative to ensure that remittances lead to investment and job growth in the host countries.

4. How can the economic and social costs of migration be minimized, both in the host and home countries? Many governments actively pursue migration to maximize the welfare of its citizens. Their primary effort is toward increasing remittance flows, without commensurate focus on the upfront costs of migration. How can the negative social welfare impacts that migration produces be minimized in families and communities? Cost and risk sharing should be important components in an effective migration policy.

5. How can migrant workers be best protected? The welfare gains are not maximized if migrants do not receive competitive wages and are protected against discrimination. Minimum wage and other benefits can maximize the productivity of the migrant workers and enhance the welfare of the receiving/host countries.

6. How can the governance of migration be improved, particularly at the national but also the regional and global levels?

In order to pursue this comprehensive agenda IPD's Migration Task Force will hold two conferences in 2008. The first conference took place in the month of April at Columbia University, New York. A second conference may take place in the fall at the Universidad de Guadalajara (UDG) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Our goal for each conference will be to gather over 20 academics, whose areas of expertise will be enlarged by the multinational and multidisciplinary group. Each attendee will present or comment on a research paper, according to the topics mentioned above. The process will eventually result in a book, an edited volume that will present our analysis of the topics in a way that will be accessible to policymakers, students and civil society concerned with migration and its effect on development. The volume will take its place among the IPD book series'Challenges in Development and Globalization'.

Event Information

Type Meetings
Program Migration