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How to manage migration efficiently

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Julia Blocher :
To develop resilient communities, low-skill and low-income families cannot be left in the dust. A new study adds a significant building block to the expanding body of research on how migration serves household strategies for adapting to changing environments.
An agreement to address migrant and refugee crises worldwide, which the UN General Assembly adopted in September, has been described by many in the United Nations as nothing short of a miracle. But it also appears imperilled at times by today's shifting and increasingly difficult political landscape.
Throughout 2017, UN member states are holding consultations on elements of international cooperation and governance of migration as part of the development of a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
On May 22 and 23, delegates will turn their attention to the current state of knowledge and good practice on the "drivers of migration". These include climate change, natural disasters and human-made crises.
Now is the time to dispel outdated models of human mobility in favour of a holistic, nuanced view of migration patterns and their interaction with a changing global environment and economy. International discussions often consider development aid as part and parcel of migration management. That's because of its potential to reduce the so-called "root causes of migration", or its drivers. Migration professionals have been seduced by the concept of the "migration hump". It suggests that emigration may accelerate in the short term as economic development picks up and more households gain the resources needed to migrate. But that it eventually levels off as economic opportunities enable people to remain home or to return.
This idea is used to help explain why already high migration from Mexico to the US increased slightly in the late 1990s following the signing of Nafta, but is now a net negative flow. If it sounds too convenient to be true, that's because it is. A host of social factors, household ambitions and individual attributes contribute to migratory decisions. And economic migrants at times seem caricatured as overly rational actors with perfect foresight of income differentials, embodying the figurative Homo economicus derided by social scientists.
Migration is a legitimate way to diversify household income sources and create a buffer against future shocks. And in the context of a changing climate, mobility is particularly important for households that are dependent on resource-based livelihoods. These are usually the very households that lack access to adequate income-generating assets, credit and trade. When the right conditions are fostered, migration brings substantial benefits for migrants and their families as well as for their communities of origin and of destination.
To develop resilient communities, low-skill and low-income families cannot be left in the dust. A new comparative study adds a significant building block to the expanding body of research on how migration serves among household strategies for adapting to changing environments.
Migrant diaspora clearly provide a safety net for their home communities, particularly in the wake of natural disasters. In Haiti, the value of remittances from Haitians abroad quadrupled between 1999 and 2013, from $422 million to over $1.78 billion. And it surged by 20 per cent following the 2010 earthquake, yielding an extra $360 million.
Migrants can also effectively pass on the skills and knowledge they acquired while away (social remittances), to help improve households and communities in their home countries. In the study, at least two out of five migrant households surveyed reported learning new skills; in the case of Vietnam, the figure was as high as 82 per cent. Migrant households' reported ability to apply new skills upon return was 45 per cent in Haiti, more than 70 per cent in Kenya, and more than 80 per cent in the rest of the countries surveyed.
A World Bank report suggests the perception of rising xenophobia or xenophobic attitudes and policies discouraging migration are partially to blame. Moreover, countries such as Canada, Australia and the US are exploring ways to reduce their imports of migrants to only the most qualified applicants, developing points-based calculators. While the merits of defining a "desirable" migrant in economic terms are questionable at best, states retain the sovereign right to set migration quotas.
Unfortunately, this approach has the potential to reinforce inequality and undermine the positive outcomes of migration worldwide. As UN states develop a global compact on migration in 2017, there should be less of a focus on reducing complex migration phenomena to their "root causes" and more on the potential of migration as a win-win.
In a changing global environment, migration can be a greater-than-ever contributor to development for communities of origin, destination areas, and for the migrants themselves.
The complexity and wide spectrum of migration - both the highly skilled expat and the less-skilled migrant - should remain a part of these discussions, with a focus on harnessing the power of migration to fuel development and reduce global inequality.
Julia Blocher is a Research Officer at the United Nations University.
—The Conversation

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