Home Political science Development Centre Studies Tackling the Policy Challenges of Migration : Regulation, Integration, Development.
A non-cooperative governance framework
The global governance of migration consists of two main dimensions: the regulation of flows and the link between migration and development.1 These two dimensions are, in essence, complementary. Indeed, the impact of labour mobility on development, as highlighted in Chapter 4, strongly depends on migration policies in the countries of destination.
The international regulation of migration flows
There are two significant differences between the governance of international migration and the governance of trade and capital flows. The first concerns the existence or not of a regulating body; the second is related to tendencies in international political principles: free trade or protectionism.
While the WTO oversees trade negotiations and helps settle disputes, there is no international organisation regulating migration. There is also no institution able to address international migration issues in the same way that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the newly-created Global Financial Board (GFB) do for capital flows. Despite improvements over the last decade in migration management, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been mainly designed to provide migration services to member states and migrants, such as recruitment, selection and orientation, but not with the goal of co-ordinating and supervising migration policies.
Other international organisations are also concerned with migration issues, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), charged with the design and supervision of international labour standards, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated to lead and co-ordinate the protection of international refugees. But their role is relatively limited with respect to the regulation of migration flows. For instance, the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which defines a set of core labour standards considered basic human rights, does not include standards on migrant labour.
In this respect, the two ILO Conventions that explicitly cover migrant workers, that is, the 1949 Migration for Employment Convention (No. 97) and the 1975 Migrant Workers Convention (No. 143), have only been ratified by 49 and 23 countries, respectively (as of October 2011).2 And the 1990 UN International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families has, so far, 45 ratifications, none of them by Northern industrialised countries.3
While the globalisation of trade and finance rests on the laissez-faire principle, migration policies are increasingly restrictive. Since the end of World War-II and in the framework of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), international negotiations led to the gradual dismantling of tariff and non-tariff barriers. Likewise, the financial globalisation process has been accompanied, under the auspices of the IMF, by the removal of foreign exchange controls and international barriers to capital mobility. By contrast, the international regulation of migration flows over the last four decades has led to the rise of barriers to labour mobility, at least at the global level (see Box 2.1).
Box 2.1. Trade and capital vs. migration at the regional level
While at the global level most countries impose restrictions on population movements, at the regional level the principle of free circulation prevails. Table 2.1 shows that in Africa, Europe and Latin America, people are free to circulate, at least in theory. In Asia free trade agreements are still being negotiated and most governments opt for bilateral rather than regional agreements in respect of labour mobility. One notable case of a regional free trade area with capital mobility, but without complete labour mobility, is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This can be explained by the asymmetry in benefits described below (see in particular Figure 2.1).
But the existence of regional agreements on labour mobility does not always mean that free circulation really applies. In practice, there are many restrictions to regional free circulation.
As an example, discussion in West Africa on the creation of an integrated region through migration is an old story. But lack of political will and a variety of national priorities have never made it possible. Although ECOWAS endorsed the free movement of labour in 1979, initial individual country reaction was to restrict mobility at its own borders, and the protocol of free movement of persons was never fully and truly implemented. In fact, several countries (Senegal, 1990, Benin, 1998, and Cote d'Ivoire, 1999) have called up obscure clauses in the protocol in the past, in effect cancelling the rights that accompany it (OECD, 2008).
Even in Europe, where the process is at an advanced level, regional mobility remains relatively low compared, for instance, to the United States. Differences in languages and cultures matter, but probably do not explain all of the difference. Furthermore, recent discussions on intra-regional mobility within the Schengen area, as a consequence of the 2011 Arab Spring and the fear of invasion (see Chapter 1), show that free circulation is never irrevocably established.
Table 2.1. Trade, capital and labour mobility in regional agreements
Notes: FTA = Free Trade Agreements; CU = Customs Union; EIA = Economic Integration Agreement.
Tackling the Policy Challenges of Migration © OECD 2011
The 1973 oil crisis marked the end of the relatively open international migration regime that characterised the post-war period of reconstruction: with the crisis, most industrialised countries closed their doors to new foreign workers and opted for a strategy based on temporary labour and financial incentives for migrants to return to their home countries.
Even though other forms of migration flourished, namely under asylum and family reunification programmes, this strategy has not varied much over the last decades (Hatton and Williamson, 2005). On the contrary, barriers to immigration - aimed particularly at developing countries - have tended to increase, not only at the administrative level (for instance with the external borders of the Schengen area), but also physically with the erection of walls, such as those at the US-Mexican or Spanish-Moroccan borders.
The international reaction to the global economic crisis exemplifies the difference in treatment between trade and financial issues on the one hand and migration issues on the other. From the very beginning of the crisis, the WTO and academic economists have expressed concern about the risk of a resurgence of trade protectionism (Baldwin and Evenett, 2009). Moreover, the leaders of the G20 committed not to repeat the mistakes of the Great Depression, when "beggar-thy-neighbour" policies hastened the collapse of world trade and, by extension, global output.
At the financial level, while international reaction to the crisis led the G20 to strengthen regulation and prudential control, and to promote co-operation by creating the Global Financial Board, there was no talk of limiting capital mobility. By contrast, the global economic crisis gave rise to anti-immigration measures, under the pressure - real or supposed - of public opinion (Khoudour- Castёras, 2009).
Fighting against undocumented immigrants has thus become one of the top priorities on the migration-policy agenda since the beginning of the crisis. Recent legislation in Italy (2009)4 and in the US state of Arizona (2010)5 has made irregular immigration a crime punishable by fines and imprisonment, and deportations from Europe to Africa or from the United States to Latin America have increased (Chamie and Mirkin, 2010; Flores Sanchez and Martin Rivero, 2009).
Countries of immigration hit by the crisis tried to reduce regular immigration too. In 2009, for instance, the United States Senate adopted the Employ American Act, which limited the possibility for companies receiving public subsidies, in particular financial institutions, of hiring high-skilled foreign workers, even on a temporary basis (Friedman, 2009). Migration policies have also materialised into voluntary return programmes. Countries such as the Czech Republic, Japan and Spain offer financial incentives to immigrants who accept to return, for a long-term period, to their country of origin (OECD, 2010).
Beyond the debate on their legitimacy, it is likely that such measures suffer from a ratchet effect, arising from the difficulty that policy makers face in removing restrictive legislation on immigration. As a result, whereas the recent crisis has been the opportunity to reaffirm free trade principles and to strengthen international financial co-operation, the regulation of migration flows has become increasingly unilateral and the possibilities of co-operation more remote. Most notably it has potentially jeopardised the link between migration and development.
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