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Rethinking the governance of international migration

Governments need to consider governance of migration bearing in mind the three objectives of greater flexibility of flows, improved integration and a better effect of labour mobility on development. Steps towards greater flexibility imply that host countries recognise needs, explain the benefits of immigration and foster circularity, whereby migrants may come and go more freely. Losers of immigration need to be compensated, though it may be hard to identify them. There are several ways of doing this. Better integration in the South includes the protection of migrants' rights and positive measures against discrimination as well as steps to improve social cohesion. Labour markets need to be consolidated and efforts made to put human capital to use in source countries. Migrants should be helped to get the best financial terms for their remittances. The three objectives are mutually interactive.

The book has so far highlighted three important policy challenges of international migration: the regulation of flows at the global level, the integration of immigrants, in particular in the South, and the link between migration, labour markets and development (see Figure 0.1). These challenges are closely related. Inefficient regulation, for instance, can lead to problems of integration and reduce the development potential of emigration. In the same way, the contribution of immigrants to the welfare of their communities of origin tends to be inversely proportional to their level of integration in their host societies.

Despite these interactions, few countries address all three challenges together. As shown in Chapter 2, migration policies have become increasingly restrictive, although the externalities of such policies on migrant-sending areas are rarely taken into account. Policy makers in immigrant-receiving countries generally leave discussions on the positive effects of emigration in developing countries out of the political debate, which is instead typically dominated by domestic affairs.

Yet, beyond the fact that barriers are never a sure thing, the lack of co-operation on migration issues implies an opportunity cost for the countries that implement them. The lack of reciprocity regarding the benefits derived between low and high-income countries may be illusory, since immigration constitutes a potential response to problems of labour shortage and ageing populations faced by most OECD countries (OECD, 2010).

Failing to manage immigration flows efficiently also has repercussions on social cohesion (OECD, 2011a). Local populations may feel more threatened by immigration as the number of undocumented immigrants increases. In this respect, Chapter 3, which focuses on South-South migration, draws attention to the economic and social costs of neglecting integration. It shows in particular that problems of integration in developing countries differ from those in developed countries and that specific measures are therefore required to overcome the integration challenge of migration.

Problems of regulation and integration eventually influence development in countries of emigration. As underlined in Chapter 4, the net impact of labour mobility on the welfare of migrant households depends on the trade-off between labour lost to emigration and increasing income from remittances, both of which are affected by host country immigration policies. These also have an impact on the magnitude of the effect of emigration on raising wages in developing countries. Thus, the development challenge requires minimising the negative and maximising the positive effects associated with labour mobility. It concerns not only migrant-sending but also migrant-receiving countries, in both the South and in the North.

This chapter argues that policy makers need to rethink the governance of international migration and adopt an agenda oriented towards three main objectives:

  • • A more flexible regulation of international migration flows;
  • • A better integration of immigrants;
  • • A greater impact of labour mobility on development.

Because these three objectives are complementary, a comprehensive governance framework should tackle all of them.

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