Show large image

© UNHCR / A.Di Loreto, 2007

Show large image


Show large image

© Netzwerk Migration in Europa e.V


International migration is now high on the policy agenda for various reasons. On one side, it is a consequence of growing problems within the multicultural societies in the receiving areas, connected with a fear of “invasion”. Instead of the former focus on restrictive (and anti-migrant) policies, there now appears to be a shift towards selective policies including experimenting with circular migration. Due to the ageing population in European receiving countries there is an increasing awareness among governments that a call on migrant labour will have to be made in the near future. On the other side, more attention has recently been paid to migration due to the proliferating conviction that international migration cannot be seen as isolated from development and furthermore, with the right policies, migration can make a positive contribution to development.

The migration-development-nexus plays also a decisive role on the agenda of the EU migration policies. In particular, return and readmission policies and border management in the European Pact on Migration (2008) and in the Hague Programme (2005-2009) are connected to development rhetoric and action targeted at sending countries in particular on the African continent. In recent development aid initiatives, the diaspora is identified by the EU Commission as one new key actor and the Commission in the EC-UN Joint Migration and Development Initiative is financing programmes such as migration4development in order to support diaspora initiatives. On the level of the EU Member States we can observe that countries which face postcolonial migrations such as France, Great Britain, the Netherlands as well as Italy are much more involved in codevelopment activities than EU member states with less migrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

At present there are two opposing views as to whether international migration contributes to combating poverty and to sustainable development:


According to the optimists, international migration has positive effects on the development of the sending countries (e.g. de Haas).
Today we are faced with discourses of creating “win-win-win” scenarios, in which migration can be good for the country of origin, the destination country and the migrants themselves. Migration has a positive impact upon all stakeholders – seen in the fact that sending countries and migrants themselves benefit, because migrants find jobs, develop their skills, earn money and remit part of it to their countries of origin, while destination countries benefit from the skills and labour they receive from migrants.
Above all, increasing financial remittances are evaluated as a new and additional source of finance for development. Through remittances migration has a direct effect on the reduction of poverty. Furthermore, a positive effect is also attributed to social transfers in form of the flow of information, ideas, values etc. and countries of origin benefiting from brain gain. Migration is also viewed as a positive factor because it leads to more balanced supply and demand dynamics in the labour market, and because international migration is expected to contribute to erasing inequality and to lead to a better distribution of the advantages of globalisation.


Alongside the optimists, there is a group of pessimists who particularly emphasize a number of negative aspects and threatening dangers. Until the 1990s the prevailing consensus was rather pessimistic and migration was evaluated as both a symptom and cause of continuing underdevelopment.
“Development problems including marginal livelihoods, poverty, inequality, political instability and conflict have all been identified as major factors underlying people´s decisions to migrate. This process of migration (both internal and international) has been widely portrayed as having largely negative impacts on development:
Draining regions of human capital and reducing productivity – whether agricultural labour from rural areas or well-educated graduates from the health, education, civil service and business sectors;
Undermining family and community life in sending areas – separating families, creating gender and age gaps in the population;
Putting pressure on physical infrastructure and services in destination areas – expanding urban slums, increasing demands on clinics, schools, social services;
Depressing wages in destination areas – creating a pool of labour willing to work below legal minimum wages, increasing unemployment and exploitation;
Increasing inequality – the poorest of the poor who tend not to migrate are excluded from the benefit of migrants´ remittances.
As a result, slowing down the rate of out-migration has been taken as being an implicit or explicit aim of many development initiatives and a decrease in migration has been seen as an indicator of success” (Blakewell, 2008).


Given those opposing views, there is an emerging consensus that international migration can contribute to poverty reduction and development provided that appropriate policy measures are taken. Nevertheless international migration does not automatically imply favourable effects. There are many different initiatives on the global level (UN, IOM, ILO, etc.), on EU-level and on the national level which work toward maximising the link between international migration and national development. Most of the initiatives are taking place in the receiving countries in the North and seem to be mostly dominated by the political will to control and restrict migration and to protect their borders. Much less is known about how governments in the receiving countries perceive migration, whether they view migration as a positive or a negative impact on their national development and which policy initiatives they intend to or already are implementing in order to restrict negative consequences and to optimise development impact.

Key policy trends

Migration is a highly dynamic process and a global issue. Consequently it is important to improve the understanding of causalities, new trends and governance of migration in a globalized world in which the EU is one regional regime. To distinguish between countries as being sending, receiving or transit areas is no longer possible as most countries worldwide have to deal with all three dimensions simultaneously. In the debates on the migration-development-nexus there are several contested policy areas:


Diaspora has been discovered as a new actor in development policies and agencies in the EU countries. Development donors see migrant and diaspora organisations as potential agencies for a more active role in development cooperation, based on the belief that migrants are well informed about their home countries and therefore considered “capable” of contributing to development processes through projects in their countries or areas of origin.
The concept of diaspora commonly describes a community of expelled or exiles who are connected and orientated towards their “lost homeland”. The concept does not have a standard definition, but its meaning varies according to individual countries. Africans in the diaspora consist of various categories:

1) “The so-called victim diaspora trafficked in the slave trade, itself a heterogeneous group;

2) those in the diaspora as a result of taking permanent residence or naturalisation, having been part of the brain drain or non-returning African students;

3) the recent development of those who joined in family reunification” (Oucho, 2008)

Consequently it is an oversimplification to view African diaspora as one group of Africans outside the continent who look to the continent as their “homeland” with which they all keep and wish to keep cultural, economic and political ties.

In the context of the migration and development debate, the term “diaspora” is primarily used to: generally describe the relationship of the migrants to their countries of origin, ranging from individual and family ties to organized strategies for economic, political or social activism; to indicate the form and extent of individual remittances; to analyse charity projects of migrant organizations, and to describe the global political mobilization of migrants for their regions of origin.
The term “diaspora” refers to not only the various forms of relationships that migrants can have to their countries of origin, but also the differing perceptions of what makes up relationships within the migrant community. Some use the word Diaspora and mean the official migrant organisations, such as AFFORD or Africa Recruit. Others use the term Diaspora to describe the informal networks of migrants that spill over national borders. Still other people use the word simply to express the solidarity between migrants towards each other and their countries of origin (Baraulina/Borchers, 2008).
Behind international migration lies a powerful potential for development policy. Not every migrant engages him- or herself for his or her country of origin, and not every initiative is necessarily relevant for development. It is important not to let the discussion surrounding the diaspora's contribution to development lapse into euphoria. The most common form of commitment to the countries of origin consists in individual money transfers. Moreover, direct investments, infrastructural projects to fight poverty as well as support for democratic structures are highly significant for development policies. Collective dedication in organizations is primarily initiated and carried out by established migrants.


Circular migration is presented as a win-win situation if measures are successfully taken to foster brain gain and to hinder brain drain. The circular migration debate is presented as a strategy for coping with urgent labour needs in the destination countries of the North. Advocates in the EU and in the single member states claim that the implementation of national immigration and visa regimes to allow for circular migration could be a panacea for many migration challenges: labour demands could be met and migrant workers would regularly remit money, skills and ideas. African States would no longer be faced with the brain drain of doctors and nurses and other urgently needed skilled workers. Also illegal immigration would drop as temporary workers go home voluntarily, confident they could return if need be.
On the political agenda of the Member States the circular migration idea is a term that means different things to different EU countries. In some countries, the idea to give circular migration rights to highly-skilled migrants dominates, whereas for others the concept of circular migration fits best for seasonal migrants who return regularly to do jobs in the agriculture, construction and tourist industries. In formulating a common migration policy “circular migration” is a very contested issue.


In development perspectives, private remittances of migrants to (extended) families have a huge potential to alleviate poverty and promote the development of poorer countries. It is estimated that globally migrants send more than 400 billion dollars of remittances to their home countries each year – four times which the West in development aid. Remittances are also much higher than foreign investment in poor countries. The levels of remittances and their significance differ enormously between countries. The flow of remittances to sub-Saharan Africa is very low compared to Asia and Latin America, and only a relatively small group of countries which have a considerable diaspora are able to benefit from them. Consequently, transferred remittances often constitute a benefit for only a few core regions. To optimize the use of remittances, many EU governments started debates and initiatives on how to reduce transaction costs and facilitate the investment climate.
The costs of sending remittances through formal channels are still high for most migrants. Reducing the fees charged is an important step in order to increase the transfer for funds.
Even so, it has to be beared in mind that remittances do not automatically lead to certain benefits for the population and to economic and social changes. They can lead to inefficient investment and economic dependence on continuing emigration, and sometimes hide a reverse flow of funds to rich countries.


Emigration of skilled professionals hinders the attainment of the MDGs (Millenium Development Goals), in particular in the health sector of poor countries. The debate on brain gain (and on circular migration) fakes the high losses of human capital.
At present, countries in the North decide on recruitment policies and often select or intend to select the best workers in the international market. The European economy also needs more highly skilled workers, such as doctors and nurses, information-technology specialists and business managers. Currently the EU seems to be losing the global competition with the USA, Australia and Canada to attract highly skilled persons. The Commission estimates that the EU will need to attract 20 million skilled migrants over the next 20 years to address skill shortages in Europe´s engineering and computer technology sectors. At present, in contrast to the US where 50 percent of the migrants from Africa and Asia are a highly skilled, an overwhelming majority of immigrants to the EU from the same regions are unskilled.
The EU Commission initiated the EU “Blue card” – a common working visa – to attract young, highly skilled workers to Europe. Under this scheme, recipients can get a two-year residency permit in any member state in which they have a job offer. The job must be guaranteed for at least two years and must be paid three times the local minimum wage. The “compensation” for the brain drain in poor countries may take the form of supporting projects involving professionals going back to sending countries temporarily to work in public structures, special programmes and education.


As migration is becoming a global issue, countries of origin and of destination are increasingly arguing that governments should promote migration governance, including data provision, monitoring, assistance and protection of migrants. As migration policies are international, by definition they should be debated at regional, bi-regional and multilateral levels in order to establish common standards of protection and promote policy coherence in migration management. In this context countries have to assume responsibility in order to prevent rights violations such as trafficking and xenophobia. More attention should be paid also to the impact of images – such as that of a rich Europe where money is raining from the sky – and in media coverage on migration issues.


There is a risk that policy and scholarly voices euphorically overestimate the possible impact of international migration, remittances and transnational engagement as development by self-help. This perspective shifts away from structural conditions and the real but limited ability of individuals to overcome them. While the migration-development-nexus is high on the global and EU policy agenda, less attention has been given to the role of human rights during the migration process and to how a lack of respect for human rights of migrants reduces their ability to contribute to development. Clearly, the contributions migrants can make to development are significantly higher when they have their human rights protected. As recognized by the Declaration on the Right to Development, adopted by the UN-General Assembly on 4 December 1986, “the human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development”. Consequently, the question of migration and development should be approached from a human rights perspective, in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and state obligations under core international human rights treaties. It is important to consider that development has not just an economic aspect, but also entails cultural, social and political issues.


Aderanti, A./Naerssen, T.v./Zoomers, A. (eds.): International Migration and National Development in sub-Saharan Africa (Leiden/Boston: Brill 2008).

Baraulina, T./Borchers, K.: Wer migriert, der entwickelt? Bedingungen und Formen des entwicklungspolitischen Engagements von Diaspora ( (December 2008)).

Bakewell, O.: Keeping them in their Place. The ambivalent relationship between development and migration in Africa (International Migration Institute: Working paper 2007, No. 8).

Bakewell, O: Migration and Development. A briefing note for the ACP Ministers (International Migration Institute: May 2008).

Castles S./Delgado Wise, R. (eds.): Migration and Development: Perspectives from the South (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Haas de, H.: Migration and development: A theoretical perspective, IMI Working paper 9 (Oxford: International Migration Institute, 2008).

International Migration and Human Rights. Challenges and Opportunities on the Threshold of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Geneva: Global Migration Group, October 2008).

Haas de, H.: Engaging Diaspora: How governments and development agencies can support diaspora involvement in the development of origin countries (Oxford: International Migration Institute & Oxfam Novib, June 2006).

Oucho, J.: African Brain drain and gain, diaspora and remittances: more rhetoric than action, in: Aderanti et.a., 2008, pp. 49-70.

Portes, A./Escobar, C/Walton Radford, A.: Immigrant Transnational Organizations and Development: A Comparative Study, in: International Migration Review Vol. 41, No. 1, Spring 2007, pp. 242-281.

Vertovec, S.: Circular Migration: The way forward in global policy? Working paper 4 (Oxford: International Migration Institute, 2007).

World Bank: Migration and remittance Factbook (Washington: 2008).

Andrea Schmelz, Network Migration in Europe, 2009




IOM: Migration and Development Buzz? Rethinking the Migration Development Nexus and Policies, 2012

McLoughlin et al.: Temporary and circular migration, 2011

Bakewell, O.: Migration and Development. A Briefing Note, 2008

Bauböck, R.: Ties across Borders: the Growing Salience of Transnationalism and Diaspora Politics, 2008

Brubaker, R.: The 'Diaspora' Diaspora, 2008

Castles, S.: Development and Migration - Migration and Development: What Comes First? 2008

Chappell, L./Laczko, F.: What Are We Really Achieving? Building an Evaluation Culture in Migration and Development, 2011

Faist, T.: Migrants as Transnational Development Agents: an Inquiry into the Newest Round of the Migration-Development Nexus, 2008

Gamlen, A.: Why Engage Diasporas? 2008

Garg, A./Barajas, A./Chami, R./Fullenkamp, C.: The Global Financial Crisis and Workers' Remittances to Africa: What's the Damage, 2010

Haas, H. de: Development Drivers of International Migration, 2010

Haas, H. de: Migration and Development: a Theoretical Perspective, 2010

Hayes B./Bunyan, T.: Migration, Development and the EU Security Agenda, 2008

Hönekopp, E./Mattila, H.: Permanent or Circular Migration? Policy Choices to Address Demographic Decline and Labour Shortages in Europe, 2008

IMI: Migration and Development, New perspectives on the Mexico-US and Morocco-EU Comparison, 2010

Newland, K./Hiroyuki, T.: Mobilizing Diaspora Entrepreneurship for Development, 2010

Newland, K.: Migration and Development Policy: What Have We Learned? 2011

Smith, L. / Naerssen, T. van: Migrants: Suitable brokers of Development? 2009

Terrazas, A.: Connected Through Service: Diaspora Volunteers and Global Development, 2010

Tomei, G.: Cultural and Symbolic Dimensions of the Migration-Development Nexus. The Salience of Community, 2011