When migrants succeed, everybody succeeds

December 15, 2022
2022 FIFA World Cup fans

Morocco’s improbable run in this year's FIFA World Cup has both made headlines around the world and heroes of the players defying the odds - more than half of whom are part of migrant communities.


The 2022 World Cup has stirred pride and controversy. At the centre of both are migrants – their ongoing exploitation and their unique value to communities at home and abroad.

In stunning facilities built by migrant labour and surrounded by reports of inhumane working conditions, a team with an émigré past is making history. Morocco’s improbable run has both made headlines around the world and heroes of the players defying the odds - more than half of whom are part of migrant communities. In addition to the 37 million residents of Morocco, an estimated 5 million Moroccans live in Europe. The national team depends on that diaspora. The success they’ve brought to the pitch underscores a more fundamental narrative shared by migrants everywhere. One of aspiration, hope and resilience. A story borne out not on a glittering global stage but in the regular lives of migrant men and women every day.  

The close ties diasporas have with their home countries are just one of the benefits that migration brings. The money international migrants send back home in the form of remittances is a vital source of income for families and communities, alleviating poverty, boosting education and health, and building resilience. Remittances to low- and middle-income countries withstood global headwinds in 2022, growing an estimated 5 percent to US$626 billion, according to the World Bank. In comparison, official development assistance in 2021 was US$178.9 billion. In their home countries, diaspora also play a vital role in transferring knowledge, skills and social norms, promoting trade and foreign direct investment, creating businesses and spurring entrepreneurship.

These benefits are a two-way street. Migration also brings significant advantages to the countries where they settle. They fill skills gaps, bring new expertise, increase cultural diversity and boost local economies. There is mounting evidence that an increase in the migrant population is linked with higher income per capita. When international migrants have residence permits, their contributions to the national economy increases. With pathways to inclusion, they become integral members of their new communities. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants put their lives on the line staffing hospitals. Healthcare systems in Peru, Chile and Argentina all benefited after the countries issued special decrees allowing temporary hiring of foreign health professionals.

In the United States, employers are benefiting from a temporary visa scheme that fills labour shortages with workers from Mexico. The plan is a critical lifeline to seasonal businesses, from agriculture to industry. A survey of Maryland crabmeat manufacturers showed that their companies would have had to shut down for part of the year without the assistance of foreign workers.

With more comprehensive government interventions, the benefits are expanded. To cover skills gaps in Germany, the government has opened labour markets to a limited number of people seeking work from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The results netted positive gains for employers, job seekers and the domestic economy, while dropping asylum applications by 90 percent.

Conversely, restrictive policies around the world compel increasing numbers of individuals and families to bypass regular channels in favour of dangerous and sometimes deadly routes. Once in-country, these irregular migrants are often denied access to education, decent work, health and social protection. In the absence of socio-economic integration and legal status, tensions ensue. These conflicts strain host communities and marginalize the individuals who would otherwise strengthen those societies.

Expanding pathways for regular migration can prevent such outcomes while developing more resilient and cohesive societies. With the right policies in place, migration can unlock opportunities for individuals and their families, and bring greater prosperity to countries of origin, transit and destination alike. It’s a basic reality that was universally recognized in 2018, when Member States committed to “enhancing availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration” by adopting the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Still, progress remains inadequate. UNDP is working with stakeholders from every corner of society for balanced and sustainable approaches. That means exploring new and creative partnerships  with national and local governments, justice, security and human rights actors, other UN agencies, the private sector, civil society as well as directly with migrants and their communities.

On this International Migrants Day, the World Cup Final will take centre stage. But regardless of who takes the pitch the real story rests with the migrants who made it possible. Amid accomplishment and abuse, the rights of these individuals must be acknowledged and expanded. That’s a goal worth celebrating.