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Migrant remittances are a lifeline for families, and a force for development

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A worker in TajikistanRelative to GDP, remittances flowing into Tajikistan are among the largest in the world. Photo: Mashid Mohadjerin

With an influx of refugees and migrants making headlines in Europe and politicians around the world debating the merits of immigration, it’s important to take a step back and consider the development impact migration has for both sending countries and host nations.

International labour migration has become a key driver of development around the world. One way migration impacts development is through the accompanying remittances, the money sent by migrant workers (and diasporas) to relatives back home.

This is a significant force for development and a lifeline for many families here in Central Asia. Relative to GDP, remittances flowing into the less wealthy Central Asian countries are among the largest in the world. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have been world leaders in this category since 2011.

These flows don’t just support the economy. They lift millions of people out of poverty.

In Kyrgyzstan for example, remittance inflows reduced the number of people living below the poverty line by 5 to 7 percentage points annually from 2010 to 2014. That’s about 300,000 to 400,000 men, women, and children.

But in recent years we’ve seen these numbers slipping.

A new UNDP report “Labour Migration, Remittances, and Human Development in Central Asia,” reveals that migration and remittance flows have dropped since 2014. The declines, according to the study, have been due in large part to the economic slowdown in Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as tighter implementation of migration regulations in Russia.

Should these trends continue, they could have major development implications.

The question is, will they?

Using GDP forecasts provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and labour force forecasts provided by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the study finds that—even in the minimalist scenario—migration outflows (and remittance inflows) for the next 15 years will continue to be quite significant in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

This is because the numbers of workers entering the labour force in the less wealthy Central Asian countries are likely to continue to dramatically exceed their economies’ ability to absorb them.

Meanwhile, a contracting labour force in Russia, combined with income levels at least three times as high as in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, seem poised to attract growing numbers of jobless workers.

In other words, like many other places in the world, the push and pull factors behind migration will continue to inspire people to leave their home countries in search of opportunity.

Income poverty rates in Kyrgyzstan 2010-2014 (Source: Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic)

UNDP, alongside the Eurasian Development Bank’s Centre for Integration Studies and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), is launching the report on migration and remittances in Central Asia in Brussels, Moscow and Istanbul. The tri-city launch highlights the global impact this kind of migration has.

The reports launch also coincides with the Global Forum on Migration and Development, taking place in Istanbul from 14 to 16 October 2015 and focusing on human mobility for sustainable development.

The impact of migration depends very much on how it happens and what kinds of policies are in place from both origin and destination countries.

A people-centred analysis can help us to understand migration and remittances better and to help governments better manage the benefits and costs of migration. The new Sustainable Development Goals highlight the importance of better migration policies, particularly to achieve Goal 10 on reducing inequalities among and within countries.

At UNDP, we help countries integrate migration and remittances into their development strategies. These efforts to support national and local institutions, to increase community participation in migration issues, to reach out to diaspora communities, and to attract remittances into local development projects, could pay large dividends.

Read the full report, Labour Migration, Remittances, and Human Development in Central Asia.

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