Migrants essential to recovery of global development post COVID-19

Legal pathways, cheaper remittances, guaranteeing women’s rights could help get people moving again according to new UN research

October 21, 2020


New York – Global human mobility has halted with the overall impact of COVID-19, hitting people on the move hard. As borders re-open slowly, a new UN Development Programme (UNDP) report illustrates how governments can shape migration to benefit development and boost recovery.

The report, Human Mobility, Shared Opportunities: A Review of the 2009 Human Development Report and the Way Ahead, looks back at the last decade and assesses how future policy responses could facilitate safe, orderly, and regular migration.

Human Mobility, Shared Opportunities recommends expanding legal pathways, reducing transaction costs on remittances, guaranteeing migrants’ rights, especially for women, fostering integration and social cohesion, and mobilizing diasporas. With forced migration doubling over the last 10 years to around 79 million people, tackling its causes will be essential for development.

“The pandemic and the pause in travel is a chance to reshape human mobility and build forward better. Promoting the benefits, reducing the costs and making migration a choice will prepare us today to face the further challenges of climate change, growing inequality, and the digital transformation of labour tomorrow,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.

People on the move are extremely vulnerable to the health, economic and social impacts of the coronavirus. With their high economic and labour contributions, migrants are also essential to recovery. ‘Nobody is safe until everyone is safe’ means an inclusive response, including migrants.

“The 2008 Global Economic Crisis was followed by a decade of much politicised debate, some progress and many missed opportunities on human mobility. We must redouble efforts now and focus on progress over the next ten years if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” concluded Achim Steiner.

Managed well, human mobility propels economic growth, reduces inequalities, and connects diverse societies. Although they make up for only 3.5 percent of the world’s population, migrants generated 9 percent of global GDP in 2015, for example.

Research by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank shows that a percentage increase in the migrant share of the population in high income countries boosts per capita income by two percent. If immigrants increased the workforces of wealthy countries by three percent, that would boost world GDP by US$356 billion by 2025.

“Healthy economies and societies depend on human mobility. COVID-19 recovery efforts must include migrants, ensuring that neither their rights are marginalized nor their potential for contribution is left to waste,” added UNDP’s Assistant Administrator and Director for the Crisis Bureau, Asako Okai.  

The report says that since 2009 little progress has been made in addressing the mobility of low-skilled migrants. Migrants’ rights are more protected on paper, but their access to social protection and services is still limited in most countries. And transaction costs for documents, travel and money transfer remain stubbornly high.

At the same time, new approaches are enhancing the benefits of human mobility for migrants and their families, and also for countries of origin and destination. These include efforts to expand legal migration pathways, digital innovations to help people earn a living on the move, a renewed focus on social protection and on the participation of diasporas in the policies of countries of origin.

"Migrants help provide the building blocks for prosperous societies bringing knowledge, support, networks, and skills in countries of origin, transit and destination," says António Vitorino, Director General for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). "Yet the development benefits of migration are not guaranteed. Positive outcomes depend on having conducive social, cultural, political and economic structures in place."

Together with the International Organization for Migration, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and partners in the UN Network on Migration, UNDP stands ready to support policymakers in amplifying the empowerment effects of migration and mitigating increased vulnerabilities in view of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2030.

Human Mobility, Shared Opportunities: A Review of the 2009 Human Development Report and the Way Ahead is published as UNDP marks 30 years of its annual landmark Human Development Reports with a series of events.