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Human Development Report, 2009 Challenges Migration Misconceptions

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of a country’s human development. It measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions:
  • a long and healthy life, as measured by life expectancy at birth;
  • access to knowledge, as measured by the adult literacy rate and the combined gross enrolment ratio in education; and
  • a decent standard of living, as measured by GDP per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP) US dollars.
2009 HDI—which uses data for 2007—has been calculated for 182 countries. Three new countries have been included: Andorra and Liechtenstein, both for the first time ever, and Afghanistan, for the first time since 1996. The results presented in the report take account of both new data and revisions to past series. It is important to note that these HDI results, based on 2007 data, do not reflect the effects of the global economic crisis, which is expected to have massive impacts on human development achievements in many countries around the world.

Norway tops the list, followed by Australia in second position and Iceland in third—the same positions as 2008. There are few changes in rank in the top ten and only one newcomer—France—which has displaced Luxembourg. At the other end of the index, Niger, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone are respectively in the last three places and have also not changed ranks between 2006 and 2007.

India continues to be ranked 134. There has been no change in its rank this year.

The theme of 2009 report was: Overcoming barriers—Human mobility and development.

The huge differences in human development across and within countries have been a recurring theme of the Human Development Report (HDR) since it was first published in 1990. In 2009 report, it explores for the first time the topic of migration.

According to HDR 2009, for many people in developing countries, moving away from their home town or village can be the best—sometimes the only—option open to improve their life chances. Human mobility can be hugely effective in raising a person’s income, health and education prospects. But its value is more than that: being able to decide where to live is a key element of human freedom.

When people move, they embark on a journey of hope and uncertainty, whether within or across international borders. Most people move in search of better opportunities, hoping to combine their own talents with resources in the destination country so as to benefit themselves and their immediate family, who often accompany or follow them. If they succeed, their initiative and efforts can also benefit those left behind and the society in which they make their new home.

But not all do succeed, says the report. Migrants who leave friends and family may face loneliness, may feel unwelcome among people who fear or resent newcomers, may lose their jobs or fall ill and thus be unable to access the support services they need in order to prosper.

The 2009 HDR explores how better policies towards human mobility can enhance human development. It lays out the case for governments to reduce restrictions on movement within and across their borders, so as to expand human choices and freedoms. It argues for practical measures that can improve prospects on arrival, which in turn will have large benefits both for destination communities and for places of origin.

According to HDR 2009, most movement in the world does not take place between developing and developed countries; it does not even take place between countries. The overwhelming majority of people who move do so inside their own country. Using a conservative definition, the report estimates that approximately 740 million people are internal migrants—almost four times as many as those who have moved internationally. Among people who have moved across national borders, just over a third moved from a developing to a developed country—fewer than 70 million people. Most of the world’s 200 million international migrants moved from one developing country to another or between developed countries.

People displaced by insecurity and conflict face special challenges, the report says. There are an estimated 14 million refugees living outside their country of citizenship, representing about 7 percent of the world’s migrants. Most remain near the country they fled, typically living in camps until conditions at home allow their return, but around half a million per year travel to developed countries and seek asylum there. A much larger number, some 26 million, have been internally displaced. They have crossed no frontiers, but may face special difficulties away from home in a country riven by conflict or racked by natural disasters. Another vulnerable group consists of people—mainly young women—who have been trafficked.

In general, however, people move of their own volition, to better-off places. More than three quarters of international migrants go to a country with a higher level of human development than their country of origin, the report adds. Yet, they are significantly constrained, both by policies that impose barriers to entry and by the resources they have available to enable their move.

People in poor countries are the least mobile: for example, fewer than 1 percent of Africans have moved to Europe. Indeed, history and contemporary evidence suggest that development and migration go hand in hand: the median emigration rate in a country with low human development is below 4 percent, compared to more than 8 percent from countries with high levels of human development.

According to HDR 2009, demographic trends—an aging population in developed countries and young, still-rising populations in developing countries—and growing employment opportunities, combined with cheaper communications and transport, have increased the ‘demand’ for migration. However, those wishing to migrate have increasingly come up against government-imposed barriers to movement.

Another interesting fact brought out by the report is that an estimated 50 million people today are living and working abroad with irregular status. Some countries, such as Thailand and the United States, tolerate large numbers of unauthorized workers. This may allow those individuals to access better paying jobs than at home, but although they often do the same work and pay the same taxes as local residents, they may lack access to basic services and face the risk of being deported. Some governments, such as those of Italy and Spain, have recognized that unskilled migrants contribute to their societies and have regularized the status of those in work, while other countries, such as Canada and New Zealand, have well designed seasonal migrant programmes for sectors such as agriculture.

HDR 2009 argues that migrants boost economic output, at little or no cost to locals. Indeed, there may be broader positive effects, for instance when the availability of migrants for childcare allows resident mothers to work outside the home. As migrants acquire the language and other skills needed to move up the income ladder, many integrate quite naturally, making fears about inassimilable foreigners seem unwarranted. Yet it is also true that many migrants face systemic disadvantages, making it difficult or impossible for them to access local services on equal terms with local people. And these problems are especially severe for temporary and irregular workers.

In migrants’ countries of origin, the impacts of movement are felt in higher incomes and consumption, better education and improved health, as well as at a broader cultural and social level. Moving generally brings benefits, most directly in the form of remittances sent to immediate family members. However, the benefits are also spread more broadly as remittances are spent—thereby generating jobs for local workers—and as behaviour changes in response to ideas from abroad.

HDR 2009 believes that large gains to human development can be achieved by lowering the barriers to movement and improving the treatment of movers. A bold vision is needed to realize these gains.

Overcoming Barriers lays out a core package of reforms, which comprises six ‘pillars’. Each pillar is beneficial on its own, but together these offer the best chance of maximizing the human development impacts of migration:
  1. Liberalizing and simplifying regular channels that allow people with low skills to seek work abroad;
  2. Ensuring basic rights for migrants;
  3. Reducing transaction costs associated with migration;
  4. Improving outcomes for migrants and destination communities;
  5. Enabling benefits from internal mobility; and
  6. Making mobility an integral part of national development strategies.
While the report agrees that migration is not a substitute for broader development efforts, it can be a vital strategy for households and families seeking to diversify and improve their livelihoods, especially in developing countries. Governments need to recognize this potential and should integrate migration with other aspects of national development policy.

The Road Ahead
The report says, for origin countries, more systematic consideration of the profile of migration and its benefits, costs and risks would provide a better basis for integrating movement into national development strategies. Emigration is not an alternative to accelerated development efforts at home, but mobility can facilitate access to ideas, knowledge and resources that can complement and in some cases enhance progress.

For destination countries, the ‘how and when’ of reforms will depend on a realistic look at economic and social conditions, taking into account public opinion and political constraints at local and national levels.

International cooperation, especially through bilateral or regional agreements, can lead to better migration management, improved protection of migrants’ rights and enhanced contributions of migrants to both origin and destination countries.

In terms of international migration, the Report does not advocate wholesale liberalization, since people at destination places have a right to shape their societies; but it argues that there is a strong case for increased access for sectors with a high demand for labour, including for the low-skilled. This is particularly important for developed countries because their populations are ageing—and this may increase the demand for migrant workers.


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