Migration Management: The Developing Countries’ Perspective

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by Jeff Dayton-Johnson, Denis Drechsler and Jason Gagnon1

Tools for Migration Management
Challenges for Policy Making
Policy Recommendations

Immigration reform in several OECD countries; few public policy issues command as much attention or generate as much passion among voters and tax payers. In the context of immigration countries, such public debates focus, at least in part, on determining how migration can be managed to best serve the nation's interests.2 Indeed, several studies, such as the OECD horizontal project on Managing Labour Migration to Maximise Economic Growth, seek to provide solid evidence-based recommendations for OECD countries to enact migration policies that promote economic growth. But how should low- and middle-income countries manage migration to serve their own economic goals? This is the subject of this article.

Unlike the issue of return migration, migration management in developing countries has not been subject to rigorous analytical scrutiny, though there are some important papers in the short bibliography on the topic, including Newland (2005) and Hatton (2007). Thus the Development Centre's strategy has not been to review or test existing hypotheses and concepts, but to look at a number of countries' experience with migration management. The objective is to provide empirical accounts that will contribute to this emerging area of policy debate.

To this end, the OECD Development Centre undertook three case studies in collaboration with leading international experts to assess concrete policy options available to developing countries to improve migration management. Two of the most important migration corridors involving both developing and OECD countries – namely, the corridor linking Mexico and the United States, and the migration flows to Europe from the Mediterranean basin (with a focus on Morocco, Egypt, Israel and Turkey) – are represented in the case studies. The third looks at migration flows in Indonesia, which, while not an OECD country, is nevertheless one of the “enhanced engagement” countries with which the Organisation now works more closely, and which furthermore provides evidence to this study from an Asian case.

The case studies explicitly consider emigration, immigration and transit migration as well as the relationship between internal and international migration. Furthermore the importance of circular and return migration is assessed in detail. The migrant-sending countries in these studies will be collectively referred to as “developing countries” though this is not entirely precise: they include OECD countries (Mexico, Turkey), OECD candidate and enhanced engagement countries (Indonesia, Israel), and non-OECD countries (Egypt, Morocco).3

Tools for Migration Management

Not every country of origin in the developing world wields public policy to get more from the migration-development nexus. But in many cases, there has been over the years a change in perception among decision makers regarding the relative importance of migration as a concern for public policy, and sometimes a conscious attempt to incorporate migration-related issues into development policies. Migrants themselves, once characterised as traitors or worse, are now heralded as heroes in public pronouncements in Indonesia.

In Egypt, beginning in the 1970s, authorities began to see migration as a pressure-release valve, and even as a development tool; today there is some political support and new programmes to help migrants with integration in host countries. In Morocco, policies have likewise shifted over time from attempting to stop migration, to promoting circular migration and engaging Moroccan diasporas. Turkey has been proactive, allowing dual citizenship and encouraging circular migration. Israel, meanwhile, has been transformed from an immigration country to one marked by strong emigration, and policies have recently shifted from luring people with needed skills to luring back those who have left (or retaining those who might otherwise leave).

What kind of policy tools are available to developing countries should they seek to increase the benefits and minimise the risks associated with international migration? In general, policy options can be grouped into the following three categories:

  • migration policies narrowly conceived
  • international agreements
  • non-migration policies with an impact on migration and development.

Migration policies narrowly conceived include measures to leverage, whether implicitly or explicitly, the development potential of the international mobility of nationals. Surely the most remarked upon case of migration management in a country of origin is the Philippines, where public policy in this regard relies upon what we have called migration policies narrowly conceived.4 Migration management in Filipino public administration dates back to laws passed in 1974, and is centred around four pillars: the regulation of recruitment, management of the deployment process, the protection and representation of migrant workers and the establishment of recording mechanisms.

These are inscribed in what can be viewed as the „Magna Carta’ of Filipino migration management: The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995. Together with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), it seeks not only to ensure the welfare of migrants, but that migration also contributes to the general development of the country. Much of the gains accrued in the Philippine “migration industry” can be attributed to lessons on micro-management learned abroad and applied at home such as the regulation of migrant recruitment agencies, pre-departure preparation of migrants going abroad, the protection of migrant workers through the establishment of financial funds, the development of recording and tracking systems and competition promotion in the remittances industry.

Migration policies may take the form of expenditures to favour migrants abroad or to promote relations with diasporas, such as efforts, like those launched by Israel and Mexico, to attract skilled emigrants back to their home. Or they may take the form of legislation, including bilateral and multilateral agreements, that aids migrants abroad. The cornerstone of the Philippines' much-remarked upon migration policy has been the production of migrants in host countries; this is true of some of the case-study countries covered by this project. Morocco, Egypt and Turkey tackle issues of border management in close collaboration with the European Union, helping to harmonise immigration and emigration policies.

Policies to facilitate migrants' settlement and integration into their host countries can be seen as a third set of migration policies with an impact on development and well-being of migrants and their families. Notable examples from the case studies include efforts by the para-statal Fondation Hassan II pour les Marocains Résidants à l’Étranger in Morocco to send imams and language teachers to work with Moroccan migrants abroad, or the promotion by Mexico of the matrícula consular – an identity card for its migrants abroad. Also in this vein, Indonesia allows a growing involvement of civil society (e.g. NGOs, Migrant Worker Organisations) in questions related to migration management, in part to ease policy-making capacity constraints within government.

Finally, there are policies to facilate and lower the cost and increase the social benefits of remittance transfers, such as increasing the geographic reach of financial institutions by Turkey and Morocco to increase their accessibility for migrants and their families, or the Directo a México initiative of the US Federal Reserve System and the Mexican central bank. Mexico's Tres por uno programme, which matches each peso remitted for community-development projects with federal, state and municipal funds, is an example of a public policy to raise the social return to remittances.5

International agreements can be bilateral, regional or multilateral. Bilateral agreements come in several forms. They include temporary or seasonal worker programmes, like the Bracero Programme between the United States and Mexico discussed below, or the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme between Canada and Mexico, as well as similar agreements between Turkey and several European countries. (Mexico has also recently struck a memorandum of understanding with Spain on temporary workers.) Bilateral agreements also include more complicated readmission programmes, such as those observed between some Mediterranean countries. Mexican efforts aim at establishing an administrative dialogue regarding the handling and management of returning migrants.

Indonesia has concluded several Memoranda of Understanding with migrant receiving countries to improve the situation of migrant workers abroad (e.g. Malaysia, South Korea, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Australia, Chinese Taipei). Repatriation programmes – whether to attract highly skilled workers back home, or to expel workers who illegally entered a country – are another category of bilateral agreement.

Regional agreements like the Regional Migration Conference or Puebla Process, instituted among Canada, the United States, Mexico, all Central American countries and the Dominican Republic bring more players to the table. And genuinely multilateral agreements include initiatives such as the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the International Migration Convention of 1998 (ratified in 2003), or the GATS Mode IV agreement on the international movement of service providers.

Among non-migration policies with an impact on migration and development are macroeconomic policies that favour development, which might increase emigration in the medium term, only to reduce it in the long term.6 Active labour market policies, such as the new Programme of First Employment adopted in Mexico in 2006 could in principle dampen emigration by easing employment among young and relatively less-skilled job seekers. (Under this policy, for example, the government covers part of the social-security contributions of new entrants to the labour market.) Regional development programmes, including the encouragement by fiscal and other means of assembly plants (maquiladoras) along Mexico's northern border, lead to internal migration movements that have affected international mobility as well. Since 2000, border industrialisation efforts have employed more than 1 million Mexicans; whether this absorbs some of the flows that would otherwise leave the country, or attracts more potential candidates for international migration to the border region is an empirical question not easily answered.

Finally, regional trade policies, of which the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is among the most celebrated, are often touted for their disincentivising effects upon emigration (as new jobs are created); in practice, they may lead to a net increase in emigration, as a result of upheavals of economic restructuring, and indeed the greater prosperity that provides more potential migrants with the resources to pay for their mobility. Indeed, since the adoption of NAFTA in 1994, emigration from Mexico to the United States has increased dramatically, even as trade flows have surged between the two countries.

Challenges for Policy Making

A 2005 report by the Global Commission for International Migration (GCIM) provides a useful taxonomy of challenges that beset migration management. The GCIM outlines four such challenges:

  • A lack of coherence between host and home country policies; 
  • Insufficient co-ordination between internal and international policy-making and implementation; 
  • A lack of general capacity (knowledge and information, institutional adaptability); 
  • Insufficient co-operation among countries (livelihoods transcend borders - so should policies).

Fostering Coherence between Host and Home Country

Increased policy coherence is at the heart of the debate for better migration management. In a number of publications, the OECD has called for greater coherence within OECD countries between development co-operation policies and other policies (e.g., trade, agriculture, investment, security, migration).7 Coherence among a single country's policies is only one dimension of policy coherence, however: coherence of policies between migrant-sending and migrant-receiving policies is another. Incoherence and inconsistency in this regard can arise because of different perceptions of the costs and benefits of international migration.

In OECD countries marked by high rates of unemployment among unskilled people, policy makers may well look askance at inflows of low-skilled immigrants. Similarly, developing countries faced with high emigration rates among scarce highly-skilled people (doctors, teachers, engineers) may regret visa policies in OECD countries that make it easier for their compatriots to settle and work abroad. Reality is frequently more complex than this but the basic point is that incoherent policies can stem from opposed interests.

Nevertheless, experiences from the early migration stages in Mexico and Turkey illustrate that migration can produce mutually beneficial results if both migrant-sending and -receiving countries co-operate closely. These experiences furthermore illustrate that policies have often times not sufficiently taken into consideration the long-term consequences of migration movements.

Migration from Mexico to the United States started in the 1940s when the United States government sent recruiters to rural Mexico to encourage young workers to “go north for opportunity” (PRB, 2008). Throughout the life of the so-called Bracero Programme, Mexican migrants successfully helped fill wartime labour shortages on U.S. farms and returned home with savings and new experiences. Migration was mostly circular and flexible, in line with U.S. requirements. At the same time, the positive experiences of returning migrants encouraged more people to try to get into the United States, increasing an increasingly difficult-to-control flow of undocumented migrants.

A similar pattern can be observed in Turkey, which saw the first waves of migrants towards Germany and other countries in Western Europe in response to a call for “guest workers” in the 1960s. In Germany, for example, poorly educated young men were issued special visas that allowed them entry for one or two years to take unskilled jobs. As in Germany, the economic prosperity of France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and other West European countries was partly made possible by immigrant labour, mainly from Turkey and North Africa. Despite efforts of receiving countries to discourage further migration, flows continued even after recruitment programmes had officially ended (as a result of family reunifications, for example).

Improving Co-ordination between Policy-making and Implementation

Many policies seek to increase the net benefits to developing countries associated with international migration – whether by protecting migrants' rights and well-being, encouraging the retention of skilled workers, reducing illegal migration flows, creating employment opportunities at home. Many such policies have failed or stalled and the reasons are legion. A breakdown of bilateral or multilateral negotiations can be the culprit, as with the United Nations convention on migrants' rights, or the most recent round of talks between the United States and Mexico. At other times, policies can have unintended consequences, as when NAFTA increased rather than decreased incentives for emigration from Mexico.

Lack of co-ordination, high levels of corruption and numerous administrative burdens are among the factors that prevent better development impacts of migration in many developing countries. Indonesia's plan to increase high-skill migration to foster remittances incomes has been criticised as being detached from realities on the ground. Although Indonesia now recognises the development potential of migration (and declares that migration should be increased), migration is not integrated into development plans. Despite a High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in 2006, for example, the country still lacks programmes to provide investment opportunities in migrants' regions of origin.

Addressing Capacity Constraints (knowledge, information, institutions)

Many migrant-sending countries lack the capacity, resources and institutional framework to record and maintain basic data on migration flows, data that could be used to monitor and evaluate the success or failure of different policy measures. Although migration has become a major policy issue, data and statistics on migrants (e.g. concerning their numbers, itineraries, intentions and skills) remain insufficient in many places. Rarely do countries invest in projects such as the “Integrated Migration Information System” in Egypt which helps make more informed policy decisions.

There is thus a need for a much greater commitment of resources by both sending and receiving country governments on the issue. Moreover, migration cuts across ministerial competencies and transcends national borders. Because of this, capacity constraints are closely linked to a lack of coherence among ministries and across countries. Consultative processes on migration must also include technical capacity building, through the training of government official on strengthening migration management systems, but also a greater circulation of information of use to migrants themselves as well as their households.

The information that circulates in migrants' networks is another form of capacity that can be mobilised by judicious public policy. The celebrated Mexican Tres por uno programme, for example, can be interpreted as an attempt to harness migrants' superior knowledge about social-development priorities in their communities of origin. The programme lets migrants and communities choose and develop the projects before injecting public funds. Similarly, Mexico's Programa para las Comunidades Mexicanas en el Exterior (PCME), in place since 1990, or the Moroccan Fondation Hassan II¸ established in 1996, can be seen as providing physical and social infrastructure to encourage the circulation of information among diaspora communities and countries of origin, which is a form of capacity building.

Encouraging Co-operation among Countries

Co-operation among migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries has been discussed already in this document. The growing importance of transit migration and immigration in traditional emigration countries like Mexico, Morocco, and Turkey suggests that the distinction between sending and receiving countries has ceased to be as useful as it once was to discussions of international co-operation. Regardless, there are important externalities of people flows that argue for international co-operation and co-ordination.

In that connection, what is the appropriate framework for co-operation among states in a world of mobile workers? One could entertain the idea of an international organisation designed in the same way as the World Trade Organisation, co-ordinating and regulating the international movement of labour. Another approach to this question is a revival of the “Bhagwati Tax” concept, according to which highly-skilled emigrants would compensate their home countries. However, labour, by its very nature is not “traded” the same way that goods or capital are. It has been argued that the WTO model works for matters of international trade regulation because countries engage in trade when they have a comparative advantage and not an absolute advantage, while the opposite holds for migration (Hatton, 2007).

Perhaps a more pragmatic idea, suggested in the GCIM (2005), is to establish an international body that co-ordinates policies, rather than the actual movement of people. As it stands, several organisations attempt to do just this (e.g. ILO, UNHCR and IOM). None, however, has emerged as the leading organisation to which country-level policy makers can turn. Moreover, the complexity of migration policies suggested in our lengthy typology of the previous section makes it unclear how far such an organisation's mandate would extend in practice. For example, could a World Migration Organisation co-ordinate macroeconomic development policy? Unlikely.

In the absence of truly global initiatives, the ground will be occupied by unilateral and bilateral measures, but also, perhaps, by emerging regional agreements – not all of which will be driven by migration concerns, as is illustrated by the example of NAFTA.8 Such agreements, whether in Meso-America, the Mediterranean or Indonesia, merit closer evaluation. The lessons from one regional experience will likely have much to teach policy makers elsewhere, but the existence of regional specificities should caution us against crude “one size fits all” recommendations.

Developing countries have much to gain from improved migration management. As illustrated by our country case studies, the significant development impacts are only gradually being recognised and only imperfectly being realised.

Existing institutional set-ups must be overhauled for better migration management; regions must seek mechanisms to promote communication, negotiation and consensus-building among policy communities and their constituencies. Enhanced partnerships between sending and receiving regions may be an effective mechanism for assuring that interlinked and coherent policies are put in place and properly implemented. In addition, migration, employment, trade, investment and development assistance considerations must also be jointly addressed at the regional, national and global levels.

Policy Recommendations

On the basis of the case studies and other recent work on migration and development, the following policy recommendations can be proposed.9

Migration policies narrowly conceived

  • At the national level, inter-ministerial and interdepartmental initiatives can promote co-ordination of development and migration policies 
  • Migrant-sending countries can draw upon the capacity and credibility of migration organisations (e.g. ILO, IOM, UNHCR) even in the absence of a leading migration agency for international co-ordination. 
  • Governments can continue to reduce the cost of remittances and increase the range of consumption and investment options available to migrants and their families. 
  • Governments of migrant-sending countries can draw upon the physical, social and human capital embodied in diaspora networks, in pursuit of both development and migration policy objectives.

International agreements

  • A better assessment of labour supply and demand in origin and destination countries alike can underpin more successful agreements. 
  • At the level of supranational entities (e.g. African Union; ASEAN) stronger systematic consultations regarding migration can be put in place across all relevant decision making bodies. 
  • Regional initiatives among developing countries need to be strengthened; much low-skilled migration from the poorest regions is often to other nearby developing regions 
  • Infrastructure investment decisions need to take into account mobility corridors; improved transport and communication capacity can help labour markets in developing countries to adjust to emigration.

Non-migration policies

  • Macroeconomic policies, including taxation, expenditure and exchange rate policies, must be adapted to the outflow of workers. 
  • Policies that restrict internal movement in countries of origin, including portability of social security and social protection, limit those countries' ability to adapt to international migration. 
  • Trade policies affect migration movement, as the NAFTA experience suggests, and should accordingly be set with an eye to those effects. 
  • Sending regions must adapt their human resource policies, in both the public and private sectors, to emigration in order to facilitate adjustment and replenishment; at a minimum, such policies should not punish migrants who wish to return and re-enter the labour market. 
  • Financing higher education, including financial assistance to needy students and the planning of curricula, must take into consideration the possibility that some, indeed many, students may migrate.


Background and case study papers prepared for this research:

  • ALBA, F., “Mexico's Experience on Migration Management”
  • BORODAK, D., and A.TICHIT, “Les migrations de retour: le cas de la Moldavie”
  • GAGNON, J., and J. DAYTON-JOHNSON, “Volver, volver, volver: Return migration and development”
  • HUGO, G., “International Migration and Development in Indonesia: Issues and Challenges”
  • MENDOZA, J.E., “Return Migration and Development: the case of Mexico”
  • PIRACHA, M., and F. VADEAN, “Determinants and Impact of Return Migration in Albania”
  • TOVIAS, A., and Y. TOVIAS, “Emigration Policies in the Mediterranean Region: Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Turkey”

These papers were presented and discussed, in preliminary form, at a workshop held at the Development Centre on 10-11 July 2008.

Additional References

  • CHAPPELL, L. and R. LUCAS, (2008), “Measuring Migration’s Development Impacts: Evidence from Jamaica,” Institute for Public Policy Research, London
  • DAYTON-JOHNSON, J., L. KATSELI, G. MANIATIS, R. MÜNZ, D. PAPADEMETRIOU (2007), Gaining from Migration: Towards a New Mobility System, OECD Development Centre, Paris
  • GCIM (2005), “Migration in an Interconnected World: New Directions for Action”, Report of the Global Commission on International Migration
  • HATTON, T. J. (2007), “Should We Have a WTO for International Migration?”, Economic Policy, Vol. 22, No. 50, pp. 339-383.
    KATSELI, L., R. LUCAS, and T. XENOGIANI, (2006), “Migration and Development: What Do We Know and What Can We Do?” OECD Development Centre Working Paper No. 259, Paris: OECD Development Paper
  • KOHNERT, D., (2008): EU-African Economic Relations – Continuing Dominance, Traded for Aid?, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, GIGA Working Paper N° 82, July 2008
  • MARTIN, P. and G. ZÜRCHER (2008), “Managing Migration: The Global Challenge”, Population Bulletin, Population Reference Bureau, Vol.63, No.1, 19 pp.
  • NEWLAND, K. (2005), “The Governance of International Migration: Mechanisms, Processes and Institutions”, Paper prepared for the GCIM, 18 pp.
  • OECD (2005), Migration, Remittances and Development, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris
  • OECD (2007), Policy Coherence for Development: Migration and Developing Countries, OECD Development Centre, Paris
  • OECD (2008), International Migration Outlook 2008, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris
  • RUIZ, N.G. (2008), “Managing Migration: Lessons from the Philippines”, Migration and Development Brief No.6, Report Number 45131, World Bank, Washington, DC.


1 This synthesis note was prepared by Jeff Dayton-Johnson, Denis Drechsler and Jason Gagnon of the Development Centre, with comments and suggestions from other members of the Poverty Reduction and Social Development Unit of the Centre.
2 See Dayton-Johnson et al. (2007) for discussion of policy trade offs in migration policies in European OECD countries, and in developing countries.
3 Unless explicitly noted otherwise, statements regarding Mexico, the Mediterranean Basin countries (Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Turkey) and Indonesia are based on the case-study papers listed in the Annex by Alba, Tovias and Tovias, and Hugo, respectively.
4 See Ruíz (2008).
5 OECD (2005) assesses the Tres por uno programme in addition to providing a global overview of the links between remittances and development.
6 This so-called “migration hump” – according to which emigration rises as average income rises, only to fall as income rises further – is discussed in OECD (2007) and Katseli et al. (2006).
7 OECD (2007) makes the case for coherence between migration and development policies – in both OECD and developing countries – and provides references to other OECD titles on policy coherence, many of which have been published in the series entitled The Development Dimension.
8 See the discussion of the costs and benefits of bilateral, regional and global agreements in Dayton-Johnson et al. (2007).
9 Fuller discussions of these policy recommendations and related issues are provided in OECD (2007).


Jeff Dayton-Johnson (senior economist), Denis Drechsler (outreach co-coordinator) and Jason Gagnon (research associate) work with the Poverty Reduction and Social Development group at the OECD Development Centre.

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