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Forced displacement is at historic levels as a result of global conflict and crises. Meanwhile economic migration—a known driver of development—has been demonized as part of the backlash against globalization. As nations work toward the Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees, governments and international agencies are struggling to respond to the scale of need and the polarization of attitudes.
First and foremost, the impact of migration is a policy choice: With the right policies, migrants and refugees can fuel economic growth in both the countries they live in and leave behind. CGD brings rigorous research and evidence to these contentious political issues and designs policy approaches that enable migrants, refugees, and their hosts to prosper.
Migration is a volatile political issue worldwide. It will become explosive in decades to come, as demographic change raises pressure on the traditional ways of regulating migration. Right now there is a window of opportunity for countries to agree on how to manage migration better. That window will close in July.
A New Bargain
The Global Compact on Migration is a non-binding agreement expected to be signed by most countries on earth near the end of 2018. They are negotiating the text now. This Compact is a once-in-a-generation chance for the world to strike a new bargain on migration. There will not be another chance soon to get this bargain right.
As it stands, the Zero Draft of the Global Compact is mostly not a bargain. It is mostly a detailed and inspirational list of general ways that countries can coordinate to advance their shared interests: Everyone wants migration to be safe and orderly. Everyone wants to share information and reduce racism. Everyone wants to collect better statistics and promote sustainable development. Let’s work together.
But the final draft of the Global Compact needs something else.
It must be a bargain. In a bargain, people don’t pretend their interests are aligned. They admit conflicting interests. And they partially concede, in order to come out better than they could by going it alone.
Right now, vast numbers of people have deep concerns about migration. That includes people in the countries that migrants leave. Politicians cannot go to them with a document touting the shared interests of all. Many see real conflicts in the interests of more developed and less-developed countries, and conflicts between migrants and non-migrants.
A core conflicting interest, to put it roughly and bluntly, is that many in richer countries want less low-skill migration, but many in poorer countries want less high-skill migration. This is a crack in the heart of the negotiations on the Global Compact.
A Compact that simply proposes “more” low-skill or “more” high-skill migration does not address these concerns. It is not a bargain. On the other hand, a compact that does not explore new lawful channels for migration—of some kind—ignores overwhelming demographic, economic, and geographic realities.
So the Compact needs three things:
Specific innovations—because proposing “more” migration cannot rise to this challenge.
And small step commitments—not committing to some “answer”. No one knows what the “answer” is, but countries can learn more by committing to pilot a range of approaches testing what can create tangible, visible, mutual benefits.
A Way Forward: Global Skill Partnerships
There are seeds for a bargain in the draft Compact already. Negotiators can cultivate them.
A Global Skill Partnership is a bilateral agreement in which a migrant destination country gets directly involved in creating human capital among potential migrants in a country of origin—before they migrate—and non-migrants. Destination-country employers and governments provide technology and finance for vocational training inside the country of origin, and job placement at the destination—critically, paired with the training of other workers who remain in the origin country.
For example, think of a nursing school in central Banjul, in West Africa. The EU and European employers transfer finance and technology to support that school’s training of two kinds of people: specialized nurse assistants to work in Europe, and nurses to work in the Gambia. Migrants coming from such a program would have precisely the skills they need to integrate quickly and contribute maximally when they get to Europe. European governments would save money, not spend money: they need nurse assistants regardless, and training them the Gambia is enormously cheaper. The Gambian government gets more nurses, not fewer, and can cooperate as an equal partner without fears of “brain drain.” Young girls in Banjul could walk past that school and see that, growing up, they’d have concrete options other than risking their lives to migrate unlawfully as a sub-minimum wage maid or sex worker.
A Global Skill Partnership is a bargain because it means concessions. Richer countries concede to support origin-country training centers and offer labor-market access, but in return they get precisely the kind of immigrants they want. Poorer countries concede to more skilled migration, but in return they get support for training at home. This is a bargain. If either acts alone, they those.
It’s a wonderful sign that the specific bargain of Global Skill Partnerships is endorsed in the Zero Draft. It’s one of the best tools we have to mend the crack at the heart of the negotiations. The Compact needs this and other bargains if it is to address real and widespread concerns about migration.
As you think through what should be defended in the Zero Draft, and what should change, please push for the final draft to contain bargains with concessions to real concerns of conflicting interest, commit to specifically-named innovations, and commit to testing those innovations, not prematurely embracing them. Don’t describe trees; plant seeds.
One way to do all this is to insist that the final draft of the Compact retain the Zero Draft’s commitment to test out Global Skill Partnerships at a small scale. That’s just the beginning.
An increasingly common justification for European development assistance to Africa is the notion that it will reduce migration from the South. While this sounds intuitive and makes for an appealing argument, the research shows that it is highly unlikely. As communities become less poor, more people gain the abilities and wherewithal to undertake an expensive journey to a better life elsewhere. Development often increases migration—at least initially.
The combination of demographic and economic imbalances means that migration flows between Africa and Europe will almost certainly increase in the coming decades. By 2050, sub-Saharan Africa will have 800 million new workforce participants. This population boom will be full of young, energetic job seekers, and local markets will not be able to absorb and provide meaningful livelihood opportunities for all of them. At the same time, Europe will continue aging, with labor demand exceeding supply in critical sectors such as nursing and healthcare. By 2050, more than 34 percent of Europe’s population is expected to be age 60 or older.
Alongside these demographic realities is the continuing imbalance in living standards. Even if African average per capita incomes were to double in each of the next three decades, by 2050 the income gap with Europe will still be large enough to make migration a promising alternative for many. In addition to economics, many migrants will be driven by conflict or by the already-evident impact of climate change on their home countries. The bottom line is that over the next three decades, it is highly likely that tens of millions of new workers will come to Europe to run factories, provide healthcare and education, and deliver the services that make modern economies functional and comfortable for their residents. The policy choice for Europe is not whether there will be large scale migration, but how to manage it in a way that is economically beneficial and socially sustainable. Three policy imperatives flow from these realities.
Implement policies that maximize migration’s mutual benefits.
Migration can have immense mutual benefits if it is well-governed. Host country policies governing migrants’ access to labor markets and their ease of integration into local communities will determine how quickly these positive migration impacts can be realized. There are many good ideas—and examples—that can be scaled up. Australia and Germany have successfully tested programs to train migrants in needed skills before they arrive, part of a model that CGD has proposed called Global Skill Partnerships. Engaging the private sector from the start is critical to ensuring that such models are sustainable, meet local needs, and maximize migrant contributions to economies. Germany and Canada can provide valuable lessons on supporting the integration of migrants into host communities.
Making migration work also requires explicitly and proactively addressing the needs of host communities. When governments fail to step up help for schools and health facilities strained by additional demands, it only aggravates tensions and resentment that can spill over in ugly ways. Migrants almost always generate net positive economic benefits to the host country at large, but these benefits need to flow quickly and visibly to the local communities most directly impacted by migration. Ultimately, the effect of migration is a policy decision, and policymakers need to implement legislation that allows robust migrant contributions to be realized, at the community level and beyond.
Support Africa’s development for the right reasons.
A vibrant, safe, and prosperous Africa is not just important to Europe but also to the world. And many countries in Africa are making admirable progress on economic and social development. At the same time, the continent poses the central development challenge for the next generation—eradicating remaining extreme poverty; improving health and education outcomes; providing economic opportunities for the burgeoning young population; and dealing with conflicts, extremism, and failing states. Tackling these challenges will require leadership from the continent and sustained support from its partners. For Europe, increasing support to economic and other development in Africa is imperative, not only as a neighbor, but also to equip Africa’s future workforce with the skills and education that will maximize their contributions at home and in Europe, should they choose to move.
That is why development engagement with Africa—through aid but equally through trade, investment, and other channels—remains an essential priority for European policymakers. But for this development assistance to be effective, it needs to focus on supporting broad-based development and not be distorted by ultimately futile programs linked to deterring migration. There is some evidence that funding projects targeted to the supposed root causes of migration and tailoring development interventions too closely to those migration drivers may instead undermine development (and migration deterrence) “by neglecting the development needs of communities.” Given demographic realities, large-scale migration will not significantly let up in the coming decades. In some circumstances, humanitarian or development assistance can relieve immediate pressures to leave a distressed environment, but deterrence efforts alone will not counter the multitude of factors driving these migrant flows. Too narrow a focus on deterrence mechanisms also stacks the test of success for development assistance in a way that will come back to haunt us when we inevitably fail to meet it. Instead, states and international organizations must focus on partnerships and cooperation to shape how migrants will move and contribute.
Address the political discourse head-on and change the rhetoric around migration and development.
The politics around migration are as hard in Europe as they are everywhere. Dealing with the recent and rapid flows of refugees and migrants has brought out underlying tensions within societies and divisions among European states. In this climate, it is expedient to focus on short-term goals rather than provoke a contentious debate about longer-term strategic choices. Expediency, however, can also become an excuse to postpone the necessary dialogue to prepare European societies for the choices they face and how best to manage them. The future migration challenge Europe faces is an example of a so-called Gray Rhino—a highly probable, high-impact, yet neglected policy challenge. To neglect it may likely mean welcoming a cycle of migration “crises” reaching Europe’s borders for decades to come.
The responsibility for changing the discourse falls on more than political or public figures. In the development community, we also sometimes fall into the trap of referring to migration as a “problem” rather than acknowledging it as a potential opportunity. With the right policies, migration offers huge improvements in human welfare, with significant contributions to host communities, migrants’ home communities, and migrants and their families. Let’s work together to put those policies in place so Europe and Africa will both be better for our children.
As waves of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and the US Southwest border, development agencies have received a de facto mandate: to deter migration from poor countries. Will it work? Here we review the evidence on whether foreign aid has been directed toward these “root causes” in the past, whether it has deterred migration from poor countries, and whether it can do so.
In response to the recent migrant and refugee crisis, rich countries have redoubled policy efforts to deter future immigration from poor countries by addressing the “root causes” of migration. We review existing evidence on the extent and effectiveness of such efforts.
Last week, a UN official said that the recent violence against Rohingya has “the hallmarks of a genocide,” underscoring why the plan to repatriate refugees to Myanmar is shockingly premature. While it is far too soon to discuss returns, it is the right time to plan for the longer-term wellbeing of refugees and their host communities in Bangladesh. Cox’s Bazar, a district of about 2.3 million people, is now hosting 900,000 Rohingya, more than 688,000 of whom have arrived since August 2017.
The refugee compacts model—deployed in Jordan and Lebanon now, and soon Ethiopia—offers a promising way forward. Compact agreements bring together the host government, donors, and the international community to develop multi-year commitments aimed at fostering inclusive growth and opportunity for refugees and host communities. As in the Jordan Compact, a key component should be policy reforms, such as the ability for refugees to work, own businesses, and attend school; in turn, these reforms enable refugees to become economic contributors to their host countries.
This CGD policy note argues that Bangladesh and its partners should explore the compact model and consider the inclusion of three ideas that would yield the level of ambition necessary to generate a sustainable response: European Union (EU) trade concessions, migrant worker opportunities, and partnership with China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
1. Expanding Bangladesh’s trade preferences with the European Union
Bangladesh is set to lose trade preferences with the EU and other countries when it graduates from least developed country (LDC) status. More than half of Bangladesh’s exports went to the EU in 2016, about 90 percent of which was textiles and clothing. Upon graduation from EU and other trade preferences, Bangladesh’s export revenue could decline by well over an estimated 5 percent. A compact could extend preferences, bringing significant benefits to Bangladesh without affecting the EU’s fiscal situation. Another potential opportunity that could have more immediate impact is further relaxing rules of origin in emerging sectors such as pharmaceuticals and agri-processing.
2. Increasing opportunities for Bangladeshi migrant workers
A compact could break new ground by including provisions for greater numbers of Bangladeshi migrant workers in the Gulf and Southeast Asia. Raising quotas could help meet labor demand and increase earning opportunities for Bangladeshis—and potentially for refugees as well. Labor migration is a fundamental component of Bangladesh’s economy: in 2015, remittances accounted for about 8 percent of GDP, the second-largest source of foreign income after garment exports. But given the exploitation and abuse that migrant workers experience, any compact should simultaneously seek to strengthen protections for workers. By participating in a compact, Gulf states could strengthen their nascent role in refugee response, building on their contributions to the Syrian crisis and initial support to Rohingya refugees, on mutually beneficial terms.
3. Partnering with China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
Bangladesh is an important strategic and economic partner for China. More than a third of Bangladesh’s imports come from China—and more importantly, Bangladesh is a critical link in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). One of the six BRI economic corridors would connect Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, and China, including the construction of a new port in Bangladesh. The Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is playing an important complementary role, including financing energy projects. Given the reality of protracted displacement, China has an incentive to invest in a solution that promotes inclusive growth and stability in Bangladesh. China could enhance current trade preferences by granting zero tariffs to a greater proportion of Bangladeshi products. It could also accelerate or expand BRI and AIIB projects in Bangladesh and include provisions for Rohingya employment in their implementation.
Although refugees can become economic contributors with supportive policies and investments, the politics can be very difficult. A compact can offer a path forward by creating a package of new and substantial development opportunities for Bangladeshi citizens and Rohingya refugees.
As the US Administration presses for the most extensive revision to immigration law since 1965, with the largest cuts to legal immigration since 1924 in the proposed “Securing America’s Future Act,” a new CGD analysis quantifies for the first time how the proposed cuts would affect the ethnic, religious, and educational composition of immigration flows.
Hispanic and black immigrants would be roughly twice as likely to be barred by the immigration cuts as white immigrants;
The cuts would bar the majority of Muslim and Catholic immigrants; and
The cuts would substantially reduce the number of university-graduate immigrants. Expanded work visas would only add one university graduate for every seven low-skill workers removed by eliminating family visas and Diversity Visas.
Below, we provide a tool that anyone can use to approximate the ethnic effects of a US immigration reform proposal.
Here we provide the first quantitative estimates of how the latest specific immigration reform proposal would alter the ethnic composition of US immigration flows. We analyze the “Securing America’s Future Act” (H.R. 4760) introduced in Congress earlier this month and closely corresponding to the Administration’s immigration policy priorities. We estimate that this Act would cause the following changes in the ethnic composition of new immigration inflows:
That is, in the annual flow of immigrants after such a reform relative to before the reform, the number of non-Hispanic whites would fall by about 34.6 percent. The number of non-Hispanic blacks would fall by 63.9 percent, and the number of Hispanics of any race would fall by 58.2 percent. In other words, comparing the immigration flow with the reform to without it, the chance that any given black or Hispanic immigrant would be barred by the reform is about twice the chance for a white immigrant. This is straightforward consequence of the high representation of these groups in visa categories that would be reduced or eliminated by the reform: family reunification visas for Hispanic immigrants, and Diversity Visas or refugee visas for black immigrants, particularly black African immigrants.
How we found these results: We start with the immigration flows under each visa class in the proposed visa quotas in the Act and the actual immigration flows of each type in the most recent year for which statistics are available (2016). We then estimate the ethnic composition of visa’s recipients via the only available estimates of the ethnic composition of new immigrants in each visa category. These come from a unique survey of a representative sample of all US immigrants in a typical recent year: the 2003 cohort of new US immigrants—reported by Guillermina Jasso and supplemented by our own analysis of the underlying data from the New Immigrant Survey. (No other cohort has been surveyed in this fashion.) We omit relatively small numbers of people who report more than one race, we omit people who report their race as American Indian, and we omit a handful of very small visa categories (EB-4/5). The results are estimates rather than exact forecasts because they rely on the ethnic composition of one past cohort of immigrants.
Along with the above results, we offer a tool that anyone can use to understand and adjust these estimates for themselves. The spreadsheet calculations for all the figures in this post are available here. The spreadsheet can be used as a tool to estimate the ethnic effects of any immigration reform proposal, simply by filling in the revised visa quotas in that proposal. We also post it to show the assumptions and data sources underlying the figures. The Stata code to produce some of the ethnic shares in that spreadsheet, using the raw New Immigrant Survey data, is here.
We use the same method to assess the impact of the Administration’s reform proposals on the ethnic composition of immigration:
That is, in the annual flow of immigrants after such a reform relative to before the reform, the number of Muslims would fall by about 53.2 percent and the number of Catholics would fall by about 53.8 percent. In other words, the reform would eliminate most Muslims and Catholics from the flow of new US immigrants. This is a straightforward consequence of the fact that these groups are disproportionately represented by the recipients of visas that would be reduced or eliminated by the reform: Muslims among Diversity Visas and refugee visas, and Catholics among family-reunification visas.
The Administration has stated that the US economy needs more skilled immigration. We can analyze in the same way the effect of the reform proposals on educational attainment among US immigrants:
That is, in the annual flow of immigrants after such a reform relative to before the reform, the number of immigrants with a university degree or advanced degree would fall by about 17.6 percent. The decline for other educational groups would be larger. The proposal to eliminate several categories of family-reunification visas would remove about 267,000 workers with less than high school from the annual immigration inflow, while the proposal to expand employment-based visas for high-skill workers would add about 38,000 workers with university or more to the annual immigration inflow. In other words, expanded work visas would only add one university graduate for every seven low-skill workers who are removed by eliminating family visas and Diversity Visas. The proposal would therefore do little to shift immigration toward higher skill, but much to reduce immigration in general.
The fall in the number of university-educated immigrants is a consequence of the fact that, while the Administration proposes to raise quotas for employment-based visas requiring university education, it also cuts other categories of visas that include large numbers of university graduates. For example, about 41 percent of immigrants in the New Immigrant Survey who acquired permanent residency through the Diversity Visa have a university degree or more, and the reforms seek to eliminate this visa.
These estimates are preliminary and approximate because they rest on assumptions. We consider the assumptions reasonable for this purpose, but they are certainly debatable. Further analysis could and should improve on them. One is that the baseline immigration rate in each visa category is the actual immigration rate for Fiscal Year 2016. That assumption would be less reasonable as the analysis extends further into the future. A second assumption is that the composition of immigrants from the cohort studied by the New Immigrant Survey would be similar for cohorts in the near future. We consider this reasonable for race and religion; for education it is clear that education levels among the slashed visa categories is higher today than for the immigrants in the New Immigrant Survey—as shown by David Bier—which implies that the decrease in skill among immigrants would be even larger than that estimated above. A third assumption is that minor children in the F2A and F4 visa categories have the same distribution of characteristics as adults who receive those visas. (The New Immigrant Survey does not report race or religion for a representative sample of minor children receiving these visas, and obviously cannot report educational attainment for minor children.)
We find it reasonable to assume that the racial and religious composition of minor children sponsored for those visas is similar to the composition for adult children and other adults sponsored for those visas, but we cannot test the accuracy of that assumption. For the education outcome this assumption would tend to create a small bias, because the eventual educational attainment of people who immigrate as young children will almost certainly be higher than the educational attainment of adults who immigrate on that visa—in visa categories where adult education is very low. But such a bias is immaterial to the conclusions of the analysis because it would mean that the effect of the immigration reform on typical educational attainment in the immigrant flow would be even less positive than described above. For example, in the F2A visa category in Fiscal Year 2016 there are 62,644 minor children, and in the F4 category 27,073 minor children. The average educational attainment of adults in the F2A category is 8 years. The above analysis treats the removal of the children from the F2A inflow as if the minor children, too, would have 8 years of education, and removing such low-education immigrants from the inflow would substantially raise average education among immigrants. But if their eventual educational attainment would be higher than 8 years on average in the United States, which is all but certain, removing them from the immigrant inflow would raise average education among immigrants by less than shown above. In short, the conclusions of the analysis are unlikely to be substantially sensitive to these assumptions.
We encourage policymakers, journalists, and all those interested in estimating the effects of other immigration reform proposals in the future to use the tool we’ve created.
This post was updated on February 6 to include a detailed discussion of the assumptions underlying the analysis, in response to reader questions (thank you!), and correct errors in the text describing the population scope and education impact.
For so long we’ve operated under the prevailing assumption that greater economic cooperation among countries would guarantee peace and stability. But now, the world finds itself in a dramatically different context—one that is fractured socially, politically, and economically. Today, more than 2,500 top decision-makers from around the world are gathering to kick off the 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland to address these new challenges.
This year’s theme, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,” sets the stage for important discussions that prioritize global engagement and innovative solutions to address today’s challenges. Below, CGD’s experts weigh in to shed some light on the ongoing debates, with innovative evidence-based solutions to the world’s most urgent challenges, and also discuss what’s not on the agenda but should be.
For the policymaker looking to improve the delivery of benefits, or for the financial institution trying to expand its customer base, the gap between technical solutions and the situation of the average technology user represents fertile ground for the many new opportunities that the digital economy provides.
This year, the global migration crisis finds itself buried in the agenda. However, it will remain one of the most urgent issues for generations to come if international leadership fail to tackle human mobility with pragmatic, fact-based policy tools. Now more than ever, innovation is imperative. To that end, Michael Clemens has a unique proposal.
Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals will require a major ratcheting up of private finance. So far, that hasn’t happened. Strengthening the role of the MDBs in mobilizing the private sector should be high on the agenda at Davos, says Nancy Lee.
There is no shortage of skepticism about whether global leaders at WEF are serious about addressing the needs of the poor and vulnerable, writes Cindy Huang. Visible progress through core business commitments would send an important signal that refugees are a crucial investment, not a cost—and that corporate leaders are committed to taking action towards, not just talking about, solutions that deliver social and economic impact.