04/2010: Prof. Wiseman Nkuhlu and NK Singh


(February-June 2010)

Building on Eurasylum’s existing monthly policy interviews, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Eurasylum have launched a special series on ”The Future of Migration: Building Capacities for Change”. This monthly interview series will run from February to June 2010 and will aim to feed into the World Migration Report 2010, which will be dedicated fully to this policy theme. This special monthly interview series is designed to collect the views of senior public officials, social partners and reputable academics worldwide about the needs for new capacity building measures in five major policy areas:

– Climate change (February 2010);
– Integration and Rights (March 2010);
– Labour Migration (April 2010);
– Migration and Development (May 2010); and
– Migration Governance (June 2010).

These interviews will be published in full on Eurasylum’s website and excerpts will appear, as text boxes, in the next World Migration Report (September 2010)


APRIL 2010

Prof. Wiseman Nkuhlu
President of the International
Organization of Employers (IOE)


Nand Kishore Singh
Member of the Indian Parliament;
former Secretary to the Prime Minister of India and
former Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs


‘’The future of international labour migration”


Ü IOM/Eurasylum: In your opinion, what are the best mechanisms for matching labour demand with labour supply on a global scale, while ensuring that the need to recruit more skilled people from developing countries in the future does not have adverse effects on the countries of origin, and is circular migration a realistic policy goal?

Ü Prof. Wiseman Nkuhlu: International labour migration is regarded as the unfinished business of globalization. This is because transborder movement of persons has not enjoyed the same level of liberalisation as capital and goods. The ILO World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalisation which collected views from business and other groups came to the same conclusion when it appealed to the international community to make efforts in this area, in order to make migration of labour a win- win situation for both countries of origin and destination.

As employers, we realize the need for Governments, Employers and Worker representatives to work together to ensure that labour migration policies and practices at the global level take into account the needs of the labour market. As the source of demand for labour, employers are well placed to give information on which specific sectors face difficulties in getting access to the skills they need from the labour market. Moreover global demographic trends indicate that the current gaps between supply and demand for labour will continue to grow as a result of ageing and declining fertility rates in countries of destination, and increasing populations in countries of origin. Wage disparities will also continue to act as pull factors thus making it easier for industrialised countries to recruit highly skilled workers from the developing world.

This brings us to the issue of brain drain. Although it is a huge problem as many countries that have invested so much in the education of their nationals do not receive adequate return on their investments, one must not lose sight of the fact that international labour migration also helps to ease the unemployment pressures in countries of origin. In certain countries, graduate unemployment and underemployment has been a major problem leading to social tensions. In the Phillipines, for example, we have witnessed huge investments in the education sector as graduates have been able to secure job opportunities abroad. We must however guard against depleting scarce resources of skilled personnel in certain sectors such as health in the developing world at a time when such countries are in dire need of such specialized skills because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other health challenges. This is why initiatives such as those adopted by the UK Government to promote ethical recruitment of healthcare workers by recruitment firms in countries such as Malawi and Ghana are worth supporting while making sure that freedom of movement is not interefered with.

In conclusion employers feel that circular migration policies can help solve some of the problems associated with labour migration such as brain drain and integration of migrants in host societies. Migrants acquire new skills, expertise and experience abroad. They can benefit their countries of origin through regular home return. Of course developed countries should ensure that they continue to invest in health skills, in particular because these are the skills that are going to be required more as their populations age.

Ü Nand Kishore Singh: There is need to create a more coherent international mechanism which can harmonise the interests of all stakeholders. Currently, for instance, large multinational companies act in independent silos and quite apart from information asymetry they are not congruent with the policy of national governments. A consultative mechanism which harmonises the medium and long term interests of all stakeholders to project emerging demands for skills could bring about better equilibrium between demand and supply. Countries of origin can also plan better and impart necessary training for more orderly management of migratory flows.

A mutually beneficial compact can thus be developed and if the required skills are repetitively inculcated some migratory workforce can also return to the countries of origin, thus resulting in circular migration which can optimise benefits all around. Existing international frameworks remain incongruent and there is an absence of coordination between different entities both national and international. A concerted attempt at creating a credible international framework is an inescapable necessity. This could be done by an overarching United Nations Migration Coordination framework which could no doubt have the participation of specialised UN entities dealing with different aspects of migratory flows. Apart from government the effective participation of the corporate sector as mentioned earlier and also the Services Industry would be central to realising these objectives.

Ü IOM/Eurasylum: Evidence suggests that even in the face of demographic shifts labour demand is unlikely to match labour supply. Against this background, and in addition to migration, what strategies should countries of origin adopt to optimise the use of their human resources and to what extent is migration a solution to the problems faced by ageing populations?

Ü Prof. Wiseman Nkuhlu: All things being equal, migrants would prefer to stay in their countries of origin. It is thus incumbent upon countries of origin to create opportunities for decent and productive employment for their citizens. This is one of the principles the ILO non-binding Multilateral Framework on Labour Migraiton advocates for. It is about addressing the push factors at home which force many migrants to look for opportunities abroad.

During a seminar on International Labour Migration organized by the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the ILO in Algiers in December 2009, we were pleased to learn that a number of North African Governments such as Algeria were giving priority to the problem of youth unemployment which has been one of the root causes of emigration to Europe and to the Middle East. These measures include: promotion of entrepreneurship development, skills development and employability, adapting training and education to the needs of the job market, building the capacity of labour market institutions, promoting investments in job rich sectors promotion of youth employment programmes and support to SME development. These measures have been so successful that, according to the Algerian Ministry of Labour, the country is beginning to witness some return migration from Europe.

In addition to addressing the above issues, countries of origin should continuously review the quality and relevance of their education and training. This will greatly enhance employability of labour both at home and abroad.

The other issue in your question reflects the problems faced by ageing populations and how migration can be used to address them. Although ageing is a success story for mankind, there is no doubt that public institutions must cope with older retired populations as against declining levels of active population. Social security programmes are affected with cuts in benefits, tax increases and later retirement ages for those who are active. The other challenge relates to health care systems that have to deal with chronic illnesses associated with old age. In order to address challenges related to declining active population and ageing, governments in countries of destination must consider migration policy as one of the solutions, although not the only one. Immigration will make sure, as Kofi Annan once said, that “jobs in certain sectors in Europe do not go unfilled and services undelivered”. This means recognizing the demand for lesser skilled labour in these countries in health and aged care services, and in agriculture, construction and other sectors as well. And that means ensuring fair admission policies and protections for vulnerable foreign workers to prevent abuse and exploitation.

Ü Nand Kishore Singh: Countries of origin need to invest in Human Resource Development more innovatively to substantially enhance capacity. This will lead to improved value added activity and given the fact that per capita income in most emerging markets are still to achieve developed countries’ standards the increased supply from gainful manufacturing and higher value added services activity could make many of these economies increasingly dependent on meeting domestic consumption needs than reliance on export of goods or encouraging outward mobility of natural persons.

The push for movement of natural persons lies in the quest to improve life quality and employment opportunities. If a more adapted development matrix, higher life quality and investment patterns can improve life quality in countries of origin then migratory pressures would ease off substantially. In short supporting a development thrust in countries of origin and improved quality of Governance is an inescapable necessity to improve outcomes and make migratory flows more acceptable to all stakeholders.

Ü IOM/Eurasylum: How do you see the global competition for skills developing in the future? Are there any regions or countries which could face particular advantages/disadvantages?

Ü Prof. Wiseman Nkuhlu: The global competition for talent will continue to rise in today’s globabalizing world. In a global society that is knowledge based and which requires a highly qualified labour force for all sectors of the economy, countries will not hesitate to recruit talent where it exists to remain competitive. We are already seeing strong competition for talent in high-technology sectors and research. As I mentioned, the global competition for healthcare workers has increased to such levels that the WHO has been holding discussions on how to ensure equitable sharing of these workers.

As economic activities become more global, and as we see more and more growth in Foreign Direct Investment and internationalisation of research and development, we are likely to see more competition and mobility for human resources especially in science and technology. The net effect is that countries that cannot offer better pay and career advancement, access to research funding and opportunities will see their bright and brightest leaving for “greener pastures” abroad. For example most OECD member countries are net beneficiaries of skilled talent from developing countries. It is small countries in the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa that are most painfully affected. This means that these African and Caribbean countries will have to implement policies aimed at retaining the best brains in order to remain competitive.

The Asian countries will remain the main source of skills in the next twenty to thirty years. Their population are younger and their quality of education good.

Africa has a young population but more resources will have to be invested to improve the quality of education and skills.

Ü Nand Kishore Singh: The global competition for skills will take multiple forms. The traditional paradigm in gainful economic activity will alter significantly with rapid technological changes. The quest for frontiers of knowledge will alter the demand for such skills with an uneven race to match the supplies.

One important thrust area would be the impact of Global Warming and Climate Change in the pattern of economic activity and development growth models. Increased reliance on renewable energy and low emission development growth patterns will create a demand for different types of skills. At the same time many countries with aging population may require special attention for the welfare and care of older people. Rising pension bills may need higher retirement age and keeping the people healthy for a longer period has implicatons for medical and nutritional science. So the key areas of emerging skills could be environment related, demographically driven and entail new frontiers of medical research.