05/2008: Prof. Richard Black

MAY 2008

Prof. Richard Black
Director of the Development Research Centre on
Migration, Globalisation and Poverty (DRC); Co-Director
of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research


‘Maximising the development benefits of migration’


Ü Eurasylum: The need to apprehend and enhance the development potential of international migration has ascended the policy agenda of a number of receiving and sending countries in recent years. This was illustrated, most prominently, by the establishment of the Government-led Global Forum on Migration and Development following the conclusions of the UN High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, as well as by increased public sector support for research into the linkages between migration and development, and increased practical initiatives at grass-root level. The Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty, which is a partnership of eight institutions located in five countries (Albania, Bangladesh, Egypt, Ghana, and the United Kingdom) aims “to promote new policy approaches that will help to maximize the potential benefits of migration for poor people, whilst minimizing its risks and costs”. In particular, the DRC undertakes a programme of research, capacity-building, training and promotion of dialogue to provide the strong evidential and conceptual base needed for such new policy approaches. Can you sum up and discuss, briefly, some of the key issues currently on the migration and development policy agenda, including any major conceptual outputs generated by the DRC’s activities?

Ü Prof. Richard Black: The migration and development policy agenda has become much more prominent over the last few years, and is tackling important issues such as remittances, brain drain, diaspora policy and circular migration. The major thrust of our work is to ask in all of this how can migration be made to work in a way that reduces poverty and vulnerability? For example, we have developed a Global Migrant Origin Database that has been used by the World Bank to estimate the contribution of migration to global well-being. In turn, we have highlighted the fact that although international migration may generate substantial flows of resources from richer countries to poorer countries, poorer individuals and households in poor countries are often excluded from such flows, and therefore from many of the benefits that such resource transfers might bring. Indeed, the flows of remittances associated with international migration may increase inequality in sending countries, between poorer and richer households, or between sending and non-sending regions. Yet poor people do migrate  often internally from the countryside to cities or to other rural areas.

Our DRC research has tried to understand the causes and consequences of such flows and the experiences of internal migrants. We have developed pioneering research that highlights the experiences of children who migrate autonomously, and of family members who are left behind by migrants. We have also tried to challenge simplistic views on brain drain, demonstrating how the emergence of global markets for both employment and training in a number of key professional areas force states to consider their position in such markets, rather than simply trying to erect barriers to movement.

Ü Eurasylum: At a recent conference organised by the DRC on Migration and Development: Building Migration into Development Strategies(London, 28-29 April 2008) the point was made that, whilst there is a rapidly developing policy interest in the linkages between migration and development, there remains a lack of practical policy measures that link clearly with broader national policies to promote development and reduce poverty. This is despite the fact that, in Europe in particular, a number of policies and programmes have been established in recent years to promote and support better policies to facilitate the flow of remittances, limit the brain drain of skilled professionals from poor countries, and stimulate co-development. Can you highlight and comment on some of the most inhibiting gaps in current national, regional or international policy approaches to migration and development?

Ü Prof. Richard Black: The biggest gap in current thinking about migration and development is the failure to integrate an understanding of the scale, causes and effects of migration into national development planning. For example, if we look at Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), only a small number contain concrete understanding of the impact of migration on poverty, and so unsurprisingly, they are extremely light on practical policy measures that respond to migration.

A review of 24 PRSPs conducted since 2005 shows that most either do not mention migration at all, or refer to it in primarily negative terms; worse, if we consider internal migration  the type of migration most accessible to the poor  PRSPs are overwhelmingly negative, making unsubstantiated claims about links between such migration and unemployment, disease and crime, and offering no practical measures either to build on the benefits of migration, or to mitigate the risks associated with it. Moreover, where policies are proposed to respond to international migration, these are concentrated in two areas  the management and control of borders, and the stimulation or channelling of remittance flows. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with governments taking action in either of these areas; however, there is surely much more that states can do in policy terms to respond to migration  including in areas of education policy, health policy and social policy, as well as migration policy per se.

Ü Eurasylum: : The new Chair of the Global Global Forum on Migration and Development will participate in Eurasylum’s interview series next month to outline some of the main themes to be discussed at the second GFMD meeting in Manila in October 2008. From a policy and academic point of view, what would you see as the most pressing priorities that would merit consideration at the Manila event?

Ü Prof. Richard Black: It is excellent that the Manila meeting will focus, amongst other things, on the rights of migrants, and on secure legal migration. Since last year’s Global Forum in Belgium, the Government of Bangladesh has already sought to promote some interesting initiatives on legal circular migration, and there is considerable scope here to link discussion of international migration with that of international trade, via GATS Mode IV.

There is also an initiative to promote discussion on the development of cross-national comparative data sources on migration, which I wholeheartedly support from both an academic and a policy point of view. Governments want research institutions to tell them what the volume, benefits and costs of migration are for host and receiving societies, but these are questions that are often difficult to answer because of lack of data  especially time-series data. At the same time, there are an increasing number of ad hoc surveys being conducted on migrants. At the Migration DRC, we have tried to bring some of this new evidence together, establishing a web-based resource on migration in national surveys, but there remains much work to be done in this area.