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Department for International Development (DFID)

Moving out of poverty – making migration work better for poor people

Department for International Development (DFID)

March 2007

SARPN acknowledges DFID as a source of this document:
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Executive summary

Assessing and responding to the impact of voluntary economic migration on development is a relatively new area of work for DFID.1 This paper sets out DFID’s policy, which is shaped by our mission to reduce poverty, and is consistent with the current UK policy framework on immigration2, including the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate Review.The aim of our work on migration is to increase the benefits and reduce the risks of migration for poor people and developing countries.The paper focuses on poor people who take a decision to leave their home and move through regular channels3 within their country of origin, or across international borders, in an attempt to improve their economic situation. It recognises that movement within national borders and defined regions is by far the most significant form of migration for poor people, and can help reduce poverty. DFID will therefore incorporate efforts to address migration into development policies and programmes.The paper identifies the main policy approaches that can help reduce poverty, bring about the development benefits of migration and reduce the risks. Although aimed primarily at development professionals, the paper recognises the important role of migration partners at national, regional and international level. It ends by setting out DFID’s plans for future work on migration and development.

People have been on the move since human life began. Migration is neither a new phenomenon, a failure of development, nor a substitute for development. When people move, they do so over varying distances, for different periods of time and for different reasons. Migration is undertaken by energetic and resourceful individuals who move as part of their effort to improve their lives and the lives of their families, to learn new skills, to gain new experiences, to find a job or to flee insecurity, disaster, or famine. Migration is an economic, social and political process that affects those who move, those who stay behind, and the places where they go. Migration should be a voluntary and informed choice.

Although people have always moved, current flows are more than ever influenced by globalisation. Globalisation has enabled and requires the increased mobility of people, as well as the mobility of capital, goods and services. At the international level, skilled and unskilled people from developing countries are meeting labour gaps in more developed economies. At a national level, whether rural or urban, areas where growth and development are occurring offer important economic opportunities for men and women looking to improve their way of life.

For poor people, opportunities to migrate into low-skilled jobs can and do offer a rapid route out of poverty. Economic analysis suggests that if global trends over the last thirty years continue, temporary migration to industrialised countries may lead to gains of as much as US$300 billion a year in 2025, shared equally between people in developing and developed countries.4 Much of the gain would come from the migration of unskilled workers to meet labour market needs. If well managed, migration has the potential to support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to improve poor people’s lives. It is important therefore, that development policy and planning to reduce poverty takes account of the complexity of migration, and the different ways in which poor men, women and children may benefit from, or lose out as a result of, migration.

Migration can benefit poor people, poor communities and developing countries. Migration can help individuals and their families to increase their income, learn new skills, improve their social status, build up assets and improve their quality of life. For communities and developing countries, emigration can relieve labour-market and political pressures; result in money being sent home (commonly known as remittances); increase trade and financial investment from abroad; and lead to support from migrant communities (diaspora) such as technology transfer, tourism and charitable activities.

The benefits of migration are not realised when developing countries lack the capacity to manage internal and external movements, lose their ‘best’ people and fail to make the most of diaspora activities – including remittances. In destination areas an inflow of migrants can lead to decreased wages, unemployment and social and political tensions. Well-managed migration regimes can help to make the most of the potential benefits and reduce the risks when people move.

Migration also carries risks – both to migrants and to those countries sending and receiving them. Many migrants, particularly those who migrate through irregular channels, find themselves in vulnerable positions before, during and after their journey. This may result in migrants being poorer and facing harassment, exclusion and increased debt; and may put pressure on countries of destination. In these situations, the rights that migrants are entitled to can help mitigate some of the worst outcomes. Although all migrants share fundamental human rights, in practice, in many areas of the world, many migrants are unable to exercise the rights to which they may be entitled under international and national law.

Poverty, conflict and bad governance lead some poor people to feel that they have no option other than to leave and search for a better life elsewhere.These people will often travel through irregular and dangerous routes. DFID is working on the factors that lead poor people to feel they are forced to leave.Through its focus on reducing poverty, DFID’s programmes support partner countries’ commitment to promote good governance, fight corruption and uphold human rights. DFID programmes provide social assistance, humanitarian assistance, health and education services, skills training and livelihood opportunities which can mean that vulnerable people have the chance to remain in the country in which they are living. Such work may create more opportunities for those returning home.

Given the range of benefits and risks that can result from migration, it is important that migration policies take account of their impact on poverty reduction and vice versa. To maximise the benefits and reduce the risks of migration for poor people and developing countries, a number of important issues need to be addressed:

  • managing migration at national level and planning for internal mobility;
  • opportunities for legal migration including low-skilled migration where these meet the labour-market needs of receiving countries;
  • facilitating the circulation of highly skilled migrants;
  • migrants’ access to their human rights and their legitimate entitlements under national law;
  • low-cost and secure mechanisms for sending remittances and investing them in poor communities;
  • support for positive diaspora activity; and
  • managing migration at regional and international levels.

  1. The distinction between voluntary economic migration and other forms of migration – stimulated for example by conflict, human rights abuses and environmental stress – is a difficult one. The term is used therefore in order to provide a framework for discussion.
  2. Home Office (2005).Controlling our Borders: Making migration work for Britain.
  3. This refers to `migration that occurs through recognized, legal channels’. IOM (2004). International Migration Law: Glossary on Migration.
  4. World Bank (2006). Global Economic Prospects, page 41. The statistics are based on economic analysis of global trends over the last thirty years and assumes a continuation at the same rate. In its analysis the World Bank implies no judgement about whether an increase is likely or politically feasible.

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