Can international labor migration contribute to development?

La migración laboral puede contribuir al desarrollo con el enfoque de la triple victoriaFoto: J Aaron Farr

We often hear of labor migration as a problem. Some media outlets only portray the most tragic face of immigration, while politicians of all ideologies use this issue as a weapon to provoke confrontation and get attention from the public. It is true that, if mismanaged, labor migration may become a source of exploitation of workers, inequality and poverty. However, if migration is accompanied by measures to support migrants that are focused on their prospects in terms of employment and skills development, it can become a source of wealth generation for sending countries, destination countries and for migrants and their families.

How can we make sure that international labor migration happens with a win-win-win approach?

Geographical labor mobility is an important driver of the economy in many advanced countries, not only for migrants and their families but also their development. Many countries in the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) already use labor mobility as a key factor to foster sustained economic growth. In Canada, almost one in five (22%) highly skilled workers are migrants, according to the World Economic Forum. In the United States, migrants represent 12% and in Germany, 9%. According to the International Organization of Employers (IOE), immigration will continue to play a vital role in the economies of the OECD in the long term due to the need of additional workers to sustain growth and prosperity.

In this sense, it is very important that the discussion on the management of movement of workers between countries or regions is not limited to the prevention of irregular migration. The discussion should go further, with the aim of achieving the “triple win,” that is, maximizing the benefits for receiving countries, sending countries and the migrants themselves. This “triple win” implies, first, that migrants develop their human capital (e.g., skills, competencies, attitudes and behaviors) through experience and build better career paths wherever they live. For receiving countries, it means that they can attract talent and receive workers who have skills and competencies that do not exist in the local market. For sending countries, it means that they can benefit from financial remittances sent by migrants while they are abroad and human capital with more experience when migrants return.

In order to ensure this “triple victory,” the management of movement of workers should be guided by an understanding of migration as a holistic process in which it is essential to count on supportive measures for migrants that are focused on their prospects in terms of employment and skills development. These measures should be delivered in a continuous and sustained manner: before the migrants leave their country of origin, during the time that they remain in the destination countries and after they return home.

What role can public employment services play?

In many advanced countries, public employment services (PESs) play an important role in managing the mobility of workers. PESs support migrants and employers in the implementation of the bilateral or multilateral agreements that aim to facilitate the movement of workers. PESs also have developed a series of instruments to help migrants and employers before, during and after the mobility process. Thus, PESs are an important partner in promoting an adequate, legal and secure flow of workers between countries within and between different regions of the world. This has led developed countries’ public and private sectors to participate actively in the development and operation of PESs with regard to the management of labor mobility.

What do we know about the role played by PES of a region in managing the external mobility of workers?

Unfortunately, there is little information about support measures available to migrants in PESs in Latin America and the Caribbean. Recent data from The World of Public Employment Services reveal whether PES in the region offer some of the following measures to support migrants: job offers abroad, information and advice about finding jobs abroad, assistance to foreign employers looking for migrant workers, assistance to foreign workers already residing in the country and assistance for returning migrants. The information from the survey showed great variability in terms of measures to support migrants. In general, PES have a limited set of measures. Only the PES in Mexico and Barbados offer all of the measures considered in the survey, whereas six countries currently do not offer any at all. For all of the above, it is important to develop and strengthen PES in the region in order to allow Latin America and the Caribbean to take advantage of the opportunities that labor mobility can offer to sending countries, receiving countries and the migrants themselves.

Servicios ofrecidos por los SPE en migración. Fuente: WAPES-IDB Survey 2014


In a future post, we will explain the identified dimensions of success based on the experience of advanced countries in support of PES to effectively manage the international mobility of workers.

Photograph by: J. Aaron Farr

About the Author

Dulce Baptista
Dulce Baptista es especialista en la División de Mercados Laborales del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (BID), donde trabaja desde 2010 principalmente en las áreas de intermediación y capacitación de la fuerza laboral, así como en evaluaciones de impacto. Dulce lideró la producción del libro 'El Mundo de los Servicios Públicos de Empleo', un estudio que compara características institucionales y operacionales de los servicios públicos de empleo en 71 países del mundo, una copublicación del BID, AMSPE y OCDE. Además, Dulce coordina las actividades de la Red SEALC (Red de Apoyo Técnico de los Servicios Públicos de Empleo de América Latina y el Caribe). Antes de incorporase al BID, Dulce trabajó como investigadora en la Universidad de Londres, en el Reino Unido, y en el Centro de Desarrollo y Planeación Regional (CEDEPLAR), en Brasil. Es economista y cuenta con un Doctorado de la Universidad de Londres.

Be the first to comment on "Can international labor migration contribute to development?"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.