Migration is a lottery for both migrants and countries

The fact that people are migrating is positive. Both the countries from which the migrants come and the countries from which they move benefit from the migration. But there are also several obstacles that hinder development, writes economist Kenneth Hermele.

About 250 million people are migrants, people who cross a border in search of jobs and income. This means that migrants are four times as common as refugees (which today is about 60 million) but only a third as common as internal migrants, people who move within their own country's borders to seek support (about 750 million).

There are many delusions about migrants and migration, we like to think that it is mainly men who migrate, that the migrants move from the poor South to the rich North, which makes us assume that the migrants' remittances flow in the opposite direction, from North to South .

Although there are some in these assumptions, they are far from the whole truth. Today, it is as common for women to migrate as it is for men to do so, the movement from South to North is about the same as that which goes from South to South, which also means that remittances South-South are of a similar extent as the amounts flowing North -Syd. Migration has simply become a dominant feature of today's global economy.

The global economy needs migrants

A common concern is that migrants act as an accordion for the economies of the rich countries, in a crisis the burden of adaptation falls primarily on the migrants who are thrown out of the countries they have hitherto been welcome (or at least tolerated). Although there are far too many such cases where a crisis causes states to play the xenophobic card - "it's the migrants' fault" - the 2008 financial crisis showed that it is not a dominant reaction in the North. On the contrary, today's global economy in both the South and the North needs its migrants. Without migrants, important societal functions simply cease to function, from the construction industry to the service and nursing professions.

Some of these new insights have begun to affect the way governments, aid organizations and financial institutions view migration. The development has been unambiguous, in recent decades we have gone from a mainly negative view to an attitude that wants to emphasize much more the positive effects of migration, for the migrants themselves, for the immigrant country but also for the emigrant country.

What triggered this new attitude is above all the realization that the money that migrants send home - so-called remittances - is so extensive. The remittances are three times larger than the development assistance, and although they are slightly smaller than the companies 'direct investments when they are at their largest, the remittances are surprisingly stable (unlike the companies' investments which plunge as soon as the stock exchanges signal the slightest concern).

Brain drain or brain gain?

A few decades ago, "brain drain" was the main objection to migration. In other words, educated people in poor countries move to rich countries, which thus receive qualified labor for free, while the poor countries responsible for migrants' education lose the doctors and engineers they so desperately need.

But even though "brain drain" is still a big and important problem, today there is more and more talk about "brain gain". As education is a path to successful emigration, the whole education sector is rising in reputation and more people are getting education. The result is that the number of people who are training is increasing, even though many are disappearing abroad.

Another advantage of migrants' remittances is that they go directly from donor to recipient without passing through the greedy hands of corrupt state or local authorities. This means that the money will arrive, and we know that it will come in handy. More common than the remittances being wasted on luxury consumption (although of course it happens) is that they go to expand the home, to investments in agriculture or in workshops and shops, they pay for medical care and medicines as well as for school uniforms and they make it possible to pay off loans.

However, the fact that remittances go directly to the recipients is also a limitation; Thus, it should be easy to see that aid and remittances complement each other, the two are not in conflict with each other.

Migration has become circular

Migration has become increasingly circular, a movement between the emigrant and immigrant country, and back again. It opens up a positive view of the role of the diasporas in the development of the emigrant country, and there is now more and more talk of political and social remittances. Values, networks and organizations created in the immigrant country return to the emigrant country and contribute to development and democratization. The diasporas that exist in the immigrant countries become an asset for the long-term development in the emigrant country.

The circular migration maintains the reciprocity of the two poles of migration. As in the United States, where Mexican migrants have formed associations (called Home Town Associations) that send money to the communities the migrants come from, while the associations make it easier for new migrants to establish themselves in the United States.

Racism and discrimination erode the potential of migration

An obstacle to realizing the win-win-win promise that migration holds in Sweden is the racism and discrimination that prevails in the Swedish labor market. In no OECD country does it take so long for migrants to find work. This is partly due to the fact that the proportion of refugees is higher than in comparable countries, but even when migrants have jobs, the difference between migrants 'and natives' overqualification is greater in Sweden than in any comparable country. Here we can talk about a "brain waste", a waste, with the opportunities that migration offers.

We also know that job-seeking migrants, like natives, change their surnames to something more "Swedish-sounding" in order to even get an interview. In no OECD country do job seekers say that name and appearance are as important for whether they get a job or not, as in Sweden. Add to this that the procedure for getting your grades and education accepted in Sweden (so-called validation) is cumbersome and takes an unreasonably long time.

Several structural obstacles

In addition to discrimination in the Swedish labor market, there are several important factors to address: the cost of remitting money is sometimes terribly high. 20 percent can disappear when a migrant sends money to Africa, but even if the cost is lower on average, billions disappear unnecessarily.

An important issue concerns the rights of migrants, in the emigrant as well as in the immigrant country. Today it is expensive (and often dangerous) to migrate, here both the emigrant and immigrant countries have everything to gain from securing and supporting the migrants. Many emigrant countries already do this by arranging education, insurance and travel for emigrants, it is states that know that migration pays good dividends for them as well.

At the same time, the political rights of migrants need to be secured. For example, their right to vote in both the immigrant and emigrant countries, their social security must also be guaranteed, such as the possibility of moving pensions between countries.

Kenneth Hermele

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Do you also want to write a debate article for Uttvecklingsmagasinet? Contact us at

Share this: