Episode 35: Migration and Development

In this episode, Owen talks to fellow CGD Senior Fellow Michael Clemens about the relationship between migration and development.

In the first section Michael talks about the impact of migration on migrants themselves, and how micro-data has been used to expose a significant inequality of opportunity based on location, explaining more about a person’s income than everything else put together. Michael discusses the role of movement of people in within the development process, highlighting the limitations of using place as the main indicator of poverty reduction, given the wider global system and international labour market in which migrants participate.
In the second part Michael responds to various criticisms of migration from a receiving country perspective, focusing on the costs and benefits of the economic, communal and cultural effects of migration, and the need for a managed transition to minimise costs and maximise benefits.
In the third part  Michael talks about the impact of migration from the perspective of the migrants’ countries of origin. Michael emphasises that while the reasons behind migration may be harmful, migration itself is not, and argues that fostering educational flexibility works better to maximise benefits from migration, than preventing educated migrants from leaving their countries. The final part of the episode Michael explains incorporating migration into development policy can be politically viable, citing his part in a change to US migration policy to allow Haitians to move to America, and offers his thoughts on why policy must and will adapt to foster inevitable global movement rather than inhibit it.


Download transcript (pdf)


Running time 1 hour and 14 minutes; size 53.7 Mb


11 thoughts on “Episode 35: Migration and Development

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  2. That was an absolutely fascinating discussion, thank you.
    For me it clearly makes the point that our thinking should be systems thinking, and in TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) terms we need to think about how subsystems and supersyetems all interact with systems in the middle and vice versa. But systems thinking is underpinned by a ‘moral imperative’ which is about delivering benefit while minimising harm. Unfortunately much of politics is about benefit without concern for harm as long as it is to others and without repurcussions. ;-(
    Systems thinking allows us though to maximise benefit even when the moral imperative is missing.
    What I most liked about Michael’s viewpoint was what I sensed was a deconstruction of the moral imperative in a very smart way, making clear the real cause effect aspects of, say, constraining migration choices, too often when an issue is punched at one level the response is only delivered at that level, and Michael went to other levels to solve the moral issue of free choice itself, well done with that.
    Keep up the good work, slowly but surely, with occasional steps backwards, we may be advancing towards a more humane and just society. Thank you

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  4. I agree, a very interesting exploration of these complex issues. The area I was most interested to see unpacked was that of the effects of migration on countries of origin, having watched people make this choice, and seen close up some of the consequences. Although I agree that migration itself is not a harm, its consequences can be harmful in the short run to low-income countries with relatively little flexibility in their education and training systems. It was interesting that only two examples (South Africa and the Philippines) could be found of countries that had been able to respond positively to health care worker migration. At least 15 examples of the opposite come to mind. Presumably this is because the complexities of health care worker education are not given enough attention. Those choosing to migrate are not just service professionals but are also fundemental to the education system. The country losing an experienced doctor, for example, loses not just the clinical services this doctor might have offered, but the training of juniors/apprentices that is central to the profession. I’m certainly not advocating people with guns at airports, but some sort of compensation to the country of origin for the lost ability to train others to replace the migrant might be appropriate.

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  6. I am a student of Development Studies and I feel very happy to have listened to this discussion.It is a very interesting and intellectually stimulating discussion. Thank you! In fact, my husband and me had an hour discussion on the topic after listening to this. Thought provoking indeed!

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  8. I agree in parts with Michael, Yes people migrate to western countries inn search of a better life and to increase their chances of survival.
    Furthermore,in the long-run migration on the long and short term can affect the countries which people migrate to, it creates more demand on the economy. Development and growth requires planning and if the borders remain loosely open, countries people migrate to cannot plan for growth.

    Migration benefits the migrant and he can get to send money back home to his relative but long term, it doesn’t change the system of the migrant’s country therefore, its more of goodwill than it is development.

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