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UN report calls for ‘new deal’ for migrant workers

Published on October 06, 2009

Paris -- Governments worldwide should look at changes to their immigration policies with a view to offering a "new deal" to migrant workers whose skills can help spur economic recovery, a UN report said Monday.

Wealthy countries with ageing populations in particular are likely to face an increase in demand for expatriate labour as they pull out of recession, said the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the report.

"The recession should be seized as an opportunity to institute a new deal for migrants — one that will benefit workers at home and abroad while guarding against a protectionist backlash," said Jeni Klugman, the report’s author.

"With recovery, many of the same underlying trends that have been driving movement during the past half-century will resurface, attracting more people to move," she said.

Nearly one billion of the world’s 6.7 billion people are on the move — that means one in seven people is a migrant, according to the report titled Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development.

Movements of workers within Asia accounts for nearly 20 percent of all world migration and exceeds the total flow that Europe receives from all regions.

With the US and European economies struggling to emerge from recession, creating jobs has become the main focus of concern in a highly mobile world.

During the global downturn, many migrant workers faced a backlash in countries hard hit by job losses, but the report said governments should seek to rally public opinion behind sound migration policies.

"This is not the time for anti-immigrant protectionism but for reforms which promote longer-term gains. Convincing the public of this will take courage," said Klugman.

The report does not advocate open borders, but said "there is a strong case for increased access for sectors with a high demand for labour, including for the low-skilled."

The UNDP, which advocates measures to combat poverty, put forward a six-point package calling for opening up existing channels to more workers and ensuring worker protection and rights.

It recommended cutting some of the bureaucratic red tape that migrants face, arguing that pulling down the "paper wall" will help stem illegal migration by making it easier to use legal channels.

The report called for lowering transaction costs for migrants such as passport fees. Asian migrants moving to the Gulf often pay 25 to 35 percent of what they can expect to earn over two or three years in recruitment and other fees.

Other recommendations included easing restrictions on internal migration, boosting cooperation between host communities and migrants, and including migration in national development strategies.

Seeking to dispel misconceptions about migration, the report noted that the world’s poorest were the least likely to move to a foreign country. About 60 percent of migrants move between developing countries or internally within these countries.

Studies show migrants generally contribute to job creation in host communities and help generate initiatives in businesses that hire them, according to the report.

Countries with high rates of emigration often rely on remittances that play a sizeable role in their economies and some governments are attempting to attract members of the diaspora back home as investors.