The 2009 Human Development Report (HDR), released simultaneously across the world on Monday, makes a strong case for removing barriers to migration within and across borders, arguing that human movement had brought perceptible all-round benefits and held the potential to improve the lives of millions of poor and low-skilled people.

Released jointly here by Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and United Nations Resident Coordinator Patrice Coeur-Bizot, the report, “Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development,” says: “The poorest and the low skilled could benefit the most by moving, yet they face the largest barriers to movement: legal, financial, social.”

The report, in fact, shatters the many myths around migration, including that most of it is international and towards North America, and further that migrants adversely impact the exit and entry locations.

The Indian popular imagination has long painted migration negatively as “brain drain’ — ambitious emigrants coming good in the West, especially the United States, at the cost of their own country. The host countries have, in turn, seen the immigrants as a burden, as people who take away jobs. According to the 2009 HDR, not only are these perceptions entirely untrue, most migration does not take place between developing and the developed countries. It does not even take place between countries: “The overwhelming majority of people who move do so in their own country.”

The report estimates that nearly one billion (one out of seven) people the world over are migrants. Of this, 740 million are internal migrants — almost four times as many as those who have moved internationally. Among those who have emigrated out, just a third or only about 70 million people, have moved from a developing to a developed country. “Most of the world’s 200 million international migrants moved from one developing country to another or between developed countries.”

In the period 2000-2002, the movement of emigrants from India was as follows: 72 per cent to another country in Asia, 15 per cent to Northern America and 9.7 per cent to Europe. However, nearly half of all Indian emigrants went to a country with a very high Human Development Index, the vast majority obviously to the United Arab Emirates.

Migrants, internal or international, benefited themselves, the communities they moved into and those they left behind, the report says. The gains were larger for the international migrants who earned higher incomes, obtained better access to health and education, and improved prospects for their children. And though the poorest people were the least mobile, they gained the most from emigrating out, witnessing “an average of 15-fold increase in income, a doubling in education enrolment and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality after moving to a country with more opportunities.”

The report says that contrary to commonly held beliefs, immigrants did not crowd out locals from the job market but instead boosted economic output and improved rates of investment in new businesses and initiatives: “Research in the United States found that a 1.3 per cent increase in the share of migrant university graduates increased the number of patents issued per capita by a massive 15 per cent.”

The report argues that migration ought not to become a substitute for development in the countries of origin. Nonetheless, mobility brought new ideas, knowledge and resources besides generating jobs for local workers. In Kerala for instance, the exodus to the Gulf countries yielded a construction boom in the State.

Origin countries also benefited financially from handsome remittances, which in many countries, including India, exceeded official aid. There were social dividends to origin communities in the form of reductions in fertility, higher school enrolment and empowerment of women.

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