The 2009 Human Development Report on migration marks a paradigm shift in attitude with its call for easing barriers to human movement within and across borders. In the process, the report shatters many myths, including the belief that it is largely international and towards Northern America. Between 2000 and 2002, 72 per cent of Indian emigrants moved to a country within Asia. In a significant contribution to our understanding of the phenomenon, it establishes that migrants enrich individual, family, and community life — at the exit as well as the entry points. This finding ought to help break the stereotyping of migrants as a people who adversely affect the surroundings. In the conventional wisdom, international migrants cause a ‘brain drain’ in origin countries and, except for a minuscule percentage at the higher end, take away jobs and strain precious resources. The HDR argues the opposite. Immigrants do not crowd out locals from the job market. Rather they boost economic output by encouraging investment in new businesses and initiatives. The report points to “a massive 15 per cent” per capita increase in the patents issued in the United States as a consequence of a mere 1.3 per cent rise in the share of migrant university graduates.
While cautioning against migration becoming a substitute for development in the countries of origin, the report acknowledges its many benefits to parent communities: new ideas, jobs, social dividends in the form of higher school enrolment, and empowerment of women. In many countries, including India, remittances exceed foreign aid and Foreign Direct Investment. The HDR’s single most important finding is the strong positive correlation between migration and poverty reduction. Although the poorest people are the least mobile, and face the most barriers to movement, they gain the maximum from emigrating by way of an increase in income, higher enrolment in schools, and a reduction in child mortality. Internal migration leads to upward mobility and financial rewards, though life in the city often means crowding into slums. In a small number of cases, migration is forced by conflict, displacement, and other negative factors. But on the whole, the HDR makes an overwhelming case for enabling migration. Internationally, this is a time of hardening attitudes towards immigration and outsourcing. Internally, it is a warning to all those proponents of ‘sons of soil’ chauvinism who have made a career out of slandering and mistreating migrants.