Zunia interviewed Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, who discusses different migration issues and the impact of migration on economic development.
Zunia: In your paper “Migration as a Tool for Disaster Recovery: U.S. Policy Options in the Case of Haiti”, you mentioned two specific problems the United States will face if they allow more disaster affected people to enter the country. One of them was “the inability of U.S. humanitarian relief efforts to reduce systemic poverty or sustainably improve victims’ livelihoods”. Could you please elaborate further on the kind of inability you are referring to?
Michael Clemens: Humanitarian aid relief efforts are inherently valuable and I strongly support them in principle. They are designed to quickly alleviate temporary suffering, and I believe they accomplish that. They are not designed to build long-term, sustained economic prosperity, and unsurprisingly there is no evidence that they accomplish something they were not designed to do. In cross-country data, there is no correlation between receipts of emergency humanitarian aid and economic growth over the next five years.
To take a concrete example, providing food and emergency shelter for those left homeless by Haiti’s 2010 earthquake was effective at what it aimed to do: temporarily feed and shelter people. But interventions like that are not designed to, and cannot, create conditions for sustained growth of economic opportunity. Migration, on the other hand, clearly and massively created sustained economic opportunity for Haitians.
Zunia: The financial crisis has affected migration streams in Europe. According to Eurostat, the number of immigrants arriving in the EU has dropped significantly in recent years. In 2009,857,000 immigrants arrived in the EU, compared with 1,494,600 in 2007 and over two million in 2006. So far, what are the visible effects of this reduced migration flow to the EU?
Michael Clemens: The principal economic effect of migration from poor countries to rich countries is to add to the destination-country economy via the increased productivity of migrants in their new location. So the principal effect of decreased immigration to the EU from developing countries in particular is that destination-country economies are smaller than they would have been if immigration had not fallen.
Myths abound that somehow this decline in immigration might somehow economically benefit the EU, such as ostensibly by creating more jobs for EU natives. For this notion there is no evidence other than confident political rhetoric. For example, the UK Migration Advisory Committee recently studied the last 35 years of UK immigration from non-EU countries and found no discernible relationship between that immigration and UK natives’ unemployment. The jobs that non-EU immigrants do in the UK therefore generally complement, rather than replace, UK natives in the labor force.
Zunia: Migration is often considered to be the root cause of "brain drain" from developing countries to the developed ones. As many as 20,000 African professionals are believed to leave the continent each year. This is of special concern for the health sector which suffers serious staff shortages. However, the remittance they send back home are also vital to their economy. Is there a way to minimize the adverse effects of brain drain while keeping the remittance flow unharmed?
Michael Clemens: Yes, and the Philippines offers a vibrant model in this regard, a model that any developing country could imitate. First of all, it has nurtured a thriving private training sector. This means that most nurses who train in the Philippines and then work overseas have paid for their own educations. In many poor countries the only training available for health professionals like nurses is publicly-financed a system designed for a long-gone world in which people do not move. Some countries even actively obstruct private education for nurses by limiting or banning private-school accreditation.
Second, the Philippine approach encourages the movement of nurses around the world, helps them find good jobs that use their qualifications, and helps monitor the protection of their rights as workers. This raises the returns to investing in nursing education, so more people do so—so many, in fact, that this more than compensates for the nurses who depart. This is a big part of why the Philippines, from which more nurses depart than from any other country on earth, nevertheless has more nurses inside the country (per capita) than rich countries like the UK, Austria, or Spain. By creating a predictable system to embrace professional emigration, rather than a scheme to obstruct it, the Philippines have turned emigration into a way to build its health workforce.
Michael Clemens is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development where he leads the Migration and Development initiative. He also serves as CGD’s Research Manager, directing the Center’s engagement with the academic research community through peer-review for Center publications, research seminars and conferences, and academic fellowship positions. His current research focuses on the effects of international migration on people from and in developing countries. Clemens has served as an Affiliated Associate Professor of Public Policy at Georgetown University, and as a consultant for the World Bank, Bain & Co., the Environmental Defense Fund, and the United Nations Development Program.