Migrants as agents of development

Development1The expansion of global markets and the concomitant socio-economic transformations in recent decades have led to a quantitative increase in the movements worldwide since the 1990s. With this, a renewed interest in the relationship between migration and development can be observed, triggered by origin governments’ rising interest in remittances.

The relationship between migration and development was already hotly debated in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly with a negative undertone in the assessment of the impact of migration on furthering development of origin countries. The recent revival of this debate has experienced a shift in emphasis toward the positive aspects of migration and development, together with a more explicit appreciation of the reciprocity of this relationship (in the sense that a certain level of development triggers migration and migration can contribute to development in both origin and destination countries). What has taken centre stage in the contemporary debate now more than ever is the individual migrant in her role as an ‘agent of development’. This shift in attention toward migrants as potential ‘agents of development’ in the South has especially occurred in connection with the formation of ‘diasporas’ or ‘transnational communities.

While a more sceptical view on the relationship between migration and development dominated in previous decades, migration today has moved from being regarded as a problem for development in origin countries to an opportunity, if not solution, thereof. Much of the policy debate on migration and development focuses now on the positive contributions of migrants to development through remittance transfers to, and reinvestment of human and financial capital in, their countries of origin. Aspects of social and individual development are thereby sidelined.

What is still being avoided almost equally by governments in most destination and origin countries, however, is the central discussion of the complex root causes leading to migration in connection with the failures of conventional development policies. Another issue which is largely missing from this debate is how migration contributes to the development of so-called ‘developed’ countries. Furthermore, on the issue of policy, most research has focused on emigration or immigration rules and regulations largely ignoring the significance of other relevant policy areas. This reflects a conventional understanding of development and a narrowly defined economic paradigm, disregarding newer critiques of development thinking and newer concepts like human development.