How the UK Can Promote Global Development Through Immigration Pathways and Why They Should

Two years ago, the UK rolled out a new Points-Based Immigration System which includes a number of ‘bolt-ons:’—bespoke schemes that bring ‘medium’ and ‘low’-skill workers, including agricultural workers, truck drivers, and nurses—to help fill the UK’s labour market needs and ensure a functioning UK economy.

But how do these schemes benefit the migrants themselves and their communities or countries of origin? Why should the UK care about enhancing the global development benefits of these bespoke schemes? And how can they do so?

In a new paper, published today by CGD and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), we aim to answer these questions and provide recommendations for the agriculture, nursing, and green technology sectors on how they can best capture the opportunities presented by employing migrants, while promoting global development.

What benefit can these schemes have?

Migration, if well designed, can have large positive benefits for the migrant themselves, their country of destination, and their country of origin, known as a ‘triple win.’

Migrants can access higher wages by working abroad, improving their well-being, investing in education and up-skilling, and supporting their families back home. They fill shortages in all levels of the labour market in their countries of destination, stimulating the economy, creating jobs, and generating tax revenue. They also promote trade and investment; transfer skills, knowledge, and ideas, and encourage cultural diversity.

If well integrated and if the costs of migration remain low, migrants can send remittances home, improving health and educational outcomes, promoting productivity, and providing access to financing for their families in their countries of origin.

Similarly, bespoke schemes, if well designed, can have a myriad of positive benefits for the economies of, and relationships between, the UK and their partners.

Migration, and the economic development benefits it can bring to origin countries, can help improve these countries’ stability and security, and thereby help improve global security and stability. Migration can also help grow and enhance the UK’s trade partnerships and foreign policy relationships with origin countries.

Migration can create a pipeline of skilled talented workers in origin countries, which can help fill labour needs in the UK—enhancing the UK’s economy—as well as the origin countries. In doing so, it can help the UK meet its goals around the green transition (providing workers such as engineers) and help it recover from COVID-19 (providing nurses and care workers).

If the UK cares about promoting global development through its bespoke schemes, what can it do?

We have formulated six key recommendations for promoting global development through the UK’s bespoke immigration schemes. While these have specific application to the sectors we focused on in our research (agriculture, nursing, and green technology), they are applicable across the board.

1. Promote ethical migrant recruitment practices

Recruitment and placement practices for migrants contribute to poorer development outcomes. For example, migrants on the Seasonal Worker Pilot have to fund their own visa fees, travel, and health insurance, leading to unsustainable borrowing and reducing potential remittances.

Eliminating these costs; increasing the transparency of recruitment agencies and intermediaries; and improving the conditions that workers face while in the UK would maximise the benefits of bespoke schemes for migrants and their families.

2. Prioritise remittances and skill transfers

Given the positive effects of remittances on communities and countries of origin, ensuring that migrants avoid debt bondage, remit more money to family members at home, and bring increased skills home should be of paramount importance to the UK government.

Ways to do this include reducing the cost of remittances, engaging with diaspora organisations to experiment with schemes such as diaspora bonds, and experimenting with ways to reduce the cost of migration overall. Lessons can be learned from pilots such as that conducted by New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

3. Design schemes to fit different demographic profiles

Migrants’ needs vary based on their gender, age, or skill. For example, if the UK’s nursing pathways are predominantly attracting women, they need to ensure that visas include family accompaniment and that they build the skills that these women want and can apply back home in their communities.

To obtain the best results, the UK should tailor bespoke schemes to fit the specific needs of the demographics of the migrants they are targeting.

4. Target specific countries of origin

The UK’s Points-Based Immigration System does not discriminate between different countries of origin, yet bespoke schemes provide an opportunity to do just that. Such targeting can increase the potential development impact.

There are many reasons as to why the UK may want to encourage migration from a particular country of origin, including encouraging mobility from climate-vulnerable nations or expanding trade, investment, and foreign policy linkages.

5. Focus on building skills in countries of origin that are in need globally

There are many sectors, particularly those that are ‘medium’- and ‘low’- skill, which are suffering from a global shortage of labour. Through these schemes, the UK has a unique opportunity to invest in building these skills and to promote the migration of some trainees.

This Global Skill Partnership approach would provide the UK and countries of origin with a skilled and sustainable pipeline of talent, improve trade, investment, and foreign policy relationships, and promote global economic development.

Lessons can be learned from the MOVE_GREEN initiative—a circular migration scheme between Andalusia, Spain, and Northern Morocco—that provides networking opportunities, training, and professional qualifications to young Moroccans seeking to work in the green economy.

6. Ensure robust monitoring, evaluation, and learning

Monitoring, evaluating, and learning from bespoke schemes is costly, time-consuming, and may not be within the remit of the lead government department. Yet only by investing in such processes will the UK be able to understand the impact of these schemes and how they could be improved. Our new paper recommends some of these improvements, though there are certainly many more that could be proposed.

To learn more, read our new research, “Enhancing the Development Impact of the UK’s Immigration Pathways.”


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.