There’s a Crack at the Heart of Global Negotiations on Migration. Here’s One Way to Move Forward.

October 20, 2017

This post is a recap of Michael Clemens’ remarks at the sixth consultations on the Global Compact on Migration delivered in Geneva this month. You can watch his full remarks below.

The Global Compact on Migration (GCM) is an opportunity for all of us to make history. I join as an economist with the many other government, humanitarian, development, and international actors mobilized behind the GCM because I wish for the Compact to rise to that occasion. To do that, it must propose new mechanisms for substantial, additional, lawful, economic labor mobility.

I don’t think anyone who has seriously looked at the demographic projections can avoid that conclusion. Sub-Saharan Africa will see 800 million new labor force participants within 30 years. Which means 800 million young, energetic job seekers in sub-Saharan Africa—that’s wonderful news. It’s some of the best news of our time, and it’s because child mortality rates have been plummeting across sub-Saharan Africa for the last 30 years.

But that means 800 million new, energetic youth looking for jobs. Common sense and the historical data suggest that many of them are going to move. Migration will not be a question of “if” but of “how.” Are the conditions under which they move going to be conditions that unleash their vast potential, including economic potential, or conditions that waste it?

We need new mechanisms to be specifically included in the GCM. There is a crack at the heart of international discussions for new legal channels of economic labor mobility. Many in migrant destination countries perceive their self-interests to be best served by higher-skilled migration. And many countries of migrant origin are highly suspicious of higher-skilled migration, and see their self-interests as best served by relatively lower-skilled migration, if any at all.

I have proposed one way to patch this crack. It’s a small part of the solution, but it needs to be included in the Compact and tested and explored and adapted to different situations.

A Global Skill Partnership is a bilateral agreement in which a migrant destination country joins with a migrant origin country to sensibly share the costs and benefits of skilled migration. Destination-country employers and governments provide technology and finance for vocational training of potential migrants before they depart, in exchange for access and placement at the destination, and paired with the training of other workers for the origin-country market. (There are context-specific examples for both migration and forced displacement pilots.)

There are huge potential benefits for everyone involved. Agreements of this kind ensure that destination countries receive migrants with the skills to integrate quickly and contribute maximally. They ensure that origin countries receive a stronger human capital base without a net drain of fiscal or human resources. And they ensure that migrants get lawful, regular opportunities to change their lives and the lives of their children.

The Global Skill Partnership framework is highly flexible. It can and must be adapted to the highly specific settings of destination and origin countries—which is why it cannot be done unilaterally. It also cannot and should not be done multilaterally, as the needs of migrants and the needs of different origins and destinations are so different and highly specific.

Some features of this approach have been tested in numerous settings, but new pilot programs are needed to test and adapt the model for broader use. We need mention of the Global Skill Partnership included in the Compact if we want to have a pragmatic, effective, and forward-thinking agreement on migration reached in New York City next September. 


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.