Improving Migration Data (May 2008–May 2009)

September 11, 2014

CGD’s Commission on International Migration Data for Development Research identified steps to improve data collection so that researchers and policymakers have the numbers they need to assess the impact of migration. CGD continues to push for implementation.

In this CGD report, the Commission on International Migration Data for Development Research and Policy presents their five recommendations to remedy the lack of good data on migration and its effects on development. The recommendations are politically and technically practical and would allow countries to greatly improve their migration data at low cost, and with existing mechanisms.

We know a lot about how the trade and financial policies of richer countries affect developing countries, either directly or indirectly. We know, for example, that the value of providing poor countries with full access to rich countries' markets would be almost double that of development assistance. We know that foreign direct investment in poor countries provides jobs, helps create local industries, and transfers technologies. But what about the movement of people? How do immigration policies affect developing countries? Do they affect only those who move or do they also affect the sending countries? The sad and surprising answer is that we don't know, and, so long as we don't know, rich countries cannot claim to have the information they need to make sensible development policies.

CGD is committed to understanding how the policies of rich countries affect the welfare and development prospects of poorer countries. Our work and the work of others suggests that rich countries' immigration policies have huge impacts on the lives of immigrants who move from developing to rich countries. We also know that immigration affects the lives of those left behind, with the massive increases in remittances in the past two decades the most visible manifestation of this. But there are other, less visible benefits of immigration that may be far more important to the welfare of sending countries than remittances. But, while we can cite anecdotes in support of these effects, we know almost nothing about their magnitudes. And without that, we cannot know how important immigration policy is as development policy.

To push the issue of better migration statistics, CGD convened the Migration Data for Development Commission to explore one key question: as the international migration debate heats up, what do policymakers need to know about the impact of migration on sending countries if they care about development? (Read the Migration Data Commission background note.) As an obvious corollary to this question the group explored the current state of migration statistics, and what needed to be done to give researchers and policymakers the empirical base they need to assess migration's impact on sending countries.

The working group's report was released in May 2009; CGD continues to push for implementation. The group's ultimate policy impact will be measured by whether or not the OECD or other national and international statistical agencies take initial steps to improve the quality of international migration data, steps that would ideally include instituting routine collection of information on entries and exits that would permit "adding up" of the flows of people across countries (as is the case for trade in goods and services), including standardized definitions of "temporary" versus "permanent" migrants, as well as of major skill and labor categories. Basic measures of this type are an essential starting point for rigorous empirical research on the development effects of migration.

Leadership and Composition

The Migration Data for Development Commission was co-chaired by Professor Lawrence Summers, former chief economist at the World Bank and president of Harvard University, and Patricia Santo-Tomas, chair of the Development Bank of the Philippines

Commissioners included 14 other distinguished experts from a variety of international and academic organizations conducting migration research:

  • Nancy Birdsall, Center for Global Development
  • Richard Bilsborrow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Michael Clemens, Center for Global Development
  • Gero Carletto, World Bank
  • Dennis de Tray, Center for Global Development
  • Enrico Giovannini, OECD
  • Michel Glaude, Eurostat
  • Béla Hovy, United Nations
  • Frank Laczko, International Organization for Migration
  • Douglas Massey, Princeton University
  • David McKenzie, World Bank
  • Milena Novy-Marx, MacArthur Foundation
  • Michel Poulain, Université Catholique de Louvain
  • Hania Zlotnik, United Nations

Members served in a personal capacity and on a voluntary basis.