It is necessary and good policy for governments within the United Nations to negotiate a normative migratory framework for international migration. Migration is an influential factor in cooperation between governments because it significantly influences states economies, demographics, and social issues. At present, states follow independent domestic policies governing the movements of people but the results of these policies are often not in the best interest of the migrants or the states. States must work towards a standard system of rights for migrants that transcends the national level, protects migrants, and encourages development.
The United Nations has taken an active interest in analyzing important issues and problems regarding migration. It has not succeeded, however, in developing definitive guidelines towards migration agreed upon by all recognized governments. The United Nations can be used as a forum for states to interact and agree upon universal, supranational rights for migrant workers.
In September 2002, the Secretary-General of the United Nations in his report stated, It is time to take a more comprehensive look at the various dimensions of the migration issue, which now involves hundreds of millions of people and affects countries of origin, transit, and destination. Currently, about 175 million people (approximately 3% of the world), reside in a country other than where they were born. Sixty percent of the worlds migrants reside in more developed regions while the rest are in the less developed regions. Governments, in the late 1970s, became concerned with the economic, political, and social consequences of migration and by 2001, almost one-quarter of all countries viewed migration levels as being too high. Developed countries tend to favor tighter immigration policies and developing countries are moving in a similar direction. The concern over economic, social, and political issues has increased since the 1970s as migration has more than doubled since that time. States should recognize that global migration is increasing and will continue to increase. Governments should cooperate in determining how to manage protecting the rights of migrants while encouraging development.
III. Complexities of migration
Both opportunities and crises arise from the global movements of people. Migrants have the potential to contribute to the economic development of their home countries through their financial resources as well as their skills. They also have the potential to assist host countries that, due to a decreasing population, are in need of a labor force. If states fail, however, to take measures to protect the rights of migrant workers, then those workers may be at risk to experience prejudice or worse, to be the victims of (human) trafficking or other forms of exploitation.
Migration can play an important role in the development of states economies. Developing countries can benefit from emigration by receiving remittances from their citizens who are working in developed countries. Worldwide, remittances sent back to countries of origin by migrants are estimated at about $100 billion per year, and approximately 60% of this goes to developing countries. While remitted funds are often delivered with inefficiency, they are still an important social safety net for poor families and may help to reduce additional out-migration from that country.
Economists once believed that brain drain caused by outward migration hurt developing countries. Brain drain occurs when the few individuals with the qualifications necessary to create a functioning modern economy emigrate from developing countries to developed economies, and thereby crippling future development. Recently, however, an increasing number of expatriates have returned to their country of origin, taking back knowledge, information, understanding, and capital they acquired abroad. This phenomenon, known as brain-gain, if properly managed by supranational laws, may work to correct the loss produced by brain drain.
Demographers are concerned with their projection that the majority (97 or 98%) of population growth will be in the developing world, while the developed regions will experience a decline in growth rates. Countries such as India, Haiti, Bangladesh, along with many African countries, are projected to experience large amounts of growth due to relatively low death rates and high birth rates. Europe, Japan, and Canada are expected to decline in population growth. These developed countries will have to strive to keep the ratio between the workers and the retirees constant because of health care systems, pension funds, and education programs. In order to keep the ratio constant, these governments must welcome large numbers of migrants into their borders. Although demographers have noted that it is not possible to stop population aging through migration, migration may be able to play a role in increasing the labor force and maintaining labor/pension ratios for developed countries.
C. Social Issues
There is an overall negative perception of migrants in many parts of the world. Immigrants face prejudice in host countries because host citizens feel a threat to their national identity, job security, and they are afraid migrants will undermine the existing social system. Immigrants, on the other hand, must not only find work in new countries, but they also must adapt to new behavioral and cultural norms. Social integration and cohesion, which can be encouraged through supranational norms, are important because in order for migrants to be active, productive members of their host country, they must feel secure and welcome.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has identified three categories of international migrants: the privileged, the victims, and the average international migrant. The privileged migrants, who include specialized skilled workers as well as those in the sport and entertainment industry, enjoy benefits such as special temporary visas. This category of international elite has the advantage of choosing their own career path and residence. This class, which is often wealthy and educated, could provide a positive influence on the perception of migrants. An international framework on migration needs to make clear that the term migrant refers to several classes, including the elite in addition to lower class workers and refugees. In this way, the term will have a more positive connotation, which will be helpful in creating a more optimistic opinion of migration in general.
The average migrant does not have the benefits of the privileged migrant. Average immigrant workers are often in the lowest socio-occupational group, are on the bottom of the wage scale, and are subject to the worst working conditions in their host countries. Immigrant workers can often only find temporary jobs and are the first to become unemployed during economic downturns. Jobs available to average migrants are not unionized and employers abuse labor standards by failing to provide a safe environment for workers and a decent wage. A global regime of rights and standards agreed upon by all member states could create negative consequences for states that do not adhere to fair labor and wage practices or practice discrimination in employment. This would ensure decent work and adequate income to these average migrants. Along with a guarantee of fair work, the framework could call for a promise of social services and benefits for the workers, which would include programs for health benefits, education, and affordable housing.
The third category of migrants, known as victims or refugees, includes individuals who emigrate from their country in order to escape poverty, environmental disaster, persecution, or political chaos, and are those who are most at risk to have their human rights violated. Victims, in order to flee their situation at home, often have no choice other than to resort to traffickers and smugglers. As a result, these refugees are expelled, detained, or die in transit under abominable conditions. If these victims reach their country of destination, they are illegal or undocumented immigrants. As illegal immigrants, these people are in a continual state of insecurity, are at risk for being exploited, and are unable to seek social benefits. Women and children are often the victims of trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, where they are sold by criminal bands to the sex trade industry. Interstate cooperation would provide a course of action that could protect the undocumented migrant and discipline those transnational organized crime groups, which would also help to strengthen national and international security.
IV. United Nations Contribution to Migration Reform
The United Nations, because of its significant role as an international institution, should be responsible for creating and overseeing supranational policy guides regarding migrants rights. At present, regional intergovernmental organizations acting with the UN advanced proposals and individual bodies of the UN cooperated on specific aspects of migration; however, there is a lack of a binding, comprehensive model that claims universal, transnational rights for migrants.
Regionally, the European Population Forum, held in Geneva, in January 2004 proposed the Berne Initiative, where the Swiss government took the initiative of establishing the Global Commission on International Migration. The goal of the GCIM, in acting on the encouragement of the UN Secretary General, is to launch a consultative process in order to establish a States owned framework for cooperation on migration. The GCIM will make its final report to the UN Secretary General in the summer of 2005.
Within the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was responsible for the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This Convention contains legal protections and a clear definition of the status of refugees, prohibiting the expulsion of any person given refugee status. The International Labor Organization and Commission for Human Rights sponsored the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which formalized the responsibility of host countries concerning upholding the rights of migrants and ensuring their protection. In 2000, the General Assembly adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and the Protocol against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air. This protocol was an attempt to protect and assist the victims of trafficking and to promote cooperation among states in addressing the trafficking problem.
Thus far, the most comprehensive normative (but non-binding) text by the United Nations that concerns international migration is the Program of Action adopted by the International Conference on Population and Development. Held in Cairo in September 1994, this proposal supports the idea of orderly international migration and advocates more cooperation and dialogue between countries of origin and countries of destination.
Following the Cairo proposal, the Commission on Population and Development, which is served by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the UN, published the International Migration Report 2002. This report is important because it provides critical information about the movement of people across borders, which is typically difficult to track. Migration information is usually scarce and inaccurate because people can migrate more than once during their lifetime, and countries do not usually possess accurate, reliable, and updated information. In addition, states have different definitions of who is considered a migrant. Prior to the publication of this report, migration experts often highlighted that one problem in developing norms for migration was that there was a lack of adequate and reliable information on the flows of people. The report of the Population Division is critical in advancing the process of creating an international migratory framework.
International guidelines for migration would be beneficial for global development as long as the policies would provide positive incentives to open flows of people and capital. The way in which each state manages the issue of migration should remain within the prerogatives of the state; however, its practices should comply with international agreements. These agreements, if negotiated correctly, could encourage cooperation and integration, which would return greater social and economic returns, as well as greater protection for international migrants. A globalized regime of rights for migrants would transcend the state level and promote principles such as development, citizenship, and human rights.
A. Development Opportunities
The international migratory framework should include provisions that recognize the potential for development through multiple sources. Transnational networks, which are of new interest to policymakers and development experts, represent one avenue for development through migration. Transnational networks are the result of todays modern, quick, and cheap transportation and communication, which allow the immigrant to interact between their host country and their country of origin. By keeping these ties, immigrants provide foreign direct investment to their home countries, and create a market for tourism back to the old country. Investment and tourism revenues, along with remittances, can provide much needed capital to developing economies.
In order to increase the effectiveness and sum of remittances, supranational laws must require transparency on fees on exchange rates. Currently, as much as 20% of the value of remittances is said to disappear through high transfer fees and poor exchange rates. Even though exchange systems are poor, remittances have been rising; flows from the United States to Mexico and Central America grew from less than $1 billion in 1980 to more than $14 billion in 2002. Regulating transfers would facilitate this increase and encourage even more growth in remittance numbers. In addition, the framework should strive to lessen border controls because harsh border enforcement makes migrants less likely to return to their country of origin, which weakens their ties with their homelands and, in turn, lessens the flow of remittances.
A system that facilitates pension transferability between host and home countries could also encourage migrants to return to their countries of origin, thus providing those countries with the returning immigrants money and expertise. Developed countries that recruit from poor countries could implement education and training programs in the developing countries which would help provide skilled workers for the recruiters and provide training to otherwise uneducated citizens.
B. Citizenship Opportunities
A clear and secure legal status is critical component to the well-being of a migrant. Migrants are only granted limited access, however, to social services because of their lowered, undefined status in society. A supranational framework that regulates, clarifies, and simplifies rules and procedures for migrants regarding conditions for residence and employment would be advantageous because migrants are not guaranteed these benefits worldwide. According to the Social Perspective on International Migration, published by the Commission for Social Development of the UN, the main preoccupations of immigrants are, apart from a job, the following: education for their children, and the related question of language, health care for their families, and a safe place to live in. These concerns, of course, vary with the intent of the migrant, whether it be to stay in the host country for a few months to a few years, to remaining there permanently.
One way to address the varied wants and needs of migrants is to establish the concept of civic stratification, which would grant or deny rights to a citizen based on their relationship with the state. Civic stratification is encompassing because while it grants universal, transnational rights, it goes beyond a traditional citizenship framework by considering degrees of partial membership. This concept would help solve questions of whether migrants are granted voting rights, pension plans, and other social benefits given to citizens. Civic stratification categorizes migrants and grants them appropriate rights for their level of citizenship.
Migrants can be given citizenship status based on their reason for entry into a host country, which is typically for employment, family unification, or asylum seeking. While all migrants can be given residence, employment, and partial social rights during their stay, those migrants who wish to stay indefinitely in the country could become eligible for full social rights. Eligibility for full social rights could be based on whether the migrant was able to maintain a residence and employment. In addition, civic stratification serves as a way to monitor those migrants lawfully present in a country. Under a civic stratification structure, undocumented migrants either are absent or explicitly excluded from any citizenship rights.
C. Human Rights Opportunities
While undocumented migrants are not granted citizenship rights under a civic stratification concept, these workers still need protection, regardless of how they entered the country. All migrants, documented and undocumented, should be protected under an international framework that grants every person the right to life and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment. Migrants most at risk for being exploited are undocumented migrants, who unlike documented migrants, have no recourse and cannot turn to their host government for support. Undocumented migration has been on the rise since the mid-1970s, after a large number of countries relaxed emigration/exit controls following the end of the Cold War.
Trafficking victims are migrants who are granted no rights, are at the mercy of the traffickers, and are forced to labor to pay off debts, as a result of fear, disclosure, violence, or reprisals. This labor is likely to be performed without a contract, time off, insurance, access to health or social security services or pay. Trafficking victims work in sweatshops, agriculture, construction work, domestic service, food processing, and for women and older girls, in commercial sex. These jobs are often called 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous, and degrading). The number of trafficked people is estimated to be between 700,000 to 4 million every year.
Transnational norms regarding trafficking and guaranteeing the recognition of human rights of all workers, documented and undocumented, would be good policy. Public health programs, whose mission is not to control migration but to improve migrants health conditions, could be part of the normative framework. While defining legal status through civic stratification is important, programs that protect migrants at all levels of citizenship (or non-citizenship) are humane and necessary. Official transnational public-health programs are rare although some NGOs, including the Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Migration (or CARAM) are experimenting with advocacy work to input policies at the regional level. If the UN based its work on those experimental programs that succeeded, it would have a solid foundation to begin its work on improving migrant health and ensuring overall human rights.
Several bodies within the UN, including the Population Division, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Labor Organization, and the Commission for Human Rights, are all working on gathering reliable information pivotal to the establishment of a normative migratory framework. While several bodies interest in migration is a positive move towards reform, it would be best if one division were given control to develop the framework. This division could integrate knowledge from several parts of the UN and present it to the Secretary General. This division would be made a permanent part of the UN, as migration will be an ongoing issue.
Migration is multi-faceted in nature because it crosses borders to affect states economies, demographics, and social issues, and it can no longer be managed by individual states. As migration continues to increase as the world becomes more connected by better technologies in communication and travel, it will become an unavoidable global priority. The UN can help the global community capture the greatest benefits towards global development by combining its own resources, along with migration experts and other non-governmental institutions to develop a normative migratory framework.