Migration is a development challenge. About 184 million people—2.3 percent of the world’s population—live outside of their country of nationality, and almost half of them are in low- and middle-income countries. In this episode of The Development Podcast, we explore the conversation around migration, from global economic imbalances, demographic changes, and conflict, to the opportunities it can bring to people and host communities.
To unpack this and more, we speak to Xavier Devictor, the World Bank’s co-Director for this year’s World Development Report and four individuals, including two migrants in Colombia and the Philippines, who share their stories of success and survival outside of their home countries.
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[00:00] Welcome and introduction of the topic
[02:03] Colombia: Perspectives and stories from the ground
[09:58] Philippines: Perspectives and stories from the ground
[14:00] The state of migration around the world
[18:08] The role of governments and policy makers
[26:01] Closure and thanks for tuning in!
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The World Bank is one of the world’s largest sources of funding and knowledge for low-income countries. Its five institutions share a commitment to reducing poverty, increasing shared prosperity, and promoting sustainable development.
Hello, and welcome to The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group, coming to you from Washington, DC and beyond. I'm Raka Banerjee.
Srimathi Sridhar: And I'm Srimathi Sridhar. This episode is all about migration. People moving their lives across borders through choice for economic reasons, or because of displacement. It's a hot topic in many parts of the globe with 2.3% of the world's population living outside their country of nationality.
Raka Banerjee: And with global economic imbalances, demographic changes, climate change and conflict. Migration is only set to increase. So what are the benefits migration can bring?
Srimathi Sridhar: We'll be taking a closer look at the big numbers from the world. Bank's recently released World Development Report.
Xavier Devictor: So there are actually more British citizens living outside the UK than migrants living in the UK. Many migrants live in Nigeria, or many Nigerians live outside of Nigeria. This is not a question of one group of country versus another group of country. This is more a question of how you manage this sort of movements by countries at all levels of income.
Raka Banerjee: We also hone in on two countries with very different experiences, Colombia and the Philippines, and here's some personal stories giving us an insight into this complicated subject.
Angelito: I came from a very poor family, so I need to change. I have to do something to change the economic status of my family.
Srimathi Sridhar: All that and more coming up in The Development Podcast. Raka, you've put together some numbers for us from this latest report into migration.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, it's been an interesting one.
Srimathi Sridhar: And we'll get into those in a moment. But first, let's get a snapshot from two parts of the world where migration has topped the economic agenda in very different ways. Colombia, and in a few minutes, the Philippines.Raka Banerjee:
Let's start with Colombia. So beginning in 2-0-1-5, millions of Venezuelans began fleeing their country amid economic and political crisis. Neighboring Colombia was the front line of this migration crisis, but Colombia, a middle-income country, still emerging from decades of conflict, saw a development opportunity in welcoming and integrating these migrants. Paul Blake went to the border town of Cucuta to find out more.
Paul Blake: It's the biggest movement of people in modern Latin American history. Over eight years, more than 7 million people are believed to have fled Venezuela spanning out across South America and beyond. And for many, the journey begins here on the Simón Bolívar Bridge that connects Venezuela with Colombia. The sheer number of people that have crossed this bridge since 2-0-1-5 were threatened to overwhelm the government's services and upend the politics of a far wealthier country. And yet Colombia hosts some 2.5 million migrants implementing a range of measures, both addressing the crisis and creating opportunity for migrants and host country alike. So let's give you a sense of some of the first impressions a migrant might have coming from the Venezuelan side. Over here to the Colombian side, they're greeted immediately by a number of signs while still on this bridge that crosses the border. This one says, do you need information about your rights in Colombian? Tells them they can go to this sort of reception point, this orientation point here on the Colombian side over here, this one says, "If you don't want to return to your country, know your rights at the reception point." And finally, this one just sort of sets the mood says, "This is a zone free of discrimination." In a small beauty salon tucked away in Bogota, a frenetic city of over eight million. I went to meet one Venezuelan entrepreneur who packed up her life and made the journey. Dexibel Bravo now specializes in tattooing of eyebrows, a popular service called micropigmentation. She explained to me why she decided to leave five years ago. Can you talk to us a little bit about your decision to move to Colombia? What was the motivation?
Dexibel Bravo: One of the main reasons to migrate into another country was the economic situation. My career was no longer earning me enough and the economic situation for many professionals had deteriorated. Teachers like me were very affected. Teaching is one of the most important careers, but we were no longer earning the money that we needed. And that motivated me.
Paul Blake: But it's a big decision.
Dexibel Bravo: Yes, it was very difficult, a very strong decision, very painful because I'm the only girl in my family and it was a painful decision in relation to my family. I'm very attached to my parents. So getting out was very difficult.
Paul Blake: The day that you moved, what was going through your head? What was your kind of thoughts, your emotions on the day when you started to head for the border?
Dexibel Bravo: It was really scary to face a change because it was a drastic change. I didn't really know how to get to know a new country, and that was a strong feeling. I cried a lot because I wanted to come, but I wanted to stay with my parents. It was more a sentimental thing, but it was a very strong shock leaving where you are to go and do something completely different.
Paul Blake: It's a chapter turn. Do you want a break? [foreign language]. At this moment, Dexibel became visibly emotional, describing the heart-wrenching decision to move that so many others from Venezuela have made. Here in Colombia, Dexibel has the right to live and work to healthcare and for education for her children. For decades, Colombia was a source of migration amid violence and strife. More people were leaving the country than moving to it. But as the Venezuelan crisis emerged, flows shifted dramatically. Officials in Colombia realized there was an opportunity in the mass exodus if it could be managed rather than controlled. Alejandra Botero Barco was one of the three Colombian governments that has now overseen the crisis response. I met her in a bustling cafe, and she explained the background to the decision to integrate Venezuelan migrants.
Alejandra Botero: Gracias. How should the instrument be that is permanent enough that they can actually build a life. And that is also going to help us as a country economically as well if we have an educated influx of migrants that are going to help us build the economies. That was sort of the perspective that we're looking at, not more how we're going to shut the border because we don't want anymore, that that was really not something that we considered. And I think it's because of that shared background and the fact that even if we tried it would've been possible. And the rise in GDP was, I think two or three points in the next 10 years if you had that proactive approach where they would be able to work and not work for one or two years, but where they could have that 10-year permit, which was the sort of, I think what was most innovative. So they can do everything except both. Right now, what we have to do is to make sure that as a country, we make good on our promise.
Paul Blake: And this is something says Paula Rossiasco, a senior social development specialist with the World Bank. That is a long-term challenge.
Paula Rossiasco: I think that they're two critical things, right? One is granting the right to stay, to work, to move and to access services. And the second one is a timeframe is that they are doing it for 10 years as opposed to every year or every two years that create a lot of uncertainty.
Paul Blake: Paula says that some of the fears many people have about immigration tend to cluster around economics.
Paula Rossiasco: One critical thing that we have found that is important to explain to people is that actually we don't have less. By having three more million people, the pie grows and we're this a bigger pie among more people. These are people who are going to be demanding services, buying things, paying rent. We fear the poor because they're poor, they're going to steal, they're going to attack us. There is going to be resentment, et cetera. And Venezuelans are very entrepreneur. They have higher education levels. The only way how we cannot fear the poor is solving or providing economic opportunities for all the poor, not just Venezuelans, but also it hasn't enriched the country already, right? Like we're seeing Venezuelan artists bringing new twists to Colombian music. We have done a lot of work on perceptions. We have, for example, work on novelas, soap-operas and other means to bring people closer to how they understand the situation and help them make better informed opinions about it.
Paul Blake: Back at the Salon, Dexibel Bravo, who was unable to get a job as a teacher here when she arrived because her qualifications weren't accepted, despite having many job offers has created new life for herself and even employs a staff member. So how does she see her future? What is your kind of dream for the future? Do you want to grow this business? Do you want to go back to Venezuela? What is your sort of hope for the future?
Dexibel Bravo: I want to expand my business, something bigger, many more services, something in the future that will be a beauty salon, a bigger salon, and to be here and in Venezuela.Raka Banerjee:
In the Philippines. The picture as far as migration is very different. The Philippines has one of the largest rates of outward migration of anywhere in the world.
Srimathi Sridhar: Immigrants typically send money back to family members while working abroad, sometimes for years at a time in regions such as the Gulf and countries like Singapore, many depend on these remittances. And the flow of money inward from migrant workers abroad has contributed greatly to the infrastructure of the country and its economic development for decades. But what about immigrants who return home? Let's hear from Paul again.
Paul Blake: I went to meet Angelito Castro, a fish farmer in Mindanao.
Angelito: I am Angelito Castro, Licensed Aquaculturist by profession.
Paul Blake: Tucked away behind a forest of palm trees on the Philippines, southern island, Angelito, his wife and their two children, show me around the farm he is building using the money and skills he brought from abroad. He told me a bit about his experience working all over the world.
Angelito: Been practicing for 12 years. I spent most of my career overseas, started my career in Saudi Arabia and then transferred to Colombia. Then after Latin America and Colombia, I transferred to Qatar after Qatar the last country I work with is in Indonesia. We started two and a half years ago. We used the money that we earn for those years of working overseas. We Filipinos in the Philippines. We known to send workforce overseas. We call that Overseas Filipino Workers. It's almost all parts of the world. Yeah, there's Filipino because of... There's a lot of reasons why Filipino chose to go abroad to work, living behind our families. It's a lot of sacrifices. Number one, there is for family to uplift the economic situation of our family, to send our children to best schools, to help our siblings, our brothers, our families, relatives, helping them to have capital to start their own business, especially in on myself, is to start my own family because we start from zero.
Paul Blake: Back in Manila. I wanted to get a little more context to stories like this one. So I asked Alvin Ang, a professor at Ateneo University, how common is this?
Alvin Ang: In the street where I grew up, I think half of the people have gone to work abroad, but they're coming back home, they're not permanent migrants. And I think in every family, in any area in the country, there will be a migrant. Of course, it's a personal decision. And the benefit of the families around it contributed to the communities and eventually large-scale opportunities for the private sector had converted this much larger elements in the country. So the money they have sent back home, when it's pooled together, it helped pump the economy, protect us from a lot of uncertainties. Now, for example, this pandemic, the savings that they have generated all these years cushioned us from a more difficult time. That's why the government has called the modern heroes. They continue to protect the economy from headwinds.
Paul Blake: Back on the farm. I wanted to hear about the sacrifices that workers like Angelito make. He was away for long periods at a time, including when his children were very, very young. But he says it was worth it.
Angelito: Imagine your thousands of miles away from your family. The longingness, when you are alone with you have problems. You have nothing to talk to if you are sick. I came from a very poor family. So I need to change. I have to do something to change the economic status of my family.
Raka Banerjee: Thanks so much to Paul Blake, and all of his contributors.Srimathi Sridhar:
So can you give us some big picture numbers now on the state of migration around the world?
Raka Banerjee: Absolutely. So the big number, how many migrants are there in the world right now? How many people live outside of their country of nationality? According to the latest World Development Report, the number is 184 million people, which is about 2.3% of the world's population. 37 million of these people are refugees. And the global population currently around 8 billion is expected to reach 9.7 billion.
Srimathi Sridhar: And that's by 2-0-5-0, right?
Raka Banerjee: Yes, exactly. And the majority of that growth will be from low-income countries. By contrast, high income countries have aging populations and a shrinking labor force. So competition for migrants to fill these roles is expected to increase. That's kind of the big picture backdrop to all of this.
Srimathi Sridhar: So there's a lot going on there. And I noticed that you defined a migrant as someone who lives outside of their country of nationality. So the key distinction is being a citizen.
Raka Banerjee: Yes, exactly. So the World Development Report defines migrants based on their citizenship. So once someone has obtained naturalized citizenship in their new country of residents, they would not be classified as migrant anymore, at least by this report.
Srimathi Sridhar: Okay, got it. And can you tell us a bit about the geographic spread? Where do migrants live generally?
Raka Banerjee: So it's about 40% in high income OECD countries, and that's a mix of both high skilled and low skilled workers, as well as temporary and permanent migrants, students, undocumented migrants and refugees, like a real mix. And then another 43% live in low and middle-income countries. Generally, that's more migration that's driven by jobs, family reunification or seeking international protection refugees. And then the remaining 17% are in the Gulf States. And those are exclusively economic migrants, no refugees. Those migrants actually make up half of all of the population across the Gulf States. So one of the main takeaways for me really is that there's no such thing as a typical migrant or a typical country of origin or destination for migrants.
Srimathi Sridhar: Okay. This is all super helpful to get a sense of the overall migration picture. And one thing that's really interesting to me, Raka, in terms of migration is skills, skills gap at destination countries, but also the skills that migrants bring with them and so on.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, totally. And that's actually one of the main messages from this report. The authors make the point that it's really the match between migrant skills and the needs of their destination countries. That is the biggest factor when it comes to the economic effects of migration. So it's pretty clear, but basically the closer the match between migrant skills and the gap or demand in the destination country, the bigger the gains of migration for the destination countries, origin countries, and for the migrants themselves. In terms of high skilled migrants with tertiary education, more than half of them migrate to just four countries. I was really surprised to hear this. Just four countries, Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US. So of course, this creates problems for origin countries. The report finds that in various places, sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, people with a tertiary education were 30 times as likely to immigrate relative to their less educated peers.
Srimathi Sridhar: That's some serious brain drain.
Raka Banerjee: And it really brings home how important it is for origin countries to craft policy to really manage migration for development remittances to low and middle-income countries. Were estimated at 605 billion US dollars in 2-0-2-1, and in some countries, remittances account for more than 20% of national income. Nepal, El Salvador, Lebanon. That's just a few.
Srimathi Sridhar: Well, Raka, thank you so much for sharing all this information with us today.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, it's my pleasure. Thanks.
Srimathi Sridhar: Just a quick reminder to subscribe wherever you get your podcast from, and we do have a survey. We'd love for you to take what you can find on our streaming platforms. Leave us your comments, we'd love to hear from you.
Raka Banerjee: Okay, so we've been through some of the big findings of the World Development Report. Let's get some context to the numbers.Srimathi Sridhar:
I was joined in the studio here in Washington, DC by Xavier Devictor. He's a co-director for this year's World Development Report.
Raka Banerjee: We asked Xavier to reflect on why he personally finds the subject so important.
Xavier Devictor: I was in Northern Ethiopia a few years back in a refugee camp, and I saw these three girls unaccompanied minors who by their looks must have been anywhere between 12 and 15, those three girls with no parents in a refugee camp with no great hope. And we all know what's going to happen to these three girls. Now the question is, do we really have to let it happen? Do we really have to assume that there's nothing that policy could do? And I think what we're trying to say is no, we don't. First and foremost, these people are people. They need to be treated with dignity, but they also need to be treated as people with hopes, with abilities, with the capacity to affect their own lives. And every time I start a presentation on refugees on this report, I was start by saying, "This is about people, and these are the three girls I have in mind when I talk about this."
Raka Banerjee: Wow, that's really powerful.
Xavier Devictor: This is not a situation of us versus some. This is not about one group of country versus another group of country. And actually, most countries are both countries of origin and countries of destination at the same time. So they are actually more British citizens living outside of the UK than migrants living in the UK. And the same in, you can see, I can see some dynamics in some developing countries, in some middle-income countries, in some low-income countries. Many people, actually many migrants live in Nigeria where actually many Nigerias live outside of Nigeria. So what we want to start with is to recognize that this is not a question of one group of country versus knows a group of country. This is more a question of how you manage these sort of movements by countries at all levels of income.
Raka Banerjee: It seems like migration's going to be increasingly important for countries going forward. I'm curious about the role of governments and policy makers in terms of what can they do to really increase the gains of migration, both for origin and destination countries as well as for migrants themselves.
Xavier Devictor: There are different types of movements and these different types of movement called for different policy responses. And traditionally there have been two ways to look at it. There's been labor economics, which essentially looks at the skills people bring and whether they match the needs into destination countries. If these skills match the needs in the destination countries, then everybody gains the cost. The benefits of migration exceeds the cost. If the scale don't match the needs, then obviously it's a bit more problematic. There's another perspective, which is international law, which looks at why people move if they move, because they fear for their life in their country of origin, they need international protection, they are refugees and the countries of decision have an obligation to them. It's not a choice, an obligation under International Law of Treaty that these countries have signed. If on the other hand, people are looking for economic opportunities, then the decision country has a prerogative to accept them or not on their territory. And what we've done here in the WDR in the World Development Report is to kind of combine these two approaches to distinguish between different sort of movements that require different policy responses so as to make sure that these movements can, as much as possible, contribute to development and prosperity.
Srimathi Sridhar: So, Xavier, talk about specific examples here. Can you talk to us about successful policies that have helped migrants integrate and contribute to their host countries?
Xavier Devictor: So for migrants who bring skills that are demand in their country of destination, the challenge for this country of destination is how do you integrate them in the economy but also in society, which is separate yet a very important process in a manner that is successful. And there's been plenty of example in Australia, in Canada, in countries like Singapore of policies that basically provide people with rights, provide people with recognition of their degrees, of their qualifications. So they can actually engage at their level of skills in the labor market, but also open public services, et cetera. So their kids can go to school, can go to health centers if they're sick, et cetera. There are also policies for countries of origin to try to maximize the benefit from this sort of migration. And the Philippines is very well-known for the effort they're making to maximize the impact of remittances, to benefit from knowledge transfers, but also even to build skills that will be useful for people as they travel overseas in a way that for the migrants who bring skills that are demand for migrants, especially for refugees who sometimes, because they essentially look for safeties, they end up in a place where they may or may not be a demand for their skills. And so the question for many host countries is, what do we do with these people? And the example of Colombia shows that the response is essentially about trying to help people integrate in the labor market, international labor market by providing them the right to work, but also the right to move to places where there are jobs by opposition to countries where refugees are essentially kept the border under tents and essentially dependent for humanitarian assistance for extended periods of time.
Srimathi Sridhar: Are you optimistic that these countries will, and societies will learn how to better manage these kind of cross border movements for prosperity and development?
Xavier Devictor: So I don't know if I'm optimistic or pessimistic, but I just look at numbers. Without migrants, Italy's population is expected to be cut by the end of the century. Spain's population is expected to be cut by one third. These demographic trends are also increasingly present even in middle-income countries. So I think the question is not whether we're optimistic as to whether countries will be able to make the best of migration. I think the question is countries don't really have a choice and they need to make the best or they will actually face a very, very difficult economic circumstances. And I guess that's maybe a pessimistic conclusion, but just maybe to turn it around, what is that? What we also see is that the cultural aspects in history have always been overcome. And so I think the question is how can we actually facilitate this process of inclusion integration for people who bring skills that are anyway in demand? Our societies have always been places of tensions, of competitions, of interdependence between different groups. The reality is some people are negatively affected by migration. Some people have skills that are very similar to migrants and end up in a competition with them. Some people live in neighborhoods where the school's quality actually going down because there are so many migrants were in this neighborhood. So the fact that there is a social gain does not mean everybody gains. And so it is important to acknowledge these difficulties and then to find ways for public policies, public investment, social protection, retraining of people, etcetera, etcetera, so that they actually can be supported in this transition. And unless we do that, it's going to be very difficult to address the underlying political problems because people will see that beside the symbolic issues that maybe part of sentiments more than actually reality. There's a very hard, difficult reality for some people that who actually need support.Raka Banerjee:
Thank you so much, Xavier. It was really, really, really appreciate all of your information and all of your perspectives on this. Thank you.
Srimathi Sridhar: Thanks again, Xavier for that compelling conversation.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, that was really fascinating. We hope you enjoyed this episode. Please do lookout for the next one and get in touch. We are at The Development Podcast at worldbank.org.
Srimathi Sridhar: Until next time, I'm Srimathi Sridhar.
Raka Banerjee: And me, Raka Banerjee. Thanks so much for listening. Bye.
Srimathi Sridhar: Bye.