The Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Need to Confront the Real Issues

Apparently, the purpose of the Forum is not so much to promote and protect the rights of migrants and overseas contract workers but to serve as a venue for dialogue between developed countries, which are concerned with the uncontrolled influx of migrants, and developing countries that are dependent on the export of labor.

VOL VIII, No. 31, September 7-13, 2008

On September 14-16, 2006, a High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development was held under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. Representatives from 140 countries met and discussed the “global implications of international migration” and the “mutually beneficial interaction between migration and development”. This led to the formation of the Global Forum on Migration and Development. The Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) is described as a “voluntary, intergovernmental, non-binding, consultative process”.

It identifies three objectives: 1. to address, in a transparent manner, the multidimensional aspects, opportunities and challenges related to international migration and its interlinkages with development; 2. to bring together government expertise from all regions to enhance dialogue, cooperation and partnership in the areas of migration and development and; 3. to foster practical and action-oriented outcomes at the national, regional and global levels.

The Forum’s first meeting was held in Belgium July 9-11, 2007 focusing on human capital and labour mobility; remittances and diaspora, and institutional and policy coherence. It was organized in eight sessions: a) Highly skilled migration: balancing interests and responsibilities and tackling brain drain; b) How can circular migration and sustainable return benefit development?; c) Strategies for building diaspora/ migrant organisations’ capacity for development; d) The value of the “migration and development” nexus and migration out of choice versus migration out of necessity; e) Temporary labour migration as a contribution to development: Low skilled migration and measures to combat irregular migration; f) Measures to increase the development value of remittances: Formalisation and reduction of transfer costs and ways to enhance the micro-impact of remittances on development to the benefit of the wider community; g) Looking ahead: Developing strategies and partnerships to work on “migration and development” issues; and h) Enhancing policy coherence and strengthening coordination at global level.

While the forum tackled a number of issues including the impact of migration on countries of origin, in terms of brain drain especially in the critical sectors of health and education and the positive contributions of remittances, and what migrants contribute to host countries in terms of supplying the need for labor and the protection of migrants’ rights, the bias seems to be on legal immigration rather than temporary labor, such as overseas contract work. This reflects the concern of developed countries about the continuous influx of migrants and overstaying tourists who seek work opportunities while remaining in the shadows to elude immigration authorities.

Thus, concepts such as circular migration – of immigrants returning to their country of origin; and diaspora/migrants capacity building to enable them to contribute to the development of their country of origin are being introduced. Likewise the need for coherence in development strategies and policies, such as in poverty reduction, of the host country, country of origin, and diaspora/migrants associations to address the root causes of migration from the country of origin is being emphasized to stem the tide of migration flows.

Temporary and low-skilled labor is tackled in terms of the need to ensure that it passes through legal channels, the advantages of entering into bilateral agreements in matching needs of host countries to the supply of labor from sending countries, and the responsibility of sending countries in ensuring that the stay of their citizens are temporary.

Models of “good practices” are presented for emulation such as the efforts of Malawi to address the extreme shortage of health professionals in the country, which was brought about by the migration of doctors to developed countries; the UK Code of Practice for the Ethical Recruitment of international health professionals; bilateral agreements regarding the hiring of agricultural labor entered into by Spain with Morocco and Colombia among others; the temporary agricultural workers programs entered into between Guatemala and Canada; the “standard contracts” required by the Philippines and Sri Lanka; and the licensing and management of recruitment agencies by the Philippines, as well as its pegging of recruitment fees, one-stop processing centers, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) loan fund, which was built from the compulsory membership fee of $25 imposed on Filipinos working abroad.

Inherent limitations

Being a voluntary, intergovernmental body, the Forum has its inherent limitations. Participating nations would, expectedly, be diplomatic with each other and avoid controversial issues. Added to this, its consultative, non-binding nature does not give teeth to its resolutions.

But its biggest flaw is the exclusion of the main stakeholders, the migrants themselves, in the forum.

Thus, problematic realities of abuses, murders of migrant workers, and official cover-ups, of women falling prey to the the flesh trade, of slave-like working conditions, contract-substitution, and non-payment of wages are hardly mentioned and recognized, much less discussed for resolution.

Apparently, the purpose of the Forum is not so much to promote and protect the rights of migrants and overseas contract workers but to serve as a venue for dialogue between developed countries, which are concerned with the uncontrolled influx of migrants, and developing countries that are dependent on the export of labor.

According to the report of the first meeting of the Forum, “The real challenge lies in how best to structure a policy that allows for proper enforcement of immigration laws while letting immigration continue as a positive force for economic prosperity.”

That is why the Philippines, which has so efficiently processed and profited from the export of labor, is touted as a model. In fact, the Philippines would host the second meeting of the Forum, which would be held this year.

A week ago, ABS-CBN news came out with a story regarding the oversupply of nursing graduates. It talked about newly-installed nurses having to compete for the opportunity to work in hospitals to gain the number of years of work experience required to be able to work abroad. Worse, they work with no salaries and even have to pay the hospital to be accepted as ‘trainees.’ Others have to work as call center agents or at whatever jobs available while waiting for opportunities to work in hospitals here then abroad. These are because the US and UK, the two top destinations of nurses who desire to work abroad, have reportedly slowed down, if not temporarily stopped the hiring of foreign nurses while tens of thousands of students graduate in nursing courses every year.

It is also only in the Philippines where doctors study to be nurses to be able to work abroad. But the most disturbing sign of desperation is seeing returning Filipino workers who have experienced abuse and traumatic situations opting to return to work abroad rather than die of hunger and poverty in the Philippines. And the Arroyo government is more than happy to oblige because it is dependent on remittances to prop up the economy. This is the reality of migrant labor that is hardly reflected in the Global Forum for Migration and Development. (

Share This Post