Global Migration
Fall 2008 | Grantee Publications | Migration

President's Message

The movement of people across borders is a fundamental aspect of international and domestic affairs, yet one which has until recently received surprisingly little attention. What does migration reveal about the shape of contemporary global economics and politics? How does migration affect countries that send and receive migrants – and migrants themselves?

In our new grantmaking arena, MacArthur takes an explicitly global view on population movement. Our core concern is international migration, but we acknowledge migration as a subset of the much larger category of global human mobility – a term which encompasses migrants, refugees, students, business travelers, tourists and all others who cross international boundaries.

The Foundation’s Initiative on Global Migration and Human Mobility is motivated by the observation that migration is one of the least well understood and most poorly governed aspects of globalization. Our grantmaking seeks to contribute to improved governance of international migration and better understanding of the relationship of migration to economic development.

We are inspired by a new generation of researchers who emphasize how communications and transportation technologies have transformed the migration experience. Under the old view, migration was understood to be a one-way process, from a country of origin to a country of destination, ending in assimilation. The new paradigm acknowledges that migratory paths are often back-and-forth, or circular, and that migrants retain ties to their home countries that lend their existence a transnational character.

This understanding influences the words we use to describe the phenomena. Our use of the term migration is intended to emphasize the global, back-and-forth nature of human mobility. The more common term – immigration – is always used relative to a receiving country – but practically every country on earth, including the United States, is at once a country of origin, a country of destination, and a country of transit. And while the U.S. remains the largest single destination for immigrants, other countries, including Russia, Germany and Saudi Arabia, each host millions of migrants.

Migration is an extraordinarily complex phenomenon – intertwined with economics and politics, gender and culture, society and religion, race and poverty, climate and conflict. At MacArthur, we are cognizant of our status as newcomers in the areas of migration research and policy, to which many individuals have devoted lifelong careers. Our ambition is not to find and promote the one best theory of migration. Neither is MacArthur entering the field of global migration in order to enter into present-day debates over immigration policy in the United States. Rather, we hope to contribute to building a flexible, adaptive framework for understanding migration processes around the world and to help capture the benefits of migration for individual migrants as well as countries of origin and destination.

The international movement of people is here to stay. Migration – and flows of people more broadly – is likely, in its totality, a global public good. But specific flows of migrants bring costs as well as benefits for countries of origin and destination, and for individual migrants and their families. These costs and benefits – some measurable, others very hard to quantify – tend to be unequally distributed among groups of people, within localities and sectors in a country, and across countries. Few countries do a good job of dealing with these distributional effects of migration.

While there are fairly robust international regimes in such fields as environment and trade, the international community is just beginning to grapple with migration as a global policy issue. MacArthur seeks to advance international migration policy discussions through its support for the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which met in Brussels in July 2007, and meets in Manila in October 2008. The Forum is a voluntary, non-binding consultative process that brings together representatives of more than 150 countries for frank and productive conversations and sharing of best practices for improving the impact of migration on development.

The Global Forum is helping shift the way governments view migration – from threat to opportunity. The Brussels Forum generated new partnerships and specific projects, including a feasibility study for mobilizing the private sector to reduce the up-front costs of migration. The next meeting of the Forum, in Manila, focuses on protecting migrants’ rights and enabling them to become agents of development.

The Forum is a key vehicle for focusing global attention on migration, but most pragmatic policy coordination takes place at the bilateral or regional level. Through a grant to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, MacArthur is funding research on regional migration governance institutions in West Africa and Central America. And since effective policymaking depends on accurate empirical data, the Foundation is supporting a commission at the Center for Global Development that brings together top migration data specialists with the aim of improving international migration statistics.

Through a grant to the Social Science Research Council, the Foundation has supported an anthology of research on the developmental impact of remittances – the funds that migrants send to households in their countries of origin. Several other projects on the migration/development nexus are aimed at affecting specific migration practices. The migration of health care workers to the United States is addressed by MacArthur grantee AcademyHealth, which has assembled a health sector task force to develop a code of conduct for the international recruitment of nurses. And work undertaken at the University of Michigan by researcher Dean Yang uses an innovative experimental design to see how new banking products can help migrants and their families make better use of remittances.

Global migration cuts across a broad range of issues of concern to MacArthur – from regional economic development, to conservation, human rights and international security. I am pleased by the prospect of MacArthur’s further engagement in this field, and welcome your thoughts on this work.

Jonathan F. Fanton


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