Towards a new migration policy

“The role that migrants play in promoting development and poverty reduction in countries of origin, as well as the contribution they make towards the prosperity of destination countries, should be recognised and reinforced. International migration should become an integral part of national, regional and global strategies for economic growth, in both the developing and developed world.”

This is one of the ‘principles for action’ presented by the Global Commission for International Migration (GCIM) established by the United Nations.
In its final report published in 2005 the Commission called for a new approach to migration. Two years down the line, the Western world still views migration primarily as a threat and not as a solution. By setting up several pilots in the area of (circular) migration, we wish to follow through on the agenda of the Global Commission and other UN and EU initiatives that have since been developed.

Our challenge

The challenge is to develop a migration policy, which offers benefits for the countries of origin, the destination countries, as well as the individual migrants and their families. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan referred to such a policy with the ‘Triple Win’. Annan was especially hopeful that a well-regulated and liberal policy of labour migration would create development opportunities for the poorer countries, in particular by supplementing migration policy with concrete initiatives in the area of development cooperation. The vast majority of the migrants themselves would benefit greatly from a system that does not force them into the no man’s land of illegality. But recipient countries can also benefit from a liberal migration policy. According to most economists, the economic benefits of allowing the employment pool to circulate more freely are significant.

The Triple Win:

  • Countries of origin: Brain gain & development
  • Migrants: Personal development & improved future perspective
  • Host countries: Fill short term labour shortages and reduce burden of illegal migration

Circular migration

Modern migration policy should especially encourage a process of circular migration, whereby migrants regularly travel back and forth between their country of origin and one or more destination countries and therefore maintain contacts with their home country as well as their new host country. The opportunities inherent in a Triple Win strategy can probably best be realised by creating a system of circular migration.

In general, such a migration policy should include the following elements:

  • Wealthy countries open their borders to migrant workers, in particular to solve concrete labour shortages in several selected sectors;
  • Programmes for (circular) labour migration have maximum flexibility to be able to respond to developments in the labour market and existing migration flows;
  • In formulating migration policy, the interests of developing countries are explicitly taken into account (policy coherence);
  • In recruiting migrants from developing countries, local needs and risks (e.g. brain drain) are taken into account;
  • To strengthen the positive effects of migration for countries of origin and minimise the negative effects, labour migration programmes are supplemented by development cooperation projects and programmes, for example to encourage ‘brain gain’ and strengthen the development potential inherent in remittances;
  • Migrants can move relatively easily and freely between countries of origin and destination countries and maintain contacts with both countries;
  • It is acknowledged that efforts aimed at forcing migrants to return to their country of origin probably have the opposite effect: permanent residence;
  • Destination countries encourage circular migration behaviour primarily via a package of incentives;
  • In formulating their requirements regarding integration, destination countries take into account the desired transnational identity of migrants;
  • Instead of integration and assimilation, the focus is on the participation of migrants in the destination country;
  • Migration is viewed as a solution and not as a threat.


Of course, there are various obstacles that stand in the way of more liberal migration opportunities. In the first place, the increased burden on the welfare state: the way in which the welfare state is presently structured could probably not withstand the arrival of immigrants entitled to all welfare facilities. In one-way or another, the entitlement to specific elements would have to be limited. One of the changes most often mentioned in this regard is the introduction of some kind of phased citizenship process, in which newcomers gradually acquire specific rights. There is also a widespread fear that labour migration programmes would also act as a magnet and lead to a steep rise in the numbers of migrants.

Download the research paper on Migration in Practice (Fall 2007) to read more about present migration policies and options for the future.