Migrations can reduce poverty in the countries of origin.  Why is the government ignoring it?

It has come to the end of the legislature and by surprise, but we already have the proposal that partially reforms the management of labor immigration in Spain. The documents presented by the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, led by José Luis Escrivá – legal measures and supporting report – contain lights and shadows that must be thoroughly debated in the coming weeks. But they represent, as a whole, a lucid and constructive look at how much this broken migratory model needs to change. When the worst thing that can be said about a reform is that it falls short, at least we know that it is going in the right direction.

There is, however, an omission that has seemed resounding to me, and it is the one that has to do with development. Believe it or not, 51 pages of supporting report have not allowed including a single mention of the impact of these measures on the global strategy to combat poverty and Spain’s responsibility in it. Nor have they considered it necessary to add public cooperation agencies to the crowded list of institutions whose opinion is necessary.

The omission is relevant for two main reasons. The first is that a good labor migration policy is a very powerful weapon in the fight against poverty and inequality. This benefit begins with the migrants themselves and their families, who can see their real income multiplied by three, five and even 14 times, depending on where they come from and what they can offer. Merely moving from a place of low opportunities to one where you develop your skills is a fast and efficient path to development, as the economic literature has repeatedly shown. Most especially when this process occurs safely and regularly, which is exactly what the new standard says to aspire to.

A good labor migration policy is a very powerful weapon in the fight against poverty and inequality

In addition to the individuals who migrate, the whole of their societies of origin gain from the financial and democratic transfers that they send, with the incentives for better training in origin or with the strengthening of the institutions involved in the process. And they do it against all odds: in 2020, in the midst of the international economic debacle, migrant workers managed to sustain the level of their remittances at 651,000 million dollars (608,000 million euros), an amount that multiplies by four the entire official development aid from OECD countries.

The second reason is even more important for the success of the government’s proposed reform. In a migration process, cooperation agencies can be key to ensure that the benefits are shared by all, that there is no flagrant abuse by one party, and that the changes are accepted by those who have the ability to block them.

Take the example of contracting at origin, one of the star proposals of this reform. The new model introduces measures that facilitate this process, reward the commitment of the parties to it and favor circular migration. Although it leaves out many non-temporary workers and perpetuates vices of the previous model that must be corrected –such as dependence on a single employer, which triggers the risks of exploitation–, experience shows that it is possible to do this type of operation well. And that means guaranteeing remunerative jobs, adjusted to labor law and agreements, and capable of satisfying the demands of the Spanish economy. So far, only the third of these objectives has been met with the GECCO program (Collective Management of Hiring at Origin).

Well, the way in which these flows impact development will depend on a series of conditions in which the cooperation agencies have a lot to say. How?

• Helping to define the most suitable countries of origin for these circular or definitive migration processes. An ambitious hiring program in West Africa, for example, may have a relative impact on poverty greater than one in the American South.

• Acting as a necessary intermediary between the Spanish and local authorities, based on the experience accumulated by other countries and guaranteeing the fundamental rights of the people involved in the process.

• Contributing to the training at origin of workers who could move to Spain.

• Nullifying or compensating for the potential collateral damage of the measures, such as the shortage of essential capacities in the countries of origin (the misnamed “brain drain”).

The true drama of the Spanish vision of migration and development is, finally, that it does not exist

This aspiration is not a pipe dream. In a piece written for this blog just two years ago, he proposed taking advantage of the pandemic to replicate in the Spanish model some of the ideas that had worked best elsewhere. One of them are the so-called Global Skills Partnerships, which define mobility programs based on shared interests: to respond to the needs of the labor market at the destination, to multiply the opportunities for safe and profitable emigration, and to ensure the impact on the development of the countries of origin. The prestigious Center for Global Development has documented successful experiences between Australia and the Pacific islands (several sectors, from agriculture to health or tourism); Germany and Kosovo (in construction, engineering and manufacturing); o Belgium and Africa (in information and communication technologies). In each of these cases, the cooperation agencies have acted as promoters or facilitators: they have tested the pilot programs, identified the potential participants or established the legal architecture of the agreements. The possibilities are endless, as your migration trail map shows.

The true drama of the Spanish vision of migration and development is, finally, that it does not exist. Our cooperation agencies have been unable to really transform the security and reductionist vision of the Ministry of the Interior. But neither do our labor institutions, as we have seen, seem to be aware that migrant workers are not born from trees. Not to mention the NGOs and too many academics who continue to reduce this issue to a humanitarian challenge. It is time for this to change. The reform debate that has been put on the table offers an unbeatable opportunity to achieve this.

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