With its significant effect on economic, social and environmental conditions, migration must factor in the future sustainable development framework to allow an accurate analysis of a country's situation, says a report published by the International Organization for Migration on 13 September.
More-effective ways of collecting data are needed, although it is weak political will that is the biggest obstacle, says Frank Laczko, head of the organisation's migration research division, and a co-author of the report.
"In the past, migration has not been a sufficient priority in the development community and there is still a lot of hesitancy to integrate migration into national and regional development plans," he tells SciDev.Net.
The report, based on responses to a world poll of 25,000 first-generation immigrants in more than 150 countries, includes information on age, gender, income and skill-set, as well as feelings about their quality of life.
Including measurements of happiness, health and social conditions offers a more nuanced view of migration's link to development than simply focusing on economic effects, it says.
“The emergence of local actors on the international scene can contribute to shift the debate and to create a more positive outlook on migration.”
Cécile Riallant, UN Development Programme's Joint Migration and Development Initiative
This reflects a growing consensus within the development community that the focus should be on the individual, and that wellbeing should not be compromised in a drive for economic progress, it adds.
It finds that migrants, particularly those from developing countries, are less likely than native-born residents to have basic needs such as food or shelter met, to be in upper income groups or to have adequate employment.
South-South migration — which accounts for more than a third of all migration — appears to be particularly bad for an individual's development, the report says, as their economic circumstances do not improve but they also feel threatened and less happy.
Moving within the global South is understudied because lots of developing nations collect such poor migration data, with many not even asking for country of origin in their national census, so they cannot even assess immigrant numbers, says Laczko.
But data collection is a problem even in richer countries, and must be prioritised if the issue is to occupy its rightful place in the post-2015 agenda, he adds.
Laczko believes that including questions on immigrant wellbeing in surveys — as well as collating data from various ministries and countries, such as visas and residence and work permits issued —could be a relatively cheap way to help solve the problem.
Kathleen Newland, head of the migration and development programme at the Migration Policy Institute, a US-based think-tank, says that strengthening national statistics agencies to improve surveys must be backed up with sound methods for collecting data such as case studies and household studies.
To move from rhetoric to practical action, governments must work with the private sector to help implement policies, engage with the Diaspora to connect with migrant populations and create opportunities for migrants to invest their money, she adds.
Above all, says Cécile Riallant, a manager for the UN Development Programme's Joint Migration and Development Initiative, the key to connecting migration with development is engaging with the local organisations which are at the forefront of confronting the changes migration has on demographics, local services and planning.
"The emergence of local actors on the international scene can contribute to shift the debate and to create a more positive outlook on migration."
> Link to full report