Countries have seized a window of opportunity to address migration realities now and in the future—and next year is crunch time. More than 800 delegates from the United Nations Member States, agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), civil society, and academia convened in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, last week for the Stocktaking meeting on the Global Compact on Migration. An ambitious, non-binding process (political, not legal), the Global Compact marks an opportunity for states to commit to new, fresh thinking and renewed assurances around safe, orderly, and regular migration.
What a global compact could mean for development
The Global Compact is a critical process, not just for migration but for global development as well: research and reality show, time and again, that migration unequivocally can grow and stimulate economies in both the origin and destination countries. Attention to and engagement in this process over the next several months will be crucial. The zero draft of the Compact is being written now, and Member States will come to the table beginning in late February for several rounds of negotiations.
While somewhat tepid during meetings in Mexico, Member States indicated they will significantly ramp up their specific asks and articulated requirements once the Compact’s zero draft is out. There is a brief but imperative window of opportunity to ensure the Global Compact is as robust and bold as possible—a goal aided perhaps by the fact that this is non-binding, providing space for more ambitious (while technically optional) language.
Over the course of the Global Compact meetings, a number of Member State interventions championed bilateral agreements, skills and training partnerships, and other new legal migration pathways. All of these avenues are necessary to governing and capitalizing on migration. None of these, as they exist now, can alone provide the migration “solution.” Needed now and moving forward is not only a variety of new migration pathways, but a commitment from Member States and the Global Compact to test out these proposed pathways.
Beyond the economic question, human rights, fair recruitment practices, protection of child migrants, and access to public services in the destination country were all common themes in Member States’ remarks (some more contested than others, such as the debate around health services access regardless of migration status). Some Member States sought guarantees and greater procedural specifics around return and reintegration of failed asylum seekers. Many called for an end to child migrant detention and greater protection to vulnerable migrants, including unaccompanied children.
When innovation becomes necessity: A global skill partnership
As the discussions evolved over the course of three days, the buzzword term “innovation” came up again and again. If the Global Compact is to be a truly game-changing and effective roadmap for states to better manage migration, it will need to commit to innovating.
CGD’s pitch to the Global Compact revolves around the Global Skill Partnership, a bilateral labor agreement where the developed country gets directly involved in shaping the skills of potential migrants in the country of origin, prior to migration. A Global Skill Partnership ensures the mutual benefits are significant: the developed destination country gets precisely the skills in workers it needs to fill labor market gaps, at a lower cost for training in the developing country; the developing origin country receives new technology, training institutions, and skills for local workers (as only some trainees migrate); those trainees who do migrate earn markedly more than they would at home, and send remittances home to grow the local economies at home; and those trainees who do not migrate enter their local economies with new and advanced skills and higher earning potential.
The Global Skill Partnership is one innovation to pilot when Member States raise the need for “international training partnerships.” Talent Beyond Boundaries is one example of seeking to innovate in the skills matching space. There are other innovations which could move toward addressing alternatives to child migrant detention, and others still that move toward a monitoring and accountability mechanism on human rights for people on the move. There are certainly ideas for better and more realistic return and reintegration practices, which warrant at least a trial effort—even if just to identify what doesn’t work so we can ultimately get to what does.
More and better data and evidence—a common refrain in Member States’ remarks—can facilitate innovation. As states call for more nuanced, rigorous, and robust migration data, and more research and attention to root causes of migration, they should at the same time be prepared to consider the necessary policy and program innovations that that data can help inform.
Demographic projections are clear: In the coming decades, sub-Saharan Africa alone will experience a population boom of 800 million workers. What that means: millions of young, energetic job seekers for whom developing country economies simply cannot match jobs. Migration will happen, and innovative proposals like the Global Skill Partnership need to be tested now to be scaled up for the future. Well-managed and pragmatic migration policies are essential, and data and evidence are needed to help states determine what policy changes must happen and at what scale.
Tackling migration with international cooperation
The US decision to pull out of the Global Compact on Migration several days ahead of the Stocktaking in Mexico may have given a boost to the public profile of the conference. While some Member States expressed their disappointment in the decision, many others echoed the US call for respect for state sovereignty, and the non-binding nature of the Global Compact was reiterated throughout the time in Mexico. There was some speculation the United States may continue to contribute, perhaps from the sidelines, on the agreement. Given that the Compact is a political and not legal document, the resulting recommendations and commitments could prove to be a useful, pick-and-choose innovation roadmap for US migration considerations down the road.
The final document is set to be signed next December in Morocco. There are of course no guarantees— early sticking points may include issues like returns and visa overstays, how the monitoring and follow up mechanisms are structured, and how much developed receiving countries are willing to commit to around new legal pathways. Social impacts and questions around integration may have also been bubbling beneath the surface.
For now, the Global Compact is moving ahead with an ambitious agenda for tackling migration, providing Member States the tools and ideas for building and improving their own migration governance frameworks, and fostering the dialogue and considerations necessary to drive bilateral and multilateral cooperation on migration policy and procedures, both in the short-term response and in long-term planning. Migration, by fact of its cross-border nature, is not an issue which can be solved unilaterally; and as the realities of people on the move show today, migration solutions will not emerge from business as usual.