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Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development
  • Cover
  • Foreword, Acknowledgments and Contents

    Migration not infrequently gets a bad press. Negative stereotypes portraying migrants as ‘stealing our jobs’ or ‘scrounging off the taxpayer’ abound in sections of the media and public opinion, especially in times of recession. For others, the word ‘migrant’ may evoke images of people at their most vulnerable.
    This year’s Human Development Report, Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development, challenges such stereotypes. It seeks to broaden and rebalance perceptions of migration to reflect a more complex and highly variable reality.
    This report breaks new ground in applying a human development approach to the study of migration. It discusses who migrants are, where they come from and go to, and why they move. It looks at the multiple impacts of migration for all who are affected by it...

  • Overview - Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development

    When people move they embark on a journey of hope and uncertainty whether within or across international borders. Most people move in search of better opportunities, hoping to combine their own talents with resources in the destination country so as to benefit themselves and their immediate family, who often accompany or follow them. If they succeed, their initiative and efforts can also benefit those left behind and the society in which they make their new home. But not all do succeed. Migrants who leave friends and family may face loneliness, may feel unwelcome among people who fear or resent newcomers, may lose their jobs or fall ill and thus be unable to access the support services they need in order to prosper.
    The 2009 HDR explores how better policies towards human mobility can enhance human development. It lays out the case for governments to reduce restrictions on movement within and across their borders, so as to expand human choices and freedoms. It argues for practical measures that can improve prospects on arrival, which in turn will have large benefits both for destination communities and for places of origin.

  • Chapter 1 - Freedom and movement: how mobility can foster human development

    The world distribution of opportunities is extremely unequal. This inequality is a key driver of human movement and thus implies that movement has a huge potential for improving human development. Yet movement is not a pure expression of choice—people often move under constraints that can be severe, while the gains they reap from moving are very unequally distributed. Our vision of development as promoting people’s freedom to lead the lives they choose recognizes mobility as an essential component of that freedom. However, movement involves trade-offs for both movers and stayers, and the understanding and analysis of those trade-offs is key to formulating appropriate policies.
    Every year, more than 5 million people cross international borders to go and live in a developed country. The number of people who move to a developing nation or within their country is much greater, although precise estimates are hard to come by. Even larger numbers of people in both destination and source places are affected by the movement of others through flows of money, knowledge and ideas.

  • Chapter 2 - People in motion: who moves where, when and why

    The aim of this chapter is to characterize human movement generally— to give an overview of who moves, how, why, where and when. The picture is complex and our broad brushstrokes will inevitably fail to capture specifics. Nevertheless, the similarities and commonalities that emerge are striking, and help us understand the forces that shape and constrain migration
    This chapter examines human movement across the world and over time. The patterns are consistent with the idea that people move to seek better opportunities, but also that their movement is strongly constrained by barriers—most importantly, by policies at home and at destination and by lack of resources. Overall, the share of people going to developed countries has increased markedly during the past 50 years, a trend associated with growing gaps in opportunities. Although these flows of people are likely to slow temporarily during the current economic crisis, underlying structural trends will persist once growth resumes and are likely to generate increased pressures for movement in the coming decades.

  • Chapter 3 - How movers fare

    People are motivated to move by the prospects of improved access to work, education, civil and political rights, security and health care. The majority of movers end up better off—sometimes much better off—than before they moved. The gains are potentially highest for people who move from poor to the wealthiest countries, but this type of movement is only a small share of total flows. Available evidence suggests that people who move to emerging and developing countries, as well as within countries, also tend to gain.
    However, movement does not necessarily yield a direct positive impact on the well-being of everyone. Moving is risky, with uncertain outcomes and with the specific impacts determined by a host of contextual factors. For both internal and international mobility, different aspects of the process—including the proximate causes of moving and the resources and capabilities that people start out with—profoundly affect outcomes. Those who are forced to flee and leave behind their homes and belongings often go into the process with limited freedom and very few resources. Likewise, those who are moving in the face of local economic crisis, drought or other causes of desperate poverty, may not know what capabilities they will have; they only know that they cannot remain. Even migrants who end up well off after a move often start out with very restricted capabilities and high uncertainty.

  • Chapter 4 - Impacts at origin and destination

    Movement has multiple impacts on other people besides those who move—impacts that critically shape its overall effects. This chapter explores impacts in the country of origin and in the host country while underlining their interconnectedness. Families with members who have moved elsewhere in the country or abroad tend to experience direct gains, but there can also be broader benefits, alongside concerns that people’s departure is a loss to origin communities. As regards impacts on places of destination, people often believe that these are negative—because they fear that newcomers take jobs, burden public services, create social tensions and even increase criminality. The evidence suggests that these popular concerns are exaggerated and often unfounded. Still, perceptions matter—and t hese warrant careful investigation to help frame the discussion of policy.
    Among people who do not move but can be affected by movement are the families of movers and communities at places of origin and destination. The multiple impacts of movement in these different places are critical in shaping the overall human development effects of movement; this chapter addresses each in turn.

  • Chapter 5 - Policies to enhance human development outcomes

    This final chapter proposes reforms that will allow mobility to contribute to a fuller enhancement of people’s freedoms. At present, many people who move have at best only precarious rights and face uncertain futures. The policy mismatch between restrictive entry and high labour demand for low-skilled workers needs to be addressed. We propose a core package of reforms that will improve outcomes for individual movers and their families, their origin communities and host places. The design, timing and acceptability of reforms depend on a realistic appraisal of economic and social conditions and a recognition of public opinion and political constraints.
    The foregoing analysis has shown that large gains to human development would flow from improved policies towards movers. These would benefit all groups affected by migration. A bold vision is needed to realize these gains—a vision that embraces reform because of its potential pay-offs, while recognizing the underlying challenges and constraints. We have also shown that the entry policies that have prevailed in many destination countries over recent decades can be largely characterized by denial and delay on the one hand, and heightened border controls and illegal stays on the other. This has worsened the situation of people lacking legal status and, especially during the recession, has created uncertainty and frustration among the wider population.

  • Notes, Bibliographical notes, Bibliography

  • Background research for the HDR 2009

  • Human Development Indicators - Statistical Annex

    A Human movement: snapshots and trends
    B International emigrants by area of residence
    C Education and employment of international migrants in OECD countries (aged 15 years and above)
    D Conflict and insecurity-induced movement
    E International financial flows: remittances, official development assistance and foreign direct investment
    F Selected conventions related to human rights and migration (by year of ratification)
    G Human development index trends
    H Human development index 2007 and its components
    I1 Human and income poverty
    I2 Human and income poverty: OECD countries
    J Gender-related development index and its components
    K Gender empowerment measure and its components
    L Demographic trends
    M Economy and inequality
    N Health and education

  • Readers' guide

    The human development indicators provide an assessment of country achievements in different areas of human development. Where possible the tables include data for 192 UN member states along with Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
    In the tables, countries and areas are ranked by their human development index (HDI) value. To locate a country in the tables, refer to the Key to countries on the inside back cover of the Report, where countries with their HDI ranks are listed alphabetically. Most of the data in the tables are for 2007 and are those available to the Human Development Report Office (HDRO) as of 10 June 2009, unless otherwise specified. This year the Statistical Annex begins with a series of tables A–F related to the main theme of the report—migration. They are followed by tables G–K on the human development composite indices: the HDI and its trends; the Human Poverty Index (HPI), the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM). Finally there are three tables (L–N) on demographic trends, the economy and inequality, and education and health. Additional selected human development indicators—including time series data and regional aggregates—will be available at http://
    All of the indicators published in the tables are available electronically and free of charge in several formats: individually, in pre-defined tables or via a query tool that allows users to design their own tables. Interactive media, including maps of all the human development indices and many of the migration-related data and selected animations, are also provided. There are also more descriptive materials such as country factsheets, as well as further technical details on how to calculate the indices. All of these materials are available in three languages: English (at http://, French (at http://hdr. and Spanish (http://hdr.
    Technical note
    Definition of statistical terms and indicators
    Country classification

  • Errata

    1- Table L: Demographic trends and
    2- Box 3.1: China: Policies and outcomes associated with internal migration

  • HDR 2009 Statistical Tables - Excel format

    A: Human movement: snapshots and trends
    B: International emigrants by area of residence
    C: Education and employment of international migrants in OECD countries (aged 15 years and above)
    D: Conflict and insecurity induced movement
    E: International financial flows: remittances, official development assistance and foreign direct investment
    F: Selected human rights and migration related conventions (by year of ratification)
    G: Human development index trends
    H: Human development index 2007 and its components
    I-1: Human and income poverty
    I-2: Human and income poverty: OECD countries
    J: Gender-related development index and its components
    K: Gender empowerment measure and its components
    L: Demographic trends
    M: Economy and inequality
    N: Health and education

Language editions

English | French | Spanish | Arabic | Chinese | Russian | Portuguese

Human Development Research Papers: Topical background research for the HDR

The Human Development Research Paper (HDRP) Series is a medium for sharing recent research commissioned to inform the global Human Development Report, which is published annually, and further research in the field of human development. The HDRP Series is a quickdisseminating, informal publication whose titles could subsequently be revised for publication as articles in professional journals or chapters in books. The authors include leading academics and practitioners from around the world, as well as UNDP researchers. The findings, interpretations and conclusions are strictly those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UNDP or United Nations Member States. Moreover, the data may not be consistent with that presented in Human Development Reports.

  • de Haas, Hein,  Mobility and Human Development

    This paper argues that mobility and migration have always been an intrinsic part of human development. Migration can be considered as a fundamental capabilities-enhancing freedom itself. However, any meaningful understanding of migration needs to simultaneously analyse agency and structure. Rather than applying dichotomous classifications such as between forced and voluntary migration, it is more appropriate to conceive of a continuum running from low to high constraints under which migration occurs, in which all migrants deal with structural constraints, although to highly varying degrees. Besides being an integral part of human development, mobility also tends to affect the same structural processes of which it is part. Simplistic positive-versus-negative debates on migration and development can be overcome by integrating agency-structure dialectics in the analysis of migration impacts. This paper argues that (i) the degree to which migrants are able to affect structural change is real but limited; (ii) the nature of change in sending and receiving is not pre-determined; and (iii) that in order to enable a more focused and rigorous debate, there is a need to better distinguish and specify different levels and dimensions at which the reciprocal relationship between human mobility and development can be analysed. A critical reading of the empirical literature leads to the conclusion that it would be naïve to think that despite their often considerable benefits for individuals and communities, migration and remittances alone can remove more structural development constraints. Despite their development potential, migrants and remittances can neither be blamed for a lack of development nor be expected to trigger take-off development in generally unattractive investment environments. By increasing selectivity and suffering among migrants, current immigration restrictions have a negative impact on migrants’ wellbeing as well as the poverty and inequality reducing potential of migration.

  • Hanson, Gordon H.,  The Governance of Migration Policy

    In this paper, I examine high-income country motives for restricting immigration. Abundant evidence suggests that allowing labor to move from low-income to high-income countries would yield substantial gains in global income. Yet, most high-income countries impose strict limits on labor inflows and set their admission policies unilaterally. A core principle underlying the World Trade Organization is reciprocity in tariff setting. When it comes to migration from poor to rich countries, however, labor flows are rarely bidirectional, making reciprocity moot and leaving labor importers with all the bargaining power. One motivation for barriers to labor inflows is political pressure from groups that are hurt by immigration. Raising immigration would depend on creating mechanisms to transfer income from those that immigration helps to those that it hurts. Another motivation for immigration restrictions is that labor inflows from abroad may exacerbate distortions in an economy associated with redistributive tax and transfer policies. Making immigration more attractive would require creating mechanisms that limit the negative fiscal impacts of labor inflows on natives. Fiscal distortions create an incentive for receiving countries to screen immigrants according to their perceived economic impact. For high skilled immigrants, screening can be based on educational degrees and professional credentials, which are relatively easy to observe. For low skilled immigrants, illegal immigration represents an imperfect but increasingly common screening device. For policy makers in labor-importing nations, the modest benefits freer immigration brings may simply not be worth the political hassle. To induce high-income countries to lower border barriers, they need to get more out of the bargain.

  • Facchini, Giovanni and Anna Maria Mayda, The Political Economy of Immigration Policy

    We analyze a newly available dataset of migration policy decisions reported by governments to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs between 1976 and 2007. We find evidence indicating that most governments have policies aimed at either maintaining the status quo or at lowering the level of migration. We also document variation in migration policy over time and across countries of different regions and income levels. Finally, we examine patterns in various aspects of destination countries’ migration policies (policies towards family reunification, temporary vs. permanent migration, high-skilled migration). This analysis leads us to investigate the determinants of migration policy in a destination country. We develop a political economy framework in which voter attitudes represent a key component. We survey the literature on the determinants of public opinion towards immigrants and examine the link between these attitudes and governments’ policy decisions. While we find evidence broadly consistent with the median voter model, we conclude that this framework is not sufficient to understand actual migration policies. We discuss evidence which suggests that interest-groups dynamics may play a very important role.

  • Bakewell, Oliver, South-South Migration and Human Development: Reflections on African Experiences

    This paper looks at the relationship between migration between developing countries – or countries of the global ‘South’ – and processes of human development. The paper offers a critical analysis of the concept of South-South migration and draws attention to four fundamental problems. The paper then gives a broad overview of the changing patterns of migration in developing regions, with a particular focus on mobility within the African continent. It outlines some of the economic, social and political drivers of migration within poor regions, noting that these are also drivers of migration in the rest of the world. It also highlights the role of the state in influencing people’s movements and the outcomes of migration. The paper highlights the distinctive contribution that migration within developing regions makes to human development in terms of income, human capital and broader processes of social and political change. The paper concludes that the analysis of migration in poorer regions of the world and its relationship with human development requires much more data than is currently available.

  • Clemens, Michael A., Skill Flow: A Fundamental Reconsideration of Skilled-Worker Mobility and Development

    Large numbers of doctors, engineers, and other skilled workers from developing counties choose to move to other countries. Do their choices threaten development? The answer appears so obvious that their movement is most commonly known by the pejorative term “brain drain”. This paper reconsiders the question starting from the most mainstream, explicit definitions of “development”. Under these definitions, it is only possible to advance development by regulating skilled workers’ choices if that regulation greatly expands the substantive freedoms of others to meet their basic needs and live the lives they wish. Much existing evidence and some new evidence suggests that regulating skilled-worker mobility itself does nothing to address the underlying causes of skilled migrants’ choices, generally brings few benefits to others, and instead brings diverse unintended harm. The paper concludes with examples of effective ways that developing countries can build a skill base for development without regulating human movement. The mental shift required to take these policies seriously would be aided by dropping the sententious term “brain drain” in favor of the neutral, accurate, and concise term “skill flow”.

  • Fang, Cai, Du Yang, and Wang Meiyan, Migration and Labor Mobility in China

    China has witnessed the largest labor migration since the reform and opening up policies were implemented. According to the most recent statistics, the total number of rural to urban migrant workers reached 136 million. Migrants are defined as persons who have left out of township for more than 6 months. The migration flow has propelled the economic and societal transition in China through labor productivity enhancement and social restructuring. Accordingly, the Chinese government has improved the migration policies with increasing migration flow and the changes of labor market situations. This report is organized as follows. Section one briefly introduces when and how the migration started by reviewing the history, size and trend, impacts of migration in China and the vulnerability of migrants. Section two reviews the main migration policy changes in the past three decades. Section three illuminates the Lewisian turning point that marks economic development and transitioning in China. Section four discusses the relevance of China’s experiences to other developing economies in terms of economic development and migration policy changes.

  • Gibney, Matthew J., Precarious Residents : Migration Control, Membership and the Rights of Non-Citizens

    This paper examines the situation of a subgroup of non-citizens found in virtually all contemporary states, what I call “precarious residents”. Precarious residents can be defined as non-citizens living in the state that possess few social, political or economic rights, are highly vulnerable to deportation, and have little or no option for making secure their immigration status. The archetypal precarious resident is the undocumented (or unlawful) migrant. However, there are many other barely tolerated individuals who also fit the appellation, such as asylum seekers (including ones whose claims have been rejected), guest workers, and individuals with temporary protection from deportation. I begin this paper by exploring the nature of precarious residence, discussing its dimensions, causes and manifestations in different national contexts. I move then to consider the human development consequences of precarious residence before exploring the question of the responsibilities of states to protect the rights and, in some cases, recognize the membership claims of these non-citizens.

  • Chappell, Laura and Alex Glennie, Maximising the Development Outcomes of Migration: A Policy Perspective

    It is becoming increasingly clear that migration can have important impacts upon development. As a result, policymakers are searching for ways to increase migration’s developmental benefits, and decrease its costs. This paper examines the levers at their disposal. We recognise the importance of the policy instruments which receive the most attention – migration policy (especially rules about entry and exit) and development policy (in particular migration’s place in national development strategies and donor cooperation policies). However, we suggest that to maximise benefits and minimise costs, policy thinking must be broadened and made more coherent. We set out in a systematic manner the ways in which migration impacts upon development. We then analyse how the process of migration and development creates those impacts, and suggest where policy can intervene in the process to improve outcomes. We illustrate our analysis with a number of policy case studies.

  • Massey, Douglas, and Magaly Sánchez R, Restrictive Immigration Policies and Latino Immigrant Identity in the United States

    The United States is presently characterized by rising anti-immigrant sentiment, repressive immigration enforcement, and the negative framing of Latinos as threatening and undesirable. As a result, social boundaries between immigrants and natives have hardened and boundary crossing has become more difficult. Under these circumstances, the prediction of classical assimilation theory is turned on its head: the more time that immigrants spend in the United States and the more contact they have with Americans and American society, the more aware they become of the harsh realities of prejudice and discrimination and the more they come to experience the rampant inequalities of the secondary labor market. Rather than ideologically assimilating, therefore, the greater their experience in the United States, the more likely immigrants are to express a reactive ethnicity that rejects the label “American.” Our work suggests that the greatest threat to the successful assimilation of immigrants comes not from foreign involvements or transnational loyalties, but from the rejection, exclusion, and discrimination that immigrants experience in the United States.

  • Luthria, Manjula, "The Importance of Migration to Small Fragile Economies

    Most small fragile states have their own unique circumstances that predispose them to social conflict or frequent economic disruptions. These disruptions end up imposing a large cost on regional neighbours and on the international community more broadly. Therefore the development community is in search of ways to reduce the risk of conflict but this search has proved elusive thus far.
    This paper explores the potential for migration to serve as a safety valve as well as a medium term strategy for employment creation in conflict-prone states. It draws together the analytical and empirical arguments needed to make the case for enhancing the labour mobility options for these vulnerable populations.

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Explore the world through  animations and various online tools that transform the data behind the concept of Human Development into intuitive visual presentations. HDI calculators, animated graphs and a statistical tables building application are  available

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