How migration data can deliver real-life benefits for migrants and governments

How migration data can deliver real-life benefits for migrants and governments

As countries have joined together on a path toward increased cooperation and action on migration, investment in data will be crucial for its success.

Migration is a complex global challenge. An estimated 258 million people currently reside outside their country of birth—a number that has almost tripled in the past 50 years. This has policy implications across myriad dimensions, ranging from border management to labor-market participation and integration.

Decision makers absolutely need one thing to devise appropriate policies: reliable information. Relevant, high-quality data is critical for designing, implementing, and evaluating policies that can generate substantial economic, social, and humanitarian benefits for countries and migrants alike.

Despite widespread consensus on the importance of data in effectively managing migration, the current availability of relevant and reliable data is still very limited. Often, even when data is available, it is not used to its full potential, a situation that includes the new data that digital devices are producing in abundance. Unfortunately, the current debate focuses far too much on how to get more and better data—a technical debate for experts in the engine room of politics. This report aims to shift this debate from theory into practice. Decision makers need to be convinced of the value that migration data can deliver. 

The report, More than numbers: How migration data can deliver real-life benefits for migrants and governments, urges a value-driven approach. Produced by a joint team of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Global Migration Data Analysis Centre and McKinsey, this report illustrates how a strategic focus on and investment in high-quality data can maximize the value of migration and address its challenges. It describes the value at stake across various dimensions of migration and provides guidance on where to direct investments in data to deliver the outcomes with the greatest impact. An exhibit shows seven examples of how migration data delivers real-life benefits.

Seven examples show how migration data can deliver real-life benefits.

Here is a brief overview of some of our most important findings:

  • There have been many calls to improve data on international migration in recent years, but availability of relevant, high-quality data on migration remains limited, and progress in addressing this challenge has been slow.
  • To date, the missing link has been a clear value case that convinces policy makers to invest in collecting, sharing, and analyzing migration data. They need a clear view of the tangible outcomes they can expect and which risks they can address through their investments in data.
  • Investing in data pays off for migrants and countries alike. Effective usage of data yields value along all seven core dimensions of migration identified in our report.
  • Each country needs to identify and prioritize its most relevant value dimensions depending on its own migration situation. Priorities across the various value dimensions will differ, for example, depending on the overall income level (low, middle, or high), whether a country tends to send or receive migrants, and whether its focus is on regular or irregular migration.
  • To maximize migration’s potential and mitigate its risks, each country needs to develop a tailored migration-data strategy focusing on the specific objectives of that country. Our report offers tools and guidance to help countries develop compelling cases for investment and achieve support from relevant stakeholders, such as representatives of financing entities.

Going forward, the development of value-driven migration-data strategies can be pursued on global, regional, and national levels:

  • A global support platform (“migration value navigator”) can help national and international stakeholders identify, compare, and prioritize the potential value of improved migration data across countries, regions, and different dimensions of migration.
  • Regional migration-data observatories can create exchanges between various sources of data across national borders as well as increase both transparency of regional migration trends and the ability to support evidence-based policy decisions within a given region. Most migration occurs within regions; therefore, countries need to cooperate at the regional level to manage migration effectively.
  • Individual countries need capacity-building support to take a value-driven perspective on migration data and to enable the development of focused, outcome-oriented national migration-data strategies.

Two global developments present countries with a historic opportunity to advance the migration-data agenda and make crucial investments in data. First, countries have joined together and started negotiations leading toward the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly, and regular migration to improve cooperation and migration governance. Second, countries have committed to several migration-relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that require many countries to invest in better data for SDG follow-up and review. Both processes provide governments with renewed momentum to invest in data at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

Download More than numbers: How migration data can deliver real-life benefits for migrants and governments, the full report on which this article is based (PDF–8 MB).

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