Thursday, July 16, 2009

Available Data on Migration – Some Gaps

A quick note is in order regarding available data on migration. Two major international migration organizations state in no unclear terms that:

[IOM]“Migration is considered one of the defining global issues of the early twenty-first century, as more and more people are on the move today than at any other point in human history,” and that;

[ILO]"Migrant workers are an asset to every country where they bring their labour. Let us give them the dignity they deserve as human beings and the respect they deserve as workers.”

Yet it is surprising that statistics and trends that measure this all-important, 21st century phenomenon are mostly based on interpolated and extrapolated figures that were not originally intended to measure migration.

The four major organizations at the forefront of the migration discourse are as follows:

These four organizations have built databases on various aspects of international migration, churning out annual reports and papers that cite migration statistics and trends, as follows:

1. By the International Labour Organization – International Migration Programme

2. By the International Organization for Migration

3. By OECD-Migration

4. By the World Bank

A review of their data sources shows that ultimately migration estimates are based on two variables used in national censuses, namely: place of birth and nationality. Answers to “place of birth” enable the identification of a foreign-born population, and this forms the basis of the numbers of migrant stocks in a given country. When place of birth information is unavailable, the variable “nationality” is used in its place, that is, citizens registered with foreign nationalities being counted as part of the migrant stock of a given country.

Since it is clear that migration is about movement of people and movement is quite dynamic, taking place in cycles and repetitions, the current estimates of migration numbers leaves much to be improved since the important cycles and repetitions are not captured by the single snapshots in time that country censuses measure. Moreover, the period between censuses is, at best, every five years or more depending on a country’s financial resources. Thus movements of migrants between censuses are not captured, thus possibly missing out on the effect of current social and political events that take place within receiving and sending countries on the behavior and actions of migrants.

Also, data for departures and arrivals are not thoroughly collected, analyzed and cross-referenced with census data in order to come out with more dynamic models showing migrant movements.

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