July 15, 2006

On July 12, Global Workers attended the Informal NGO Interactive Hearings at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The purpose of the meeting was for member nations to consult with NGOs and civil society in preparation for the General Assembly’s High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in September.

Certainly, it is a positive development that the United Nations is placing greater emphasis on migration. What concerns Global Workers is the tenor of discussion, evident at the July 12 hearings. It appeared that the member states and the United Nation officials involved with migration are operating under a few assumptions that we would argue are not so acceptable.

First, migration is touted as positive for development. What is left out of the analysis is why migrants must leave their country to seek employment elsewhere. The majority of migrants today migrate out of necessity, not choice. Most migrants would not leave their home countries if they had the opportunity to earn a living wage. Lack of decent job opportunities at home is a sign of under-development exacerbated by gender and racial discrimination, corruption, and lack of equal opportunity, among other factors. Not many mothers choose to leave their children behind so they can be sure to have sufficient income to enroll them in school. But that is what many must do when faced with few options. It is unacceptable to let migration overshadow the development roadblocks, the push behind the migrant phenomena today. In actuality, migration is not a tool but a substitute for development.

Second, temporary worker programs are being heralded as the answer to labor shortages in countries of employment. The reality is that temporary worker programs, as they operate in various parts of the world, are in fact filling a permanent, not a temporary need. Using temporary workers to meet a permanent labor demand is a poor solution. What is sidestepped time and again is why countries of employment will not allow for workers to stay in their countries permanently to fill the ongoing labor need. Furthermore, there is little discussion about the effects of temporary migration on the workers themselves, labor standards in the countries of employment, and society as a whole in both the receiving and sending nations. It is irresponsible to assume that temporary migration is positive without fully exploring the ramifications. (The exploitative nature of temporary workers programs today will be explored in a future blog entry.)

The process leading up to the September High-Level is an important opportunity. The Secretary General is hoping to move the forward the migration debate. The July 12 hearings showed that a heavy burden is on the NGOs, civil society and migrants themselves to influence that debate so the end results are indeed positive for development.

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