Voluntary internal migration: An update

Type Journal Article - London: Overseas Development Institute
Title Voluntary internal migration: An update
Volume 44
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2004
URL http://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/70.pdf
In this overview paper, basic questions related to voluntary internal migration are revisited
with a view to adding some of the substantial new field evidence that has emerged in recent
years and setting out the policy implications of these findings. The paper addresses internal
voluntary migration for paid work. It includes both permanent and temporary migration as
well as rural-rural, rural-urban, urban-rural and urban-urban migration. However it does not
include forced removal and relocation of people under development and social engineering
programmes, trafficking and slavery or displacement by war and civil unrest. It does not
discuss nomadic livelihood systems, transhumant graziers or migratory fishing communities
although some of the generic arguments will apply to them too.
With a few exceptions, the evidence suggests that internal population movements are
growing. Probably the three most significant recent changes in the pattern of internal
population movement in recent years are:
o the feminisation of migration;
o the emergence of more accumulative kinds of migration which can contribute to the
reduction of poverty;
o The increase in temporary migration, especially commuting.
Evidence suggests that internal migration can play an important role in poverty
reduction and economic development; internal migration should therefore not be
controlled or actively discouraged. Policy should instead concern itself with ways of
maximising the potential benefits of migration to the individual concerned and society at
large. While there have been few formal efforts to estimate the economic contribution of
migrant labour, it is evident that many developing countries would probably not have had the
roads, buildings, manufacturing and trade centres that they have today had it not been for
migration. By not acknowledging the vast role played by migrant labour in driving
agricultural and industrial growth, governments escape the responsibility of providing basic
services to millions of poor people who are currently bearing the costs of moving labour to
locations where it is needed most.
The paper has paid special attention to a number of village studies that have used
multidisciplinary approaches as these are better at capturing temporary movements that
seem to characterise much of the migration of today. A fresh review of the literature on
internal migration is also timely because of the rapidly changing economic, social and natural
resource context faced by the world’s poor as economic opportunities expand in some areas,
especially through urbanisation, manufacturing and commercial farming and increasing ruralurban
wage differentials, and shrink in others, especially in overpopulated drought prone
areas where environmental, technical, land size and investment limits have been reached.
Globalisation is an important force in both the expansion and contraction of economic
opportunities that drive migration.
Migration is an important livelihood strategy for poor groups across the world and not
just a response to shocks. Despite overwhelming evidence that internal migration can lead to
the accumulation of household wealth as well as positive changes in both sending and
receiving areas, it continues to be viewed as an economically, socially and politically
destabilising process by policy makers, bureaucrats, academics and even NGOs. One reason
is that migration is an administrative and legislative nightmare: it crosses physical and
departmental boundaries confusing rigid institutions that are not used to cooperating with
each other. Another reason is that many researchers and NGOs continue to take an old
fashioned position that migration through intermediaries for work in the informal sector
cannot be anything but exploitative and impoverishing; they are thereby further perpetuating
myths about the causes and effects of migration.
A linked problem is the inability of official statistics to fully capture migratory patterns.
National censuses and other occupational surveys tend to be concerned with full-time and
legal occupations. Very few record part-time and seasonal occupations especially those that
are in the informal sector. A large and growing number of multidisciplinary micro-studies
demonstrate that temporary migration and commuting are increasing and that most of the
work is outside the formal sector.
Negative government attitudes combined with ignorance created by inadequate data sets has
led to the widespread neglect of migration as an important force in economic development.
Not only that; several countries have actively discouraged migration through restrictions on
population movement and employment. Consequently, migrants often have no access to
civic amenities or government poverty reduction programmes en route or in their
destinations, and they become vulnerable to harassment. A particularly vulnerable group
of migrants – whose lives already more often than not are characterised by difficult and
unsafe conditions – are girls and women who are exposed to the danger of sexual harassment.
While legislation does exist in some countries to protect migrant workers rights, it is routinely
disregarded due to the lack of political interest. In addition, the occupations pursued by
migrant workers in the informal economy are declared illegal; this fuels rent-seeking and
corruption and also curtails economic activity.
Urgent policy attention is needed in the areas of:
• Improving our understanding of migration patterns through more appropriate methods
of data collection
• Better support for migrants in accessing services especially those related to adequate
shelter, health, education, water, food, insurance and wages
• Developing ways of maintaining social and financial links with sending areas

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