Migrants represent approximately of 3% of the world’s population, but they produce more than 9% of global GDP. Migrants often bring significant benefits to their new communities in the form of skills, demographic trends, investment, and cultural diversity, proving that migration is an important resource for the development of host countries. However, if migration is poorly managed, migrants can also negatively affect development and be affected by it as well.

For the first time, a global development agenda recognizes migration as a core development consideration. The 2030 Agenda refers to all populations and recognizes migrant women, men and children both as a vulnerable group and as agents of development.

The UN Resolution on Sustainable Development clearly states:

‘We recognize the positive contribution of migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development. We also recognize that international migration is a multi-dimensional reality of major relevance for the development of countries of origin, transit and destination, which requires coherent and comprehensive responses. We will cooperate internationally to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration involving full respect for human rights and the humane treatment of migrants regardless of migration status, of refugees and of displaced persons. Such cooperation should also strengthen the resilience of communities hosting refugees, particularly in developing countries. We underline the right of migrants to return to their country of citizenship, and recall that States must ensure that their returning nationals are duly received’.

Migration-SDG direct and transversal connections throughout the Agenda thus entail integrating migration across multiple governance sectors. By strengthening coherence between migration and development at all levels, not only can development policies improve migration outcomes, but migration policies can also improve development outcomes.

The inclusion of migration in the SDGs opens up other significant opportunities and challenges for the years to come, one of which is to demonstrate the multi-dimensional nature of migration and its relevance for both developed and developing countries. Assuming a human rights-based approach in migration governance helps put migrants and their needs at the centre of the debate and is an effective way to enable them to contribute to development.

As in the case of a needed comprehensive inclusion and promotion of gender equality and the proactive involvement of local entities in the implementation of the Agenda, many SDG targets can only be fully achieved if migration and migrants are considered. This further shows the equal importance of all SDGs and their innate intersections, to the point that neglecting one of them could undermine the progress and efforts made for the achievement of other SDGs.

Migration and the 2030 Agenda: A Guide for Practitioners, 2018, also available in French and Spanish.

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Integrating migration into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, Population Facts No. 2015/5, December 2015.

Direct links between migration and SDGs

Migration is explicitly addressed when it comes to fostering education (SDG 4), in particular in target 4B, regarding the need to increase international student mobility and to promote higher education through scholarships to be released to developing and less developed countries. In this way, cultural exchanges would be encouraged, as well as training, educational and work skills that would help increase the knowledge and skills transfer of migrants.

Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies (SDG 10.7)

Target 7 under SDG 10 (reduce inequality within and among countries) already contains what have become the key features of more recent arrangements such as the Global Compact for Migration (GCM). The need to achieve orderly, safe and regular migration has been a key focus for the international community since the 2030 Agenda and international actors have been encouraged to advance it further through effective governance of migration implemented at global, regional, national and sub-national levels. Implementing planned and well-managed migration policies involves a broad range of actors and sectors, from protecting migrants’ rights to assisting their voluntary return, from ensuring regular access to public services (healthcare, jobs and educational opportunities, courts etc) to addressing migrants, displaced persons and refugees’ vulnerabilities by developing sustainable and durable solutions for their integration in host communities. Examples of specific coherent migration policies to be implemented at the national level contained in the 2030 Agenda include:

  • Target 1.3 Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable
  • Target 5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  • Target 8.8 Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment
  • Means of Implementation 16.b Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development

IOM, Global Compact Thematic Paper, The Contributions of Migrants and Migration to Development- Strengthening the Linkages.

Indirect links between migration and SDGs

It is possible to link migration to every Goal in the 2030 Agenda. Look at all the cross-cutting connections between migration and SDGs

  • Focus: Migration & sustainable, fair cities

Migration has become an increasingly urban phenomenon for a threefold reason: 1) internal migrants are keener to move from rural to urban areas; 2) migrant workers are likely to move to cities in search of job opportunities; 3) displaced persons are increasingly concentrated in urban areas. According to IOM’s statistics, every day approx. 120,000 people migrate to cities in the Asia-Pacific region alone due to one or more push or pull factors, including poverty, vulnerability, food and water insecurity, unemployment, access to health services and education, conflict, political instability, environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change.

As a result, cities are key actors in managing migration, promoting migrants’ integration and realising their potential as agents for sustainable development. In fact, local authorities often manage education, health care, housing and social services for migrants, as well as documentation and/or legal identification processes. If housing services are poorly implemented, migrants are at risk of spatial segregation, impeding their integration and exacerbating the risk of marginalisation and criminalisation. Without adequate information and assistance, migrants may also face linguistic, legal, social and administrative barriers to social protection, limiting their access to housing, employment and basic services. These risks are addressed in SDG 11.

The SDG 11’s means of implementation (Targets 11.B and 11.C in particular) encourage cities to adopt policies on disaster risk reduction and management in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Even if migration owing to environmental and climate threats is still underestimated, today the likelihood of being displaced because of a disaster is 60% higher than it was four decades ago, especially in urban landscapes. Indeed, weak urban governance and planning, together with urban management, is linked to higher displacement. For instance, the use of cheap construction materials, as well as the construction of sites on dangerous soil (at risk of earthquake, floods, volcanic explosion etc) and of unlawful new buildings can result in more displacements.

As migrants are often affected by urban hazards, they need to be included in disaster risk management practices and climate change policies, as well as in land management, urban and natural resource planning.

Target 16.9 calls for States to provide legal identity for all. This directly addresses statelessness, and allows migrants to apply for citizenship or residence permissions and to get access to the same rights that citizens have. Attempts to impede migrants from registering for residence permits or from applying for citizenship can hamper migrants’ integration and undermine their sense of belonging in the local and national communities. To make Target 16.7 effective, migrants should be widely included in all aspects of decision making and participatory processes. Target 16.B commits states to “promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development”, which is also a key aspect in migrant inclusion and integration.

  • Focus: Migration & Climate Change

The Agenda 2030 recognises that the adverse impacts of climate change and environmental degradation represent a serious threat to development. Since climate and environmental changes also represent a cause of forced migration, local adaption and mitigation strategies should be implemented to avoid them as much as possible. It is moreover essential that migrants’ needs and vulnerabilities are considered in prevention, preparedness and resilience actions to also coherently link local initiatives to those at the upper levels. If the relationships between climate change and migration are not taken into account, local actions are likely to cost more in the long term and be less effective. Target 13.3 aims to improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change
mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning. As said before, migrants should be included specifically in education and awareness-raising since they often live in unsafe areas.

Gender is among those variables that cause uneven differences in adapting to climate change and in the subsequent vulnerability derived from its effects. There is high agreement that integrating gender into climate change research helps recognise overlapping and interconnected systems of power.

Women play a significant role in agriculture, food security and rural economies globally, as they form around 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, but only represent less than 5% of landowners. Women’s strong involvement in agriculture and a gender-based approach would bring notable benefits to climate change adaptation plans.
  • Focus: Migration & Gender

More women are migrating independently than before, a trend that is sometimes defined as the feminisation of migration. Nevertheless, migrant women are often victims of double discrimination since they may face gender-based violence and/or gender-specific barriers to their mobility, which may result in an increased use of irregular migration channels, which in turn places them at higher risk of being sexually exploited or trafficked. It is important to recall that women and girls account for 71% of all trafficked victims detected globally, and females represent 96% of victims of sexual exploitation.

Along their routes, migrant women and girls are at risk for human rights violations, gender-based violence, oppression and discrimination. In its June 2016 report, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights noted that there is “increasing evidence that gender-based violence is a major issue for migrant women and girls”.

On the other hand, migrant women are often the first to proactively react to crises, and they play a pivotal role in community sustainment and rebuilding. Migration can be a source of empowerment for women, and in turn a source of development. Migration can offer access to education and careers or to better employment opportunities, thus allowing women to earn higher incomes. It can open up possibilities for acquiring or improving skills and knowledge, in turn elevating social and economic status and participation. For instance, UN Women has shown that migrant women send a higher part of their salary than migrant men to finance education, health, and community development. The SDGs recognize that protecting migrant women’s rights will enhance their potential to become agents of development and support women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship through the protection of migrant women’s rights, the reduction of remittance fees, by enabling them to build relevant skills for their economic and social independence, and by fostering their economic and political inclusion.