UN World Youth Report



WYR 2013 Chapter One

The Impact of Youth Migration

The impact of youth migration on individuals and communities

Migration affects both the young migrants themselves and those young and old persons left behind. It has a direct and often profound impact on migrants and their immediate families, but the wider community can be directly or indirectly affected as well. The consequences are complex, context-specific and subject to change over time.

They may be influenced by factors such as the type of migration, migrant category, national migration policies, and programmatic interventions that are in place in origin, transit and destination societies or countries. Staying connected with family members, peer groups and home communities through the exchange of information, ideas, and remittance flows—and with the stated intention of returning home at some point—is critical to producing positive development outcomes at the individual, family, community and societal levels.

Individual and household level effects

The literature on youth migration and its development impact at the household level and in countries of origin and destination is sparse. What little information is available indicates that young people and the families they leave behind sometimes see migration as a strategy for improving their livelihood prospects. In certain settings, migration constitutes an important stage in the transition to adulthood and an opportunity for independent income generation. By taking advantage of new opportunities for employment, education and skill development in their destination countries, young migrants can shape their own futures.

When youth migrate, they tend to improve both their own financial situation and the economic circumstances of their families through the income they earn and the remittances they send home. In some settings migration may also strengthen young women’s decision-making authority within families and society, contributing to greater gender equality and reinforcing equitable gender norms.

Box 1.3 Migrant remittances in numbers

Statistics relating to migrant remittances indicate the following:

• In 2012, remittance flows to developing countries totalled US$ 401 billion and are expected to reach $414 billion in 2013. Recent estimates show that the countries receiving the largest amounts include India ($71 billion), China ($60 billion), the Philippines ($26 billion), Mexico ($22 billion) and Nigeria ($21 billion).

• In 2012, remittances accounted for the largest share of gross domestic product in Tajikistan (48 per cent), Kyrgyz Republic (31 per cent), Lesotho and Nepal (25 per cent each) and the Republic of Moldova (24 per cent).

• A 10 per cent increase in remittances translates into an average reduction of 3.1 per cent in the poverty headcount ratio.

• In the third quarter of 2013, the cost of sending remittances averaged 8.9 per cent of total remittance values at the global level. In sub-Saharan Africa and Pacific Islands, however, the cost of remitting funds exceeded 12 per cent and with the recent development of ‘lifting fees’ or service charges levied by banks on recipients, the actual costs can amount to more than double the average sending cost.

Sources: World Bank (2013a); World Bank (2013b); World Bank and others (2013); and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (2011).


Effects on places of origin

International migration can improve the social and economic welfare of young migrants and contribute to greater economic efficiency in receiving countries. However, its impact on countries of origin tends to be mixed. One of the most serious adverse effects is human capital flight, or brain drain, which deprives countries of origin of the economic and social contributions of their best educated and most highly skilled citizens. The negative impact of brain drain is particularly evident in the health and education sectors of developing countries, as well as in small developing countries, where the pool of professionals is limited.

There is empirical evidence, however, that the return of migrants to their countries of origin can offset some of the loss of skilled labour through emigration. Migrants often return with enhanced skills, business networks and knowledge, the transfer of which benefits the society of origin over the long-term, effectively resulting in ‘brain gain’.

Remittances, in addition to the knowledge, skills and investments made or sent home by young migrants in their country of origin, contribute meaningfully to enhancing economic growth and reducing poverty—both of which are central to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). At the household level, increased family incomes can insulate recipients against natural and economic shocks and defray health and education expenses. At the societal or collective level, remittances from diaspora youth communities may be channeled into basic infrastructure projects such as bridges and schools, improving local development in countries of origin.

The mixed impact on youth left behind by migrant parents

Migration and remittances have both positive and negative effects on youth left behind. Traditionally, guiding children through their formative years has been a primary function of parents, and the absence of one or both parents can have a serious impact on the psychological, emotional and social development of boys and girls during their childhood and youth—with possible implications for their effective transition to early adulthood. At the same time, young people left behind may develop the capacity for independent decision-making as they assume greater responsibility for the well-being of the household at home. Financial transfers from family members living abroad improve the social and economic welfare of migrants’ children when they are used for education, clothing, health care and other basic needs. However, remittances can also promote dependency among youth and other household members left behind. Taken together, the lack of parental supervision and the availability of what may be seen as discretionary funds may increase the likelihood that youth left behind will engage in risky behaviours.


Box 1.4 A summary of the potential positive and potential negative effects of youth migration

Positive effects

- Migration can provide youth with work opportunities not available in their places of origin.

- The exit of jobseekers may ease domestic pressures linked to excess labour supply.

-Migration may empower young women and reinforce equitable gender norms.

-Migration for reasons related to education or employment can allow girls to avoid marriage at a young age.

-The inflow of remittances may contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction in countries of origin and may also stimulate investment in human capital.

-Diasporas can be a source of technology transfer, investments and venture capital for countries of origin.

-Diasporas frequently assist in emergency relief in their countries of origin.

-The physical or ‘virtual’ return of skilled workers translates into increases in local human capital, skills transfer and foreign network connections.

Negative effects

- Migration often results in the loss of highly skilled workers and a reduction in the quality of essential services.

- Economic growth and productivity decline with reductions in the stock of high-skilled labour.

- In places of origin, returns on public investments in education are lower.

- The absence of parents may increase the vulnerability of youth left behind, and adolescents commonly experience difficulties in their social relations and will isolate themselves in small peer groups who are in a like situation.

- Youth left behind by their parents commonly experience increased demands as they must assume responsibilities previously assumed by their parents. This can lead to declines in academic performance and exit from school altogether.

- Remittances coupled with limited parental supervision may be linked to a higher probability of risky behavior among youth left behind.

- Migration may expose youth—especially young women—to higher risks of abuse, discrimination and exploitation.

Source: Extrapolated from online consultations and based in part on information obtained from De la Garza, (2010); Temin and others (2013); United Nations (2004).

Effects on Destination Societies

In destination societies, young migrant workers at various skill levels often fill vacancies for jobs that local workers are unable or unwilling to take, which can enhance labour market efficiency and contribute to economic growth in receiving countries and communities.

It is commonly assumed that immigrants reduce wage rates and compete with native-born workers for jobs, thus increasing the level of domestic unemployment. However, literature shows that in countries in which the characteristics of the immigrant workforce differ substantially from those of the native labour force in terms of education or work experience, migration becomes a net benefit to the economy. This generally occurs when immigrant jobseekers have lower education and skill levels than their native-born counterparts. Unskilled and low-skilled young immigrants are willing to accept lower wages for work in fields of little interest to non-immigrants, so many of the more productive and better-paid jobs remain open to citizens.


Box 1.5 The 2013 General Assembly High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development

The High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (HLD), held on 3 and 4 October 2013, marked the second time in history that the United Nations considered international migration and development in the General Assembly. The overall theme of the 2013 HLD was identifying concrete measures to strengthen coherence and cooperation at all levels in order to enhance the benefits of migration and to address its challenges. More than 100 Member States, many at the ministerial and vice-ministerial level, about 350 civil society representatives as well as numerous permanent observers and international organizations participated in the event.

Member States adopted a Declaration of the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development (A/68/L.5), in which they agreed on some key principles and recommendations on international migration and development. In particular, the declaration recognizes the important contributions migrants make to countries of origin, transit and destination. It acknowledges the need to integrate both development and human rights dimensions into the migration debate and calls for safe, orderly and regular migration. The declaration also recognizes migration as a key factor for sustainable development and calls for integrating migration into the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. In their presentations, many Member States covered national practices and recommended measures to address migration challenges and to leverage migration for development.

There were calls to develop a framework for the mutual recognition of qualifications and diplomas; to regulate the recruitment industry; to reduce the costs of migration, especially recruitment and remittance transfer fees; to engage diaspora groups; to respect migrant labour rights; to develop circular migration programmes; to improve the evidence base; and to promote coherence, partnerships and collaboration at the national, bilateral, regional and global levels. In preparation of the High-level Dialogue, the General Assembly held informal interactive hearings with representatives of non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector on 15 July 2013. About 380 non-governmental representatives attended the hearings and were discussing five broad aspects of international migration and development, which included a session on youth perspectives entitled “Youth perspectives: Voices of change”.

One of the invited speakers of the youth session, Mr. Rishi Singh, stated in his presentation “I did not realize what it meant to be undocumented until I was graduating from High School and had to apply to colleges. I soon realized that because I was undocumented, I would not be able to get scholarships, financial aid and loans. (…) It was at this point that I was introduced to DRUM (youth organization). Being undocumented can be very isolating but being in DRUM I soon realized that I was not alone. It became my mission to work towards making sure families and young people do no have to go through what I had to go through. I was a Youth Organizer at DRUM building the leadership of hundreds of other immigrant youth in order to change policies that affected our lives.”

For more on the High-level Dialogue, including preparatory activities, the report of the Secretary-General, the outcome documents and other relevant documentation, recordings of the meeting sessions, as well as an inventory of the statements, see



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The UN Focal Point on Youth aims to build awareness of the global situation of young people, as well as promote their rights and aspirations, working toward greater participation of young people in decision-making as a means for achieving peace and development.

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