Governments recognize the importance of migration to their development outcomes, many have still not integrated it effectively in their development plans and frameworks.
However, Moldova and Timor-Leste addressed migration in their 2019 voluntary national reviews (VNRs), which has led to government commitments on protecting Moldovan migrant workers and a parliamentary session on migration in Timor-Leste.
The role of migrants is now being considered in the Timor-Leste government’s budget analysis for the first time.
By Chris Richter
Governments have long recognized the links between migration and development, but insufficient implementation may hinder progress on the SDGs. Analysis of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented by governments in 2019 as part of their follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda suggests that migrants and refugees are at risk of being left behind.
A recent report by the UN’s Committee for Development Policy (CDP) highlights numerous gaps in SDG performance. It shows that foundational principles of the 2030 Agenda, such as the commitment to leave no one behind, lack practical examples of implementation. So too do responses to migration: only 26 of the 47 VNRs presented in 2019 show tangible policy action on migration, according to the CDP.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has shown migration being increasingly reflected in VNRs (at least 96% of VNRs in 2020 addressed the topic, compared to 91% in 2019). However, the quality of references varies considerably. Some reviews provide in-depth analysis of migration patterns and the policy actions taken by governments to address its multiple dimensions, but others refer to the issue in passing, without citing any related policies or actions to enhance the impact of migration on development.
These analyses suggest that although governments continue to recognize the importance of migration to their development outcomes, many have still not integrated it effectively in their development plans and frameworks. IOM continues to encourage governments to do so. Its Institutional Strategy on Migration and Sustainable Development provides a general framework for understanding why a whole-of-society and whole-of-community approach to migration is crucial to SDG achievement.
Recent UN reports and conferences have similarly called for more action on this front. In 2018 governments adopted the Global Compact for Migration, committing to “integrate migration into development planning and sectoral policies at the local, national, regional and global levels.” In 2020, the Secretary-General’s report on international migration and development emphasized whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches to migration, “with a view to mainstreaming migration across all relevant policy domains ….”
Despite these concerns, several VNRs do present practical examples of how governments are addressing migration in their SDG implementation. For example, the Republic of Moldova’s VNR addresses the impacts of migration on human capital development, school attainment, de-skilling and remittances investment. The VNR process led to strong commitments by the government on protecting Moldovan migrant workers abroad, skills validation for returnees, and opportunities to invest in small and medium enterprises.
In Timor-Leste, the VNR has made it much easier for migration to be addressed in the UN’s principal development plans, and has created space for migration issues to be included in cross-sectoral development projects (for example, to mobilize diaspora financing for SDG implementation). At the national level, the country’s parliament has scheduled a session on migration, recognizing its importance to national development, and the role of migrants is now being considered in the government’s budget analysis for the first time.
These examples provide two key lessons for governments in the decade remaining to achieve the 2030 Agenda. First, migration must be mainstreamed more effectively into development plans and frameworks, in order to promote better development outcomes from migration. This requires more than just passing references in VNRs. More robust analysis and policy solutions must also be included. Improving data on migration is essential to this.
A second lesson from the country examples is on ensuring effective follow-up to the VNR itself. While producing VNRs is a crucial part of governments’ SDG monitoring efforts, it is not an end in itself. VNRs are intended to help identify both successes and areas where further action is needed. They provide an important platform – if utilized as such – to develop new policies, inform prioritization exercises, and focus resources and funding for accelerated SDG progress.
With only ten years left to meet the 2030 Agenda, turning commitments into tangible action is critical. Migration is one issue on which concerted effort is needed. Governments should look to the good examples that exist for ensuring planning and action to improve lives for migrants and leave no one behind.
This guest article is authored by Chris Richter, Migration Policy Officer, Office to the United Nations, International Organization for Migration.
 Two VNRs reports (Barbados and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) were not available at the time of writing, so this figure could be higher.