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Human Mobility, Shared Opportunities: A Review of the 2009 Human Development Report and the Way Ahead

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Report Findings

2009 Human Development Report: Overcoming Barriers to Human Mobility and Development focused on the value of human mobility— as an enabler of development and a key part of freedom.

This report, Human Mobility, Shared Opportunities: A Review of the 2009 Human Development Report and the Way Ahead, covers the reality of migration and how it intersects with human development today.

In the last 10 years, human mobility has risen up the agenda, driven by huge movements of people caused by the Venezuelan, Northern Nigeria, Myanmar and Syrian situations, among others.

Recognition has grown that migration can play an important role in reducing poverty, strengthening community resilience, shoring up financial stability and integrating developing countries into global networks of knowledge and commerce.

At the same time, images of thousands of people chaotically crossing borders has politicised the debate, increased mistrust and led to policies aimed more at stopping than facilitating human movement.


In 2019, about 51 million more people were living outside the country where they were born than a decade earlier, totalling 272 million. While the number of international migrants may be rising, their share remains below 3.5 percent of the global population.

The number of forcibly displaced people – internally displaced as well as refugees and asylum seekers - has almost doubled from 43.3 to 79.5 million between 2009 and the end of 2019. Unlike other migrants, most refugees - over 80 percent - reside in developing countries.

Push and pull

The world’s population is ageing, due to increasing life expectancy and fewer children being born. Since 2009, 27 countries have experienced shrinking population by at least one percent.

Migration can increase women’s access to education and economic resources, and can improve their autonomy and status. It may also be a way for more educated women to find jobs and have careers that better utilize their skills.


The 2009 HDR highlighted six major directions for reform.

The 1st pillar recommended increasing the number of visas for low-skilled people.

Little progress has been made, despite the growing demand for “essential workers”. In OECD countries, the share of immigrants who are highly educated has risen by 7 percent to 37 percent over the past decade.

About one in eight of all nurses globally is practicing in a country different from where they were born. But migrant nurses still face extended processes to on visas and validation of their qualifications.

In the 2nd pillar, the 2009 report documented the many ways in which immigrants’ human rights are infringed.

Protection of rights has progressed on paper, but access to services and social protection often remains limited, both legally and in practice. Migrant women and girls in particular face risks that public authorities do not always address.

The 3rd pillar highlighted the costs of getting the necessary papers to migrate and of sending money back home.

Remittances exceed official aid – and in 2019 were reportedly on track to overtake foreign direct investment flows to low and middle-income countries. However, transaction costs for money transfer remain stubbornly high. Global cost of sending remittances fell only from 10% to 7% since 2009, far off the SDG target of 3% by 2030.

The 4th pillar said that welcoming individual migrants was important, but that it’s also vital that the communities they join should not feel unfairly burdened by fresh demands they place on key services.

The 5th pillar focused on internal mobility. About 750 million people migrate internally. Significant progress has been made in removing barriers to internal mobility. In 2009, a third of countries restricted the right to move. In 2020, just China, Cuba and North Korea have formal restrictions.

The 6th pillar argued that migration can be vital for families to improve their livelihoods, and that governments need to have migration in their national development policy.

Human mobility now plays a central role in many development strategies, especially in countries of origin. A recent IOM/UNDP study found good progress in the eleven developing countries surveyed, with increasing engagement of the private sector, civil society and diaspora and migrant communities.


Since 2009, the Sustainable Development Goals, Agenda 2030 and the UNFCCC have all recognised the importance of human mobility to human development.

A more inclusive agenda-setting process involving civil society, local authorities and the private sector, pioneered by the Global Forum on Migration and Development, has helped the efforts of states to arrive at new policy frameworks.

Two global compacts adopted in 2018 marked major steps forward: The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees reflected much that is in the 2009 HDR report.

However, the strong consensus that supported the compacts has eroded as political parties have gained strength in many countries on anti-immigrant and anti-multilateralism platforms.


Governments should:

  • Open legal pathways for low skilled workers, support orderly and legal migration and migrants’ work opportunities;
  • Lowering remittance costs remains an urgent task for the coming years;
  • Build on internal mobility gains by promoting greater intra-regional mobility in economic areas such as ECOWAS, IGAD, the EAC, MERCOSUR and ASEAN;
  • Countries of destination should incorporate migration into development planning;
  • Strengthen social safety nets in poor countries to reduce inequality and migration drivers.