Ten million migrant workers are on the move every year in the Commonwealth of Independent States1, most of them to Russia. That is why labor migration is one of the important issues on the development agenda in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region.
Money that citizens working abroad sent home was equal to half of Tajikistan's GDP in 2008 and a third of Moldova's. But migrant workers also add to the prosperity of the countries in which they work. And young workers from Central Asia fill a gap in an aging working population, mainly in Kazakhstan and Russia.
"Between 2004 and 2008 the Russian economy has been growing by 8 percent annually. The number of labor migrants within the same period grew by four times. Evidently, these two figures are linked. In general the input of labor migrants into the Russian economy is estimated at 5-10 percent of Russia's GDP," says Sudharshan Canagarajah, World Bank Lead Economist and MiRPAL Network coordinator.
Migration is complex and policy discussions can become emotionally charged. To make discussion easier and to help base policies on facts, the World Bank is bringing together a network of migration and remittance experts from countries where workers originate and ones they go for work. Nine CIS countries are part of the network, Migration and Remittance Peer Assisted Learning (MiRPAL).
Besides needing better statistics, countries are beginning to appreciate the regional impact of migrant labor and to consider the need for migration legislation, coordinated policies and harmonized regulatory frameworks. They also understand the need to develop social and legal protections for migrant workers. And it is essential to find ways to help migrants adapt and integrate with people and systems in the countries where they work.
Through MiRPAL, these countries have been mobilizing a wide variety of practitioners and experts to meet migration challenges systematically. Ministries, migration and demography experts, central bankers, historians, political analysts are joining in the discussion with the governments, employers, donors, diaspora and human rights organizations.
Vyacheslav Postavnin, president of "Migration XXI Century" the foundation carrying out the network's activities—says MiRPAL's role is to provide sound economic analysis, collect and aggregate migration data and "work out innovative approaches to settling migration challenges and transfer these ideas both to policy-makers and the public."
National and regional strategies need to be formulated to address how labor migration can help countries grow and reduce poverty. Regional strategies are also needed to help countries—both the countries from which migrants originate and the ones where they currently work—weather the effects of a financial crisis like the most recent one.
Some countries like Armenia have poverty reduction and labor market strategies which cover migration issues. But countries should address ideas across borders too. MiRPAL is starting a productive discussion among its nine member countries, many of which are trying to cope with increased unemployment and fluctuating remittances. The network is conducting studies on the role of migration and remittance in growth agendas. And it is sharing statistics on numbers of migrants and remittance trends as well as best practices in migration management. MiRPAL is also facilitating discussions in the CIS and Russia, in particular for carrying out better surveys of migrant workers and their households.
Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are developing national migration strategies, while Russia and Kazakhstan are working on legal aspects of migration. The World Bank, together with other key players like the International Organization for Migration (IOM), is working to assist these processes.
That's a good start. Meanwhile, coordinated migration policies and laws are also needed. MiRPAL is focusing on disseminating information, research and practical solutions available to the parties that need to work together to bring these about. Communicating this knowledge to all stakeholders is no easy task, but it is vital to insure a sustainable future for all legal migrants.
1 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was created in December 1991. In the adopted Declaration the participants of the Commonwealth declared their interaction on the basis of sovereign equality. At present the CIS unites: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.