1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Migration and Poverty: Linkages, Knowledge Gaps and Policy Implications



This paper explores the links between migration and poverty, and their implications for social policy. It argues that research on linkages between migration and poverty can, and should, start with knowledge about poverty itself: what it is, what causes it, what reduces it, poor people’s agency as well as constraints, and so on. Poverty research offers several established under­standings on the natures, structures and processes driving poverty, and these should be central to how the issues are framed in migration research and policy. Much of the migration of the poor is not seriously recognized, and nor are major categories of the poorest migrants, some of whom are children. Migration tends to be defined as an adult activity, thus underplaying how migration affects—and is undertaken by—children.

While much of the literature focuses on international and South-North migration, this paper focuses on internal migration and international South-South migration. The poorest families and people from the poorest areas tend to be excluded from migration to the North; and when they do so, they tend to move under extremely exploitative conditions. The poorest tend to migrate within national borders, and often within rural areas or to small towns, remaining invisible in most statistics.

The paper discusses links between poverty and migration, and policy implications, in four sections. The first section discusses different theoretical approaches to the study of migration and their relevance for understanding the migration of the poor. The second reviews empirical studies on linkages between migration and poverty, with a focus on remittances. The third section elaborates on a large research gap: migration by children independently of their families. The fourth section discusses implications for aid policy and donor-driven processes to tackle poverty. Challenges for policy makers at the national and regional levels include practical ways of integrating migrants into development processes, but also more entrenched issues related to the way social policy interacts with citizenship and the diverse forms of migration.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 15 Jul 2009
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISBN: 1020-8208
    From: UNRISD