CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1Despite the rich and varied research literature on the links between international migration and development, the contribution of emigration to the economies and societies of countries of origin continues to be debated. In this book, Serge Feld, professor emeritus at the University of Liège and a recognized specialist in international migration, surveys these debates.

2He begins by sketching an overall picture of international migration over the past 25 years and recalls two major facts: first, that just 20 countries account for more than two-thirds of international migrants; and second, that international migrants continue to make up a very limited proportion of the world population (less than 4%). Detailing the orientation of flows between the Global North and South, he ends this opening chapter with a presentation of the major migration corridors.

3The book consists of two parts. The first examines the emigration of highly qualified workers. The key question: is it favourable to the development of the countries of origin? Its framing as a ‘brain drain’ highlights the loss of scarce resources, as well as rich countries’ confiscation of public investments that could and should have improved the qualifications of the population in the country of origin. But might these economic and financial losses be offset by the positive effect of transfers of funds, scientific knowledge, and technology? Feld surveys the different theories that have been proposed to answer this question and emphasizes the need to move past what he calls ‘overly fragmentary and poorly documented analyses’. Despite their potential benefits and the difficulties with their application, proposals such as taxing migrants and the sharing of benefits (e.g. savings on training costs) by developed countries reveal the subject’s complexity. How can we know whether, if a given qualified migrant had not left, they would have found a job in the area of their qualifications or whether, instead, they would have been underemployed? Feld devotes a chapter to the emigration of medical personnel, a particular form of brain drain whose effects are easier to assess given the ‘link between the volume of the medical workforce and levels of infant and maternal morbidity and mortality’. The author points out that in the last decades, Africa has lost a significant part of its medical personnel to developed countries. And India, for its part, has provided a significant share of the internationally trained physicians practising in the United States and the United Kingdom. But Feld also notes the lack of a ‘significant correlation between high expatriation rates and very low density of physicians’. Other factors, such as the speed of population growth, may explain poor medical coverage.

4The second part analyses the effects of remittances on the development of origin countries. Feld documents the considerable increase in annual transfers, from 101 billion US dollars in 1995 to more than 582 billion dollars in 2015. India, China, the Philippines, Mexico, and Nigeria are the countries that receive the largest total amounts. Feld then examines findings on migrants’ decision to send funds to their country of origin, distinguishing between determinants both microeconomic (maintenance of bonds of social solidarity, portfolio diversification strategies, investment migration) and macroeconomic (interest rates, inflation, variations in exchange rates, transfer cost, incentives in the country of origin). While remittances tend to decrease poverty, their effect on the reduction of inequalities is more uncertain. Feld seeks to provide the most complete possible vision of the phenomenon of migration. In doing so, he discusses the consequences of remittances for women, depending on whether they are migrants. He observes that the opposition between the allocation of remittances to consumption and investment spending is obsolete; spending on education and health and on investments in material goods produce equivalent increases in the well-being of a population.

5Hypothetical positive effects of remittances on the economic growth of countries of origin, he explains, have been confirmed neither theoretically nor empirically. Feld notes that beyond the external resources that they represent, these transfers can have a stabilizing function and ‘serve as a counter-cyclical instrument, decreasing macroeconomic imbalances’. They can also play a particularly significant role in an economic crisis or natural disaster. Among the possible negative consequences, on the other hand, are moral hazard and decreases in the labour supply (which can, however, have positive effects, such as greater availability for child-rearing and education), the risk of inflation, and the shift to a rentier economy (the exploitation of gas from the North Sea led to increases in the value of the florin and a decline in competitiveness). The book ends with a consideration of remittances viewed as an instrument of development policy.

6In light of this rich analysis of the possible effects of international migration on the development of countries of origin, Feld invites us to question the ‘dogma’ according to which ‘migration, in all circumstances, has favourable effects on the sending populations’. He particularly emphasizes the importance of the political, social, and institutional context. The economic and social effects of international migration cannot be assessed, he argues, without factoring in corruption, bureaucracy, political instability, and more. In making explicit the extant theories in this field of research and discussing their validity, Feld enables the reader to better understand what is at stake, for countries of emigration, in both the departure of a highly qualified workforce and the benefits of remittances. In doing so, he moves us beyond what are too often reductive visions.

Uploaded on on 06/01/2022
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