The Exodus: Drivers of Migration and Its Implications for International Development and Sustainability


Contemporary Migration is a highly complex phenomenon that is shaped by a convoluted set of factors. It has existed for centuries and has become a part of mankind’s shared history. Both the origins and the reverberations of are multifaceted and tangled, taking numerous forms from voluntary to forcible. The decision to migrate, be it on international or internal levels, tends to be heavily influenced by many circumstances such as economic conditions, employment or development opportunities, poverty, hunger, conflicts, environmental threats, or climate shocks. Although the list is not fully exhaustive, it gives a clear idea of how diversified the migration drivers can be.

The Patterns and the Continuum of Migration Decisions Internal VS International Migration

Although there is no specific data that accurately measures the rate of internal migration, it is deemed that the vast majority of migrants move within the boundaries of their own countries. According to the Human Development Report (2009), more than 10% of the world’s population has been migrating internally, compared to the rate of 3,1% of international migrants. This pattern may be due to relative simplicity, language and cultural assimilation, and the cost-effectiveness of internal movement. The majority of expatriate journeys are complex and fragmented and rarely come with ease. Sometimes, taking the stepwise approach, the migrants change several locations, and eventually relocate internationally. They might even change several countries until they make up their mind on choice.

Rural-to-Rural VS Rural-to-Urban

The rate of the global population living in urban areas has increased from 43% to 54% between 2000–2014. Although the structural transformation and urbanization patterns differ across countries and regions, many nations have faced the challenge of diminishing rural settlements. Massive Agglomerations in cities have negatively affected agricultural production and the share of agriculture in countries’ GDP. However, in some countries, rural-to-rural migration is not uncommon owing to the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of such movements.

Seasonal, Circular or Short-Term Migration

The majority of first-generation migrants tend to retain strong links with their home countries, frequently engaging in circular migration. The circularity itself might well be associated with seasonally changeable needs between rural and urban areas.

Voluntary VS Forced Migration

The migration that is intentionally planned and aims to bring livelihood development opportunities is considered to be voluntary. On the contrary, forced migration is the movement of the last resort that threatens the safety and the security of the individual. Such displacement may be triggered by conflicts, wars, environmental hazards, disasters, or similar events that are not under the control of the migrant. Forced displacement is usually a stepwise process. E.g. 8 out of 10 migrants from Syria have been displaced within the country at least once, and 65% at least twice before crossing international borders. ( FAO, IFAD, IOM, WFP, 2018). These 2 types can be considered as two ends of migration continuum decisions.

The Drivers of Migration

Over the last few decades, many scholars have placed an emphasis on the determinants of migration. Although several theories provide explanations for the rise in movements, the empirical evidence suggests the following as the key drivers for migration:

  • Income Differences
  • Poverty, Food Security, and Famines
  • Education, Family Reunification and Social Networks
  • High Population Density, Demographic Asymmetries, and Gender Inequality
  • Environmental Factors, Agriculture Incomes, and Climate Change
  • Conflicts, Wars, and Political Instability.

The Impact of Migration: It is exactly what you make it

Amid the global refugee crisis, the debate over migration policy and border controls has become intensified. Many of these debates go over and over across fruitless circles that lead nowhere, but where they have started. There are both supporters and opponents with reasonable arguments about what migration can bring for their societies. E.g. Migration can adversely affect employment for specific groups, namely natives with comparable skills, experience, and job preferences, as ex-pats will be able to fill those positions. However, elevated competition can as well become a foundation for better employment, where labor is more qualified, competent, and productive. In fact, the effects of migration might vary from country to country depending on the policy and controls exercised by governments.

Could Migration Support International Development and Sustainability?

Migration is definitely not a pre-requisite for development. There are a number of countries with different migration patterns but similar development levels. Yet, migration can bring a wide array of benefits, if and when managed properly.

Remittances sent by migrants to developing countries represent more than three times the global flows of development assistance. According to World Bank Estimates, recorded annual remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries reached $529 billion in 2018. Such a source of financing can help reduce poverty, incentivize consumption, foster business formation, and entrepreneurship, and increase household investments. Diasporas do not limit themselves only to financial support, but social remittances as well. They are able to transfer the values and the behaviors of the host countries when traveling back home. Such value transfer can result in Women Empowerment and Gender equality. Furthermore, host countries can benefit from “brain gain” once they get tertiary-level educated migrants. These expatriates get employed and contribute to countries’ overall development. Moreover, as Legal Migrants pay taxes they assist in strengthening the host’s fiscal profile.

Many opposers of uncontrolled migration might argue that the rise in international movements is a threat to host countries and their citizens. They share their worries regarding cultural conflicts, security issues, and similar concerns. Besides, many of them suggest that poorer countries compromise their development opportunities by “losing” the expertise of qualified citizens and might become the victims of “brain drain”.

Making the Right Choice: Control VS Manage

In the contemporary world, where globalization is part of our daily life and where borders start to bear only symbolic value, Migration should be strategically managed, not controlled. The mechanisms we have been employing so far have proved to be controversial and ineffective. Many receiving countries that sharply increased personnel and expenditures to prevent irregular migration have witnessed the number of irregular migrants rising faster than ever. The restrictive and unilateral migration policies have not been working properly. How about free movement without restrictions? Regardless of how appealing it might sound at first sight unfettered migration would not do much better than current policies and could even bring more damage. Instead, we should strive for a regime that is based on the concept of regulated openness and sustained by close inter-state co-operation. (Bimal Ghosh, UNESCO, 2005).

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