Migration and development

Cambodia needs to integrate migration into sectoral and national development strategies, says new joint OECD Development Centre – CDRI report


Phnom Penh, 27 April 2017 - Emigration is a significant and growing phenomenon for Cambodia. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of Cambodians abroad increased by about 160%, from around half a million to 1.2 million people. The country would benefit from strengthening its whole-of-government approach to making migration an integral part of its overall development strategies, argues a new joint report by the OECD Development Centre and the Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI) titled “Interrelations between Public Policies, Migration and Development (IPPMD) in Cambodia”.

The report’s launch was hosted by the Ministry of Interior (MOI) today in Phnom Penh, in the presence the Delegation of the European Union to Cambodia and policy makers from several ministries. It examines how migration affects key policy sectors in Cambodia, particularly the labour market, agriculture, education, investment and financial services. The report also analyses how sectoral policies influence different migration outcomes, such as the decision to emigrate, and remittance patterns.

IPPMD in Cambodia is the result of four years of fieldwork, empirical analysis and policy dialogue in Cambodia. Overall, 2 000 households representing about 9 000 individuals and 100 villages were interviewed during this ambitious study, co-funded by the European Union. The findings build on innovative quantitative and qualitative surveys that, for the first time, combine questions related to migration and to public policies. It is part of a larger comparative project involving nine other countries: Armenia, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Haiti, Morocco and the Philippines.

The way migration affects development is not straightforward. Through various dimensions – emigration, remittances and return migration – migration has both positive and negative effects on key sectors of the Cambodian economy. Similarly, sectoral policies have unexpected and sometimes contradictory impacts on migration and its related development outcomes.

One expectation, for example, is that relieving the financial constraints faced by agricultural households through subsidies might reduce migration outflows, since emigrants often leave in search of a revenue source. Yet, the IPPMD findings suggest that if the agricultural subsidies are not contingent on some level of output or outcome, or do not provide a non-transferable asset, such as land, they may encourage emigration by providing new income to cover the costs. This may run counter to the objectives of subsidies programmes aiming to keep farmers in the country and in the sector.

The phenomenon can be exacerbated when low-skilled workers from agricultural households – both rural and urban – move to neighbouring countries to seek work. The result is a shortage of agricultural workers, particularly on rice farms and during harvest seasons. Furthermore, the report finds that the prospect of emigration may be undermining school attendance, when the returns to education are perceived as lower than the benefits of emigrating. It is thus important to ensure that young people in Cambodia have the means and incentives to complete secondary education.

The amount of remittances flowing into Cambodia is increasing. According to the IPPMD data and analysis, this additional income is being spent on repaying loans and debts and invested in education, which is an encouraging finding. However, remittances are not channelled into productive investments other than education. This can be explained by insufficient financial inclusion and the lack of financial training. Strikingly, only 6% of the surveyed households had a bank account, and financial service institutions are rare, particularly in rural areas. These low rates of financial inclusion and literacy represent a missed opportunity for a country that is rebuilding much of its capital stock.

Overall, the IPPMD Cambodia report concludes that migration can benefit Cambodia’s economic and social development, but its potential is not yet fully realised. To make the most of migration, policy makers should aim to create an environment where Cambodians migrate by choice, and where those who migrate can positively contribute to the development of both Cambodia and their countries of destination. In this respect, a more coherent policy agenda requires that policy makers avoid operating in silos and do more to integrate migration into Cambodia’s national development strategies. This involves not only adopting specific initiatives focused on migration and development, but also including migration in the design, implementation and evaluation of all relevant sectoral policies.

For more information on the IPPMD project, please visit:

Requests for interviews or a copy of the report should be directed to Hyeshin Park (; +33 (0)1 45 24 95 84) at the OECD Development Centre.


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