Migration and development

Costa Rica stands to benefit from integrating migration further into sectoral and national development strategies, says new joint OECD Development Centre – CCP report


July, 2017 - Costa Rica is a country characterised by large immigration flows. Immigrants represent close to 9% of the population, and an even larger share of the workforce, making it the sole country of net immigration in the region. Yet a significant share of the population (3%) is also residing abroad. The country would benefit from strengthening its whole-of-government approach to making emigration as well as immigration an integral parts of its overall development strategies, argues a new report by the OECD Development Centre and the Central American Centre for Population Studies (CCP) at the University of Costa Rica titled “Interrelations between Public Policy, Migration and Development (IPPMD) in Costa Rica".

The report was launched today in San José, in the presence of policy makers, representatives of civil society, and national and international organisations. The IPPMD project in Costa Rica is the result of four years of fieldwork, empirical analysis and policy dialogue in the country. Overall, more than 2 000 households, representing over 7 000 individuals, and 15 communities 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. The report is part of a larger comparative project involving nine other partner countries: Armenia, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Haiti, Morocco and the Philippines. It yielded a comparative report and ten country reports.

The interrelations between sectoral policies and migration are not straightforward: they strongly depend on the country context and the conditions of implementation of policies. Through various dimensions – immigration, emigration, remittances and return migration – migration has both positive and negative effects on key sectors of the Costa Rican economy, such as the labour market, agriculture, education, investment and financial, social protection and health. Similarly, sectoral policies have indirect impacts on migration and its related development outcomes. A lack of policy coherence may bring unintended effects and undermine the effectiveness of public policies.

For example, it is often assumed that policies such as vocational training programmes will reduce people’s incentives to emigrate by making them more employable locally. However, the IPPMD analysis shows the opposite: individuals who participated in vocational training programmes are in fact more likely to plan to emigrate in the future (4%) than those who did not (2%) - potentially because the programmes equip would-be migrants with skills that are more useful in the international labour market than in the local labour market.

The report further shows that policy makers could strengthen the development impact of emigration through more productive investments stemming from resources accumulated abroad. Remittances and return migration do not seem to stimulate investments in businesses and real estate. This may partly be explained by low financial literacy: only 5% of the households in the IPPMD study have participated in financial training in the past five years, and one in four households has no bank account. Government interventions to expand financial inclusion and financial literacy could help stimulate more investments from remittances.

Despite Costa Rica’s efforts to provide universal education and social protection services, the IPPMD findings show that immigrants are not benefiting to the same extent as the native-born population from these services. The results show that immigrant youth are less likely to attend school than their native-born peers, and that they have less access to cash-based education programmes. Furthermore, immigrants are also less likely to receive government social transfers and less likely to visit health facilities. Providing equal access to education, social protection and health can improve the integration of immigrants and enhance their contribution to social and economic development in Costa Rica.

Overall, the Costa Rican IPPMD report concludes that the development potential of migration for development is not yet fully realised. Making the most of both emigration and immigration requires creating an environment where Costa Ricans migrate by choice, not by force, and where immigrants can positively contribute to social and economic development of Costa Rica. In this respect, a more coherent policy agenda requires that policy makers avoid operating in silos and continue to do more to integrate migration into Costa Rica’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 click here

Requests for interviews or a copy of the report should be directed to Lisa Andersson ([email protected]); +33 (0)1 45 24 74 93) at the OECD Development Centre.


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