Benefits of temporary youth migration on global development

Youth – specifically those in their mid-to-late 20s – are the largest demographic group migrating overseas, as they seek better opportunities in education and employment.

For developing countries the migration of skilled youth has long been seen as negative. As the individuals with skills, education and qualifications migrate, they leave behind a higher than normal proportion of unskilled and ageing population, as the country works to develop and stabilise.  

However, the ‘brain drain’ is not necessarily the only outcome of youth migration. With good policy governments can capitalise on temporary youth migration, growing the economy and skills base of the country.

As youth leave and find skilled, or unskilled, jobs in foreign countries they can send home part of their income in remittances to their families. For some developing countries, the amount of money sent back by immigrants far outstrips foreign aid. In some cases it can reach as high as 45% of GDP, for example in Tajikistan. With migration expected to increase, so is the amount of money sent home.

These remittances lead to an increase of family income. Cost of education can be a barrier to sending children to school. But, as household income increases families become more likely to send their children to school. This leads to a positive upwards cycle of skills building for the family.

Youth migration can also have many benefits for the individual, including gaining new skills, different perspectives on social issues, and financial savings.

Of course, this can place pressure on the youth– they can feel an obligation to find good employment and support their extended family, who may have finically contributed to sending them abroad. A sense of place and belonging are important for youth’s development, and migration can also negatively impact upon this.

Countries can support their youth migrants by formalising work programs, this could include providing pre-departure briefings, assistance with finding work opportunities, and help with returning to their home country. This may limit the stress on youth in pre-departure and job hunt stage. It can also help to encourage youth return, bringing their new skills, ideas and connections with them. 

Economies could better capitalise on remittances as a resource to improve the country and household wealth. Accessible financial advice and formal, yet inexpensive financial pathways for saving or sending money home can also remove some of the risks associated with migration.

As well as providing benefits to countries of origin and individuals, temporary migration can provide benefits to the destination countries welcoming immigrants. Benefits can include skills and labour shortages being filled, the economy being boosted, and often tourism increases from visits by family and friends. There is also a skills sharing which can occur providing mutual benefits.

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