And if immigration benefited everyone?

Immigration and development - Article by Mme Brigitte Girardin, Minister Delegate for Cooperation, Development and Francophony, published in the “Les Echos” newspaper

Paris, 12 April 2006

And if immigration benefited everyone?

Sought by the government, “targeted immigration” is today a hot issue in France. Some people have concerns about the “morally unacceptable” nature of a selective policy supposedly designed to bring only the most qualified migrants to our country; others are condemning the “brain drain” which Africa in particular would suffer as a result of such a policy. However, the means exist to ensure that this targeted immigration is of mutual benefit to everyone.

Let’s not go for the wrong goal here: it would be delusory to try and prevent every form of immigration. Immigration is a permanent feature of our history and meets recognized needs in Europe which, over the next few years, will suffer the consequences of insufficiently dynamic population growth. On the other hand, to make these international migrations a source of enrichment shared fairly between Northern and Southern countries is a goal we should all share. According to the World Bank, the contribution of migrants to global income will be close to $800 billion in 2025. It is up to us to work together to share the knock-on effects. It is in all our interests not passively to accept migration, but to take concerted action so that it contributes to global well-being.

To achieve this, a new concept must be explored: “co-development”. Still not widely enough known about, this French idea has nevertheless been successfully trialled for the past few years and is arousing growing interest from our European partners. The basic idea is simple: to involve the immigrants settled in France in the development of their country of origin. Moreover, the migrant organizations like it because they see it as a means of maintaining a close link with their native country. In other words, the aim is to mobilize the diasporas to help the homelands, so that the migrants’ departure isn’t a definitive loss for their countries.

The first advantage of co-development is that it takes on board the whole dimension of migration, embracing illegals, most often fleeing from extreme poverty, as well as legal immigrants, including both the highly qualified and unskilled. For the least skilled, co-development schemes do not just provide assistance to return home, but also genuine support for the immigrant’s reintegration in his/her country of origin, through a training programme or financial aid linked to the creation of a long-term activity (e.g. small shop or subsistence farming), together with a year’s local support during the start-up phase. There have been several positive examples of this in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. For instance in Mali, 350 individual reintegration projects have been financed and have led to the creation of 700 local jobs.

The most highly qualified immigrants - managers, doctors and engineers - who wish to remain in France where they have settled are offered the possibility of passing their skills on to their compatriots, either through short-duration training missions in their countries of origin, or through distance-learning schemes made possible by the new information and communication technologies. The aim is to make this voluntary, with the possible provision of incentives. And I think we need to adopt the same incentive approach for students coming to pursue their education or training in France, since I don’t believe in compulsory measures which could well deter the best students from coming to our country, to the benefit of US or Canadian universities.

Secondly, with co-development, migrants are encouraged to channel their savings into productive investment in their countries of origin. The stakes are huge since it is estimated that every year the Southern countries receive $150 billion from their expatriates, i.e. double total official development aid! Yet only 10% of this money is used for productive investment in those countries. So, liaising with the financial operators, the aim is to make these remittances more productive by, for example, increasing the capacity of microcredit organizations to grant loans to finance the creation of economic activities in the Southern countries.

For instance, in Morocco, a project for rural gîtes [self-catering holiday accommodation] financed by Moroccans in France is coming to fruition; some of the contributors will go back to Morocco to manage the accommodation, others will stay in France and entrust its management to a family member; the activity thus created will provide new jobs for people who would otherwise have no choice but to emigrate. At the end of the day, it is a perfect illustration of the "win-win" strategy which can bring Northern and Southern countries together in convergent and complementary projects: "targeted immigration" in developed countries clearly has everything to gain from the development of "targeted emigration" policies in countries of departure.

Co-development is clearly a new, original approach, promoted by France, allowing the establishment of a link between immigration and cooperation policies. It is certainly an essential complement to our immigration policy making it not only acceptable but beneficial to our Southern partners. By scaling it up in this way, we shall not just continue taking our thinking forward, but most importantly of all, immigration will benefit everyone.

Last modified on 16/06/2008

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