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Mobility and Human Development


  • Hein de Haas

    () (Oxford University's International Migration Institute (IMI))


This paper argues that mobility and migration have always been an intrinsic part of human development. Migration can be considered as a fundamental capabilities-enhancing freedom itself. However, any meaningful understanding of migration needs to simultaneously analyse agency and structure. Rather than applying dichotomous classifications such as between forced and voluntary migration, it is more appropriate to conceive of a continuum running from low to high constraints under which migration occurs, in which all migrants deal with structural constraints, although to highly varying degrees. Besides being an integral part of human development, mobility also tends to affect the same structural processes of which it is part. Simplistic positive-versus-negative debates on migration and development can be overcome by integrating agency-structure dialectics in the analysis of migration impacts. This paper argues that (i) the degree to which migrants are able to affect structural change is real but limited; (ii) the nature of change in sending and receiving is not pre-determined; and (iii) that in order to enable a more focused and rigorous debate, there is a need to better distinguish and specify different levels and dimensions at which the reciprocal relationship between human mobility and development can be analysed. A critical reading of the empirical literature leads to the conclusion that it would be naïve to think that despite their often considerable benefits for individuals and communities, migration and remittances alone can remove more structural development constraints. Despite their development potential, migrants and remittances can neither be blamed for a lack of development nor be expected to trigger take-off development in generally unattractive investment environments. By increasing selectivity and suffering among migrants, current immigration restrictions have a negative impact on migrants’ wellbeing as well as the poverty and inequality reducing potential of migration.

Suggested Citation

  • Hein de Haas, 2009. "Mobility and Human Development," Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) HDRP-2009-01, Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), revised Apr 2009.
  • Handle: RePEc:hdr:papers:hdrp-2009-01

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Adams, Richard H, Jr, 1991. "The Economic Uses and Impact of International Remittances in Rural Egypt," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 39(4), pages 695-722, July.
    2. Takashi Kurosaki, 2006. "Consumption vulnerability to risk in rural Pakistan," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(1), pages 70-89.
    3. Stark, Oded & Bloom, David E, 1985. "The New Economics of Labor Migration," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 173-178, May.
    4. Michael A. Quinn, 2006. "Relative Deprivation, Wage Differentials and Mexican Migration," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 10(1), pages 135-153, February.
    5. Schiff, Maurice, 1994. "How trade, aid, and remittances affect international migration," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1376, The World Bank.
    6. Miguel León-Ledesma & Matloob Piracha, 2001. "International Migration and the Role of Remittances in Eastern Europe," Studies in Economics 0113, School of Economics, University of Kent.
    7. G. Regmi & C. Tisdell, 2002. "Remitting Behaviour of Nepalese Rural-to-Urban Migrants: Implications for Theory and Policy," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 38(3), pages 76-94.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dustmann, Christian & Okatenko, Anna, 2014. "Out-migration, wealth constraints, and the quality of local amenities," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 52-63.
    2. Ruyssen, Ilse & Salomone, Sara, 2018. "Female migration: A way out of discrimination?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 224-241.
    3. Guriev, Sergei & Vakulenko, Elena, 2015. "Breaking out of poverty traps: Internal migration and interregional convergence in Russia," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 633-649.
    4. Dekker, Bram & Siegel, Melissa, 2013. "Transnationalism and integration: Complements or Substitutes?," MERIT Working Papers 071, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).

    More about this item


    human development; human mobility; migration; poverty;

    JEL classification:

    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • O2 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration


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