“People have a right to migrate”

P. J. Patterson

Ahead of the publication of the Ramphal Commission’s third report, P. J. Patterson told Global that migration is a right, not just a privilege, and that the Commonwealth should seek to develop a set of common principles to guide national policy in the area. He also said that the Commission was issuing “a call for action” to Commonwealth leaders and that he hoped they would respond with practical solutions. 

Global: What effects, both positive and negative, does migration have on Jamaica, your home country?

P J Patterson: Starting with the negatives, we obviously lose persons who have acquired skills which are very important for the development of the country. Developing countries, to a very large extent, have to rely primarily on their human capacity. At the same time, we have to understand that people migrate for a number of reasons, including the enhancement and full expression of their professional competence and, of course, to be able to earn higher incomes. There are also some social risks that are involved – more and more women are themselves migrating, as distinct from moving with their husbands, and that sometimes results in the weakening of family relationships and particularly affects the care of children. 

On the positive side, there are remittance flows which are used in a variety of areas, primarily education, health, the care of children and the aged. Much of that flows into the rural communities and contributes to the improvement of standards of living [and] to the development of their [the migrants’] communities. 

We have to recognise that people have a right to migrate and that you can’t put up barriers to discourage or prevent people from migrating. Migration depends on market forces, and so the people move to where their skills are in high demand. What you have to do is to ensure that you train as wide a cadre of people as possible in the knowledge that some are, more likely than not, [going] to depart. 

What effects does this ‘brain drain’ have on developing countries? What does the Commission recommend to combat disadvantages resulting from the of loss of the most highly skilled citizens?

The question of the effect of brain drain was considered in our [the Ramphal Commission’s] second report, which shows an acute loss affecting particular countries, mainly in health and education. We have cases, such as Malawi, where more doctors leave after graduation than those who remain. We have cases, like Ghana, where every year the teachers who leave are equal to the number of teachers who graduate. And while perhaps these are extreme cases, the fact is that developing countries are losing as much as 75 percent of their young professionals in certain fields. 

Remittances alone can’t compensate for that loss. You first have to do everything possible to increase the numbers who benefit from training in specific fields. We believe that particularly within the Commonwealth there’s a scope for building a partnership between the countries of origin and the countries of destination. 

Do you think that a set of principles governing migration policy within the Commonwealth would be a good idea? If so, what do you think the key principles would be?

We accept that migration is a matter that has to be dealt with in accordance with national policy. We also accept the right of people to move, and however much people may rail against it, the fact is that people have been moving and will continue to move. So, we should seek to develop a common set of principles which would guide the formulation of national policies. And the first thing that we want to suggest is that the emphasis should be on the proper management of migration to assure a win-win-win situation – three wins – for countries of origin, countries of destination and, very importantly, the migrants themselves. 

Secondly, we want to see immigration policy become more development friendly. We want to encourage skilled migrants to maintain a continued professional connection with the countries from which they come. And we also believe that the Commonwealth should emphasise the importance of the management of migration. We want to see an increase in the building of the capacity of those who are responsible for immigration. [There needs to be] an interconnection, not only with ministries responsible for home affairs or national security but also those responsible for education and economic policy. 

We believe that migration should be an essential component of any national plan for development. Commonwealth countries which are equipped to do so and which have an interest in receiving migrants from other parts of the Commonwealth – like Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa and India – can assist in the building of this human capacity. There needs to be dialogue between the countries of the Commonwealth. In some cases, bilateral arrangements or regional arrangements are possible. 

We think that the diaspora has a very, very critical role to play in this, and all governments should engage the diaspora. They also have a valuable role to play in the countries of destination by the cultural diversity which they bring by their entrepreneurial talents. 

The Commission will be presenting its finding to leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. What do you hope will come from this?

We’re not undertaking an academic study. The three reports have been compiled by three eminent academics, but what we want is something practical, a call for action. So we are sending a number of specific recommendations based on our reports. We’re hoping that heads will consider them, hopefully endorse them and make appropriate decisions, recognising that this subject is (a) one for priority, (b) deserving of Commonwealth attention, and (c) the kind of issue where the Commonwealth can take the lead for the rest of the international community.

About the author:

P. J. Patterson is the Former Prime Minister of Jamaica (1992-2006) and Chair of the Ramphal Commission on Migration and Development


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December 6, 2011 3:24 pm

People should have the right to their own freedom. I understand that training people in valued occupations and then having them leave the country is going to be an economic drain but we can not stop this from happening. What needs to be stopped is the taking of valued community members by larger countries without a certain amount of pay back. We need to exchange like for like. Skills for skills. The money spent on educating the migrator so that they were attractive to their desired location should be reinvested, whether this is by sending their own workers to the country, sending teachers and training materials or simply reinvesting money.

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