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Developing better statistics to measure migration

Recent humanitarian crises combined with continuing globalization have brought the topic of international migration to the forefront of news reports around the world. The effects of cross-border migration are wide ranging and affect both migrants themselves and many non-migrants. As a result, politicians often use the issue of international migration as motivation for their economic and social platforms. But are we always sure that political rhetoric is based on reliable data? What are the challenges that statisticians face in producing and disseminating statistics on migration? How can these statistics be improved? How can migration statistics be used for the review and appraisal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?

To address these questions, nearly 100 statisticians from the UNECE region and beyond – including participation from Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East – met in Geneva on 18-20 May at the UNECE-Eurostat Work Session on Migration Statistics. Examined topics included, among others, the use of migration statistics in policymaking and the improvement of cooperation between national statistical offices and producers of administrative data. These relationships are vital to improving migration statistics by both increasing their cost-effectiveness through the use of existing administrative sources and ensuring that the capabilities and limitations of national statistics offices are well-understood. In this, as in several other areas, the exchange of experience at the Work Session is directly linked to the methodological work by a UNECE expert task force that provides practical guidance to national statistical offices. The recently established Task Force on Data Integration in Measuring Migration will develop such guidance on combining data from different sources.

One of the most pressing topics discussed at the Work Session was that of measuring asylum seekers and refugees. The dramatic increase in such migrants in recent years has created a challenge for statistical offices as new capabilities need to be developed quickly to account for the large numbers of displaced people. Currently, the statistical treatment of these migrants varies widely between countries and shows a need for improved international coordination.

Another question critical to many is who migrants are and what their effects are on receiving countries. Experts discussed these issues through sessions on measuring socio-economic characteristics of migrants and labour migration. The improvement of statistics on labour mobility requires coordination across several statistical domains and data collection systems, at both national and international levels. The recently established Task Force on Measuring Labour Mobility will review the practices of countries in compiling statistics on labour mobility and develop practical guidance in this area.

Measuring circular migration – those who immigrate to and emigrate from a country repeatedly – is another challenge for statisticians. This is an important group of migrants to track given the potential benefits of their migration on both their home country and the countries to which they immigrate. The Task Force on Measuring Circular Migration has worked to address the challenges in identifying these migrants and presented its report for discussion at the Work Session.