The Impact Of Sustainable Development Goals On Migrants

Oct 12, 2021  •  13 min read

Key messages

  • Ensuring migrants have access to appropriate and secure legal status can help achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on peaceful and inclusive societies.
  • If granted, permanent residency and/or citizenship can help foster integration. If access is denied, it can lead to tensions between migrants and host communities, further marginalize migrants, and hinder progress towards SDG.
  • Numerous barriers prevent long-term migrants from accessing permanent residency and/or citizenship, including political feasibility, racial, religious and gender bars, stringent language tests, and high costs. These barriers should be removed, or made more flexible.
  • Second-generation migrants are particularly affected because they are often excluded from full membership of the communities they have lived in all their lives. States should explore granting full citizenship at birth, or soon after.

What is sustainable development?

Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  • The concept of needs, in particular, the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given
  • The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

What are the proposed 17 goals?

1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere

2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

3) Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages

4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

6) Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

7) Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

8) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all

9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation

10) Reduce inequality within and among countries

11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13) Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)

14) Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss

16) Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

17) Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Are governments happy about the proposed 17 goals?

The majority seem to be, but a handful of member states, including the UK and Japan, aren’t so keen. Some countries feel that an agenda consisting of 17 goals is too unwieldy to implement or sell to the public, and would prefer a narrower brief. Or so they say. Some believe the underlying reason is to get rid of some of the more uncomfortable goals, such as those relating to the environment. Some NGOs also believe there are too many goals, but there is a general consensus that it is better to have 17 goals that include targets on women’s empowerment, good governance, and peace and security, for example, than fewer goals that don’t address these issues.

How will the goals be funded?

That’s the trillion-dollar question. Rough calculations from the intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing have put the cost of providing a social safety net to eradicate extreme poverty at about $66bn (£43bn) a year, while annual investments in improving infrastructure (water, agriculture, transport, power) could be up to a total of $7tn globally.

In its report last year, the committee said public finance and aid would be central to support the implementation of the SDGs. But it insisted that money generated from the private sector, through tax reforms, and through a crackdown on illicit financial flows and corruption, was also vital.

Migration, development and the 2030 Agenda

Migration is one of the defining features of the 21st century. It contributes significantly to all aspects of economic and social development everywhere, and as such will be key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Different opportunities and levels of development in origin countries can drive migration. At the same time, migration can increase development and investment in origin countries, fill labour gaps in host countries and contribute to development along the journey. It is a strong poverty reduction tool – not just for migrants themselves, but also for their families and their wider communities. But migration can also negatively impact development, and though the relationship between the two is increasingly recognized, it remains under-explored. We must ensure migration contributes to positive development outcomes and, ultimately, to realizing the Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable. To do this, we need to understand the impact of migration on the achievement of all SDGs, and – equally – the impact this achievement will have on future migration patterns. As the details of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) are being debated, it is more important than ever to understand these relationships and their implications for policy.

Why the 2030 Agenda can be a useful policy framework for migration

The 2030 Agenda is well placed to reflect and exploit the links between migration and development for three reasons. For migration, the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs represent an incredibly important step in development policy-making. The global Targets are the first to formally recognize migration in international development frameworks and processes. This highlights the importance of migration as an issue and cements it as a factor that can contribute to development and poverty reduction. The multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral nature of the 2030 Agenda is a useful platform to assess the impact of migration and human mobility on a range of development areas. This is not just important in terms of problem analysis – for instance, in considering the effects of migration across different dimensions of development – but also offers opportunities for finding policy solutions. The SDGs’ multi-disciplinary nature increases the potential for multi-stakeholder collaboration in labour mobility.

Crucially, the 2030 Agenda is supported by the necessary political ‘traction’ in different member states and in the multilateral system. The impacts of migration can be felt at all stages of the journey – notably in both origin and host countries – and as such it interacts with different sectors, requiring coordination between multiple actors and enhanced coherence across policies. This kind of coordination is only possible with high-level buy-in, something the SDGs have already secured.

Citizenship requirements and barriers

A migrant may be able to acquire citizenship through registration, naturalization or investment. There is a general consensus that it is reasonable a migrant should demonstrate a genuine connection with the community they hope to join when applying for permanent residency and/or citizenship. Most states require applicants to demonstrate a period of residency, basic linguistic and cultural knowledge, and that they are of good character. Many states also charge fees. Some states run ‘citizenship by investment programmes, which allow for citizenship (or, more often, permanent residency) to be fast-tracked or acquired outright in exchange for financial investment. Such programmes– especially in less-developed countries like Antigua, Comoros or the Dominican Republic – are often claimed to have an explicit ‘development’ objective, bringing income into the state. Yet pursuing development through the sale of citizenship raises difficult questions about the nature of sustainable development, inclusion and belonging. Traditionally, citizenship was viewed as a unitary status, so that acquiring new citizenship required the relinquishing of a previous one. However, as the number of international migrants and their descendants has increased, so too have the number of dual nationals, or people formally recognized as holding two or more citizenships. Some states, such as the Netherlands and India, do not recognize dual nationality and require migrants who naturalize to give up the citizenship of their country of origin. Others have introduced new provisions to allow diaspora members to keep or reclaim citizenship. These policies are explicitly intended to encourage greater economic, cultural and social links between diaspora communities and origin countries by facilitating easier mobility and a sense of continued belonging . The rest of this section discusses barriers to permanent residency and/or citizenship faced by migrants in host communities, and potential policy solutions.

Political Exclusion

Many migrants have limited political rights in their host country: the ability to vote and to run for office is usually limited to citizens alone. One consequence is that migrants – including long-term migrants with permanent residency and their families – have no right of political participation and very little direct political power to influence community decision-making. Policies excluding migrants may prove popular with a nonimmigrant electorate or avoid close scrutiny because migrants must rely upon proxy representation (for instance, families who do hold citizenship) in order to influence the outcome of political debate. The relatively progressive nature of the US debate on immigration regularization – where a majority of those surveyed continue to favour a pathway to citizenship for irregular migrants who meet certain criteria – can be partly attributed to the irregular migrants who have close friends and family with citizenship, and who are an increasingly important political bloc. More serious tensions can arise when governments deny political rights to individuals who have a long-standing claim to that country and/or previously enjoyed these rights. This is the case for the long-established Nepali community in Bhutan (Box 4), and for approximately 300,000 ethnic Russians in Latvia, who, despite having been born or lived in the country for decades, remain non-citizens without political rights. The debate over their status is heated. In 2012, 75% of the electorate rejected a proposal to recognize Russian as a national language in the constitution, even though a third of Latvia’s population speaks it as their mother tongue.

The Pros and Cons Of Migration

There are many arguments about the advantages and disadvantages of migration and how it has affected us locally.

Impacts on host countries


  • Job vacancies and skills gaps can be filled.
  • Economic growth can be sustained.
  • Services to an ageing population can be maintained when there are insufficient young people locally.
  • The pension gap can be filled by the contributions of new young workers and they also pay taxes.
  • Immigrants bring energy and innovation.
  • Host countries are enriched by cultural diversity.
  • Failing schools (and those with falling numbers) can be transformed.


  • Depression of wages may occur but this seems to be temporary.
  • Having workers willing to work for relatively low pay may allow employers to ignore productivity, training and innovation.
  • Migrants may be exploited.
  • Increases in population can put pressure on public services.
  • Unemployment may rise if there are unrestricted numbers of incomers.
  • There may be integration difficulties and friction with local people.
  • Large movements of people lead to more security monitoring.
  • Ease of movement may facilitate organized crime and people trafficking.

Impacts on countries of origin


  • Developing countries benefit from remittances (payments sent home by migrants) that now often outstrip foreign aid.
  • Unemployment is reduced and young migrants enhance their life prospects.
  • Returning migrants bring savings, skills and international contacts.


  • Economic disadvantage through the loss of young workers
  • Loss of highly trained people, especially health workers
  • Social problems for children left behind or growing up without a wider family circle

What are the Effects of Increased Migration Locally?

An Oxford Economics research study published by the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) concluded that migrant workers had helped maintain an adequate labour supply to fuel the 2004–2008 economic boom. The availability of migrant labour seems to have made the difference between some businesses surviving, or in the case of food processing, not needing to relocate production abroad. (The authors quote a survey of 600 businesses where 31% said that migrants were important in the survival of their organisation and this rose to 50% in health and social care and agriculture.)

In addition, the study indicated that migrants have

  • facilitated growth in the economy;
  • brought benefits to the tourism industry through the development of new air routes;
  • had a positive influence on the productivity or efficiency of local workers;
  • contributed new ideas and a fresh approach to firms;
  • and greater cultural links with developing nations that will prove useful in growing international trade.


It is clear that immigration can be beneficial for migrants, but only if their rights are protected properly. It can also be economically beneficial for both countries of origin and host countries; however, with present economic and trading structures, it is the rich and powerful countries that benefit most. Migration brings social and cultural pressures that need to be taken into account in planning for future services.

Migration also has the potential for bringing peoples together culturally but friction occurs if efforts are not made to dispel the myths held by local people. It is also essential to provide good information about the local way of life to newcomers and ensure opportunities for people to mix and integrate.

Where economic preconditions exist, migration is inevitable. When people try to prevent immigration it just goes underground.