The evidence is resounding that migration is good for individuals, economies, and communities. Under the right conditions, migration can improve lives, enhance development and economic growth, and promote social and cultural vibrancy.

The challenge is that the right conditions usually require investment; and in our current geo-economic context, that investment can be difficult to make for governments confronted with retrenchment, short-term democratic cycles, robust anti-immigrant politics, and an increasingly skeptical public.

The question is: can we afford not to invest in migration?

The economist Philippe Legrain found that for every one Euro invested in welcoming refugees, countries see nearly two Euros back within five years.

Meanwhile, Keith Banting discovered that diverse communities in Canada prospered vis-à-vis their U.S. counterparts in part because of properly funded integration policies. Unlike the “hunkering down” effect documented in America by Robert Putnam, immigration in Canada has led to more trust and engagement.

At a company level, the same principle applies. Researchers with the Centre for Talent Innovation found that employee diversity within a company can grow market share and profits, but only if companies put effort and resources into building inclusion.

Investing in migrants has never been more critical because we are collectively more mobile than ever before. Some people have the luxury of moving for work and educational opportunities, but many are displaced by force and settle where they can find safety. Devastating political crises in the top refugee-producing countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia are set to grind on.

Migration flows of all types are set to grow, whether or not states, governments and the voting public are prepared. Some forward-looking countries, including Canada, China and Australia, have sought to take advantage of migration flows, increasing their immigration targets over the past decade to get ahead of competition for skilled talent.

Refugees show their skills in metal processing works during a media tour at a workshop for refugees organized by German industrial group Siemens in Berlin, Germany, April 21, 2016.
Refugees at a workshop organized by German industrial group Siemens
Image: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

But the fact remains that as the global migrant population grows, so do concerns over the short-term costs of integration and the political controversy around this issue. Governments may increasingly face the challenge of doing more with limited resources, as well as confronting threats associated with migration.

The World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Migration believes that it is only through public-private partnerships that a longer-term migration agenda that reaps true economic and social rewards will be accomplished.

During the 2017 Annual Meeting, we will seek to galvanize public-private action around investing in immigrant inclusion as a business and a community imperative. Here are a few trends we see, where these types of partnerships can strategically address key challenges around realizing the migration dividend:

1. Enable private citizens to take an active role in resettlement and integration. Canada’s unique model of private sponsorship of refugees sees Canadian citizens taking a direct role in selecting and integrating refugees. Refugee families are set up for success thanks to the social and financial capital that private sponsors invest. This good idea is now unfolding by pilot in Argentina, Brazil, Italy, the United Kingdom, and other countries. And if citizens in increasing number can welcome refugees, then why can’t companies? The US-based non-profit Talent beyond Borders is working with governments and business to find out how.

2. Grant permission for immigrants and refugees to work from day one. Employers are sometimes ahead of government in recognizing migrant talent, with companies like Siemens, Chobani, and countless small businesses leading the way. Simple and clear policies help employers hire with confidence and without red tape. Despite the demand, countries with open policies are the exception and not the rule. Take work regimes for asylum seekers: only a handful of countries including Sweden, Australia and Spain allow work immediately. Many more erect time frames and conditions, some of which – such as labour market tests - are of questionable value in predicting a migrant’s contributions to an host economy.

3. Leverage digital innovation to address immigration and integration needs. LinkedIn first tested an initiative to match interested employers with refugee job seekers in Sweden. Refining its pilot, LinkedIn is launching Welcome Talent Canada with an added mentorship component to further ease entry into the job market. The HP Foundation, meanwhile, has begun offering free, online learning courses covering essential business and IT skills for migrant entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses their new homelands.

As with many of the most complex global issues, effectively managing migration requires community and business leaders to work in tandem with government. Citizens and the private sector have demonstrated a will and capacity to play a positive role in migration. That role ranges from tailoring products and services, to hiring and training, to connecting as neighbours and friends.

Governments can count on these counterparts, if they are willing to demonstrate the political leadership to provide the right conditions for investing in migrants.

Written with input from Dana Wagner, Parliamentary Affairs Advisor at the Office of Senator Ratna Omidvar, and Mariah Levin, Community Lead for Civil Society at the World Economic Forum.