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A U.N. report says migrant workers improve human welfare at home and in host nations. The report says governments should make it easier for workers to travel abroad.
A new report by the U.N. Development Program says migrant workers bring significant benefits to both their host and home countries.
The UNDP's annual human-development report says migration not only increases incomes and access to education and health care for the workers, it also creates jobs and innovation in host nations.
The report says the money migrant workers send home exceeds official development assistance by about four times in most developing countries, except in Africa.
But Helen Clark, the administrator with the UNDP, says the global economic slowdown and rising unemployment have led to a backlash against migrants in some countries.
"This report suggests that fears about migrants taking the jobs or lowering the wages of local people, placing an unwelcome burden on local services, or costing taxpayers money, are generally exaggerated," she said.
The U.N. report says most people in host nations are not against migration when jobs are plentiful and says governments should take steps to help migration advance human development.
The report says official procedures and fees can slow migration and encourage illegal migration.
It cites as example agreements between Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand that make recruiting fees as much as five months of a migrant worker's salary, take four months to process, and require withholding 15 percent of wages until the worker returns to their home country.
The report says smugglers in the region charge migrant workers about one month's salary, but notes that migrants who choose the illegal route risk exploitation, fines, and jail time.
Jeni Klugman, the author of the report, says the UNDP encourages governments to simplify procedures and lower the costs of migration, especially for low-skilled workers.
"The key argument in the report is not that migration is a substitute for development. It is no substitute for sustained and accelerated efforts to develop at home," said Klugman. "At the same time, it can be an important complement. And in countries around the world we can see that the flow of ideas, of people, of money, can bring all sorts of transformative effects to home countries."
The U.N. report says governments also place undue restrictions on women migrants. It cites Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Swaziland's restrictions on women leaving the country and says more than 20 nations do not allow women to apply for passports on their own.
The U.N. report also ranked people's well being on a Human Development Index based on data from 2007.
Out of 182 countries and territories, the top three on the development scale were Norway, Australia, and Iceland, while the worst off were Niger, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone.
The report says a person in Norway earns an average income 85 times what someone in Niger earns, while a child born in Niger is expected to live 30 years less than a child born in Norway.
The HDI ranking is based on gross domestic product per capita, life expectancy, literacy, and school enrollment.