KNOMAD  > Thematic working groups >  Internal migration and urbanization

Internal migration and urbanization



(formerly Rural-Urban Migration and Urbanization)

Internal migration is being amplified by a fundamental shift towards urbanization, and in many ways is more important for developing countries than international migration. The scale of internal migration is huge, probably exceeding 700 million people, but robust estimates are as yet unavailable.  Dedicated migration surveys could usefully complement household  and labor surveys that include questions on migration, disaggregating data by age and gender, focusing on the links between internal and international migration, addressing circular migration, broadening the notion of remittances to include other types of support like food, and informing on the composition of remittances (both internal and international remittances).

The growing impact of migration on destination communities raises important issues about pressure for infrastructure and social services, urban congestion, productivity gains, barriers to mobility that may exist within national borders and difficulties migrants face in accessing public services.  Currently, more than 80 percent of Sub-Saharan governments are negatively disposed towards internal migration, and there is a need more broadly to move away from such perceptions towards accepting migration and urbanization.  Policymakers and stakeholders need to focus on how best to manage the process, ensuring adequate capacity at various levels of government and engaging employers’ and workers’ organization as well as civil society organizations.

The impact of internal migration on sending communities also needs more research, as it has significant implications for reducing poverty and hunger, as well as the prospects for achieving the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in sending communities.  Specific policies are needed to facilitate the integration of return migrants from other locations within the country or abroad.

Finally, there are important links between internal and international migration.  The movement from rural to urban areas is often a first step towards international migration, because urban dwellers tend to have greater access to information on international migration opportunities, the move often represents a weakening of familial ties that would otherwise tend to inhibit migration, and the higher wages in urban areas can increase the workers’ ability to migrate to other countries.  It is worth distinguishing impacts on women and youth, as well as by skill level.  Changes in international work opportunities also affect work and migration patterns locally. 

Key Questions

  1. What type of data and analysis on internal migration and remittances are needed to understand better their impacts on development? Into what sectors internal migrants go? What types of skills are acquired?
  2. In what ways - social, economic and political - are internal and international migration are connected?
  3. What capacities and skills are needed at the national and sub-national levels to address internal migration issues relating to security, social protection, the needs of returnees, and perceptions among host communities?

Planned Activities

Year 1:

  • Review existing data and research.
  • Engage policy makers on data needs in select countries with significant internal and international migration, such as South Africa, India, Kenya, Ghana, Indonesia, Mozambique, Senegal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
  • Initiate stakeholder consultations with government officials at different levels, employers’ and workers’ organizations, civil society organizations, migrant associations, youth representatives, local hometown associations, researchers, the media, interior ministries, and police / defense agencies to assess data and capacity building needs.

Year 2:

  • Commission new research based on gaps identified.
  • Work with partners to ensure that information and data are packaged effectively for policy makers and other stakeholders.
  • Undertake a series of workshops, policy briefs, and media activities to help build capacity, sensitize policy makers, and improve perceptions.

Year 3:

  • Synthesize the findings and work with data collection agencies to continue filling data gaps.
  • Disseminate findings at different levels of government and with a wide range of stakeholders.