Guiding the Invisible Hand

Making Migration Intermediaries Work for Development

2009 Occasional Paper
By Agunias, Dovelyn

Intermediaries are key actors that facilitate, and sometimes drive, migration within and across borders. By providing information and extending critical services in many stages of migration and in places of origin, transit and destination, legitimate intermediaries build migrants’ capabilities and expand their range of choice — the very essence of human development. However their value is, in many cases, overshadowed by the costs they impose on migrants, from charging exorbitant fees to outright abuse of basic human rights. Clearly, there is much room for intervention to shape intermediaries’ operations in more positive directions. Available policy levers are many, from imposing a system of regulation to fostering government-mediated migration. In weighing these policy options, there is rarely a bright line separating legitimate services and reasonable costs on one hand, and exploitative fees or practices on the other. This can be addressed by adopting a framework that recognizes the importance of identifying the nature of scarcity and recognizing how migrants can best overcome the constraints of scarce information, access and employment opportunities. Success will also depend on introducing parallel efforts centered on empowering migrants, monitoring the intermediating industries, building institutional capacity and drafting migration policies that reflect realities on the ground.