Migration for Sustainable Development

Click on a development sector or a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and scroll down to explore its migration linkages, relevant Global Compact for Migration (GCM) Objectives, data and measuring tools, case studies and resources. 

Human mobility affects and is affected by all development areas: for example, healthy and educated migrants and displaced persons can more easily participate in and contribute to society and migrants with regular status have improved access to decent and safe work. Migration is a global phenomenon affecting all countries and its effective governance needs global partnerships.

To create the future we want and need, we must empower migrants to fulfil their development potential, which can, in turn, have positive ripple effects for communities locally, regionally and globally. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent our global effort to progress towards prosperous and healthy societies. Migrants have a critical role to help fulfil the promises of these Goals; indeed, SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) calls for the promotion of safe, orderly and regular migration. The Global Compact for Migration (GCM) sets out a roadmap to help us do exactly this. Read more about M4D and our approach.


Roughly 1 in 70 children worldwide live in a country different than that of their birth, and their access to quality education can be limited. Education is not only essential for all individuals to maximize their capabilities and livelihoods, but it is also important for building peaceful and prosperous societies. Universal access to education constitutes a central pillar of sustainable development, with the linkage between migration and education explicitly recognised in the SDGs (Target 4.B, on promoting student mobility). If intense work is not done to achieve SDG 4, only one in six countries will meet the goal by 2030. 

Achieving SDG 4 can help by addressing different drivers of conflict or displacement in communities of origin, whilst also facilitating social cohesion in communities of destination by facilitating migrants’, displaced persons’ and their families’ socioeconomic inclusion. Moreover, access to education can help to ensure that migrants and displaced persons have the skills needed to be successful in the labour market and can adapt to the changing nature of employment opportunities. Investment in education for children and adults (vocational or skills training) may also enable migration, as educated populations are more able to access better livelihood opportunities that may be scarce in their own communities. Moreover, people may migrate to access education. In addition, when migration is well-managed, migrant workers, such as teachers, can help improve education systems both in communities of origin and destination.

But the linkages between the SDG 4 and migration don’t stop there. They are context-specific but also often cross-cutting with other sector areas such as:

  • Employment: Integrating migrants and their families into education systems can help manage the global demand and supply for labour migration by improving matching of skills, ensuring that migrants have the needed skills and competencies to contribute to their communities of destination and origin. Supporting the employment of migrant workers in education systems - such as through teacher mobility programmes – can strengthen education systems both in communities of origin and destination. (In line with SDGs 5, 8 and 10)
  • Health: Mainstreaming migration into education can positively affect the future health outcomes of migrant students and their families. Through education systems, migrant learners discover how to access and navigate the health services of their host country, which may improve their access to services such as sexual and reproductive health, mental health, and other public health services. That being said, in 2020 a quarter of primary schools worldwide do not have basic services such as drinking water, basic sanitation facilities, or electricity. (In line with SDG 3, 5 and 10)
  • Private sector development and trade: The private sector is the largest employer of migrant workers, determining labour market gaps and demand for specific skills and industries. Strong education systems can ensure migrants are best suited to meet these private sector needs. The private sector can also support technological advances in alternative learning pathways such as distance or home-based learning which can overcome spatial separation in order to minimize disruptions to education (In line with SDGs 8, 9 and 10)
  • Urban development: Migrants often move to urban destinations, so cities and urban authorities must include migrants in their service delivery, including through access to education for migrant learners, regardless of migratory status. (In line with SDG 5, 10 and 11)
  • Environment and Climate Change: Natural disaster, pandemics and other emergencies often place education systems at risk of collapse, severe damage, or major disruptions to learning for students – heightening the need for alternative learning pathways such as distance or home-based learning. Additionally, to support the green transition, current migrant workers will need to be included in green re-/up-skilling programmes, and future migrant workers with the necessary green skills will have to be attracted from abroad.  (In line with SDG 5, 8, 10, 13)
GCM Objectives

SDG 4 and its important role in migration governance are recognized primarily in Objective 15: Provide Access to Basic Services for Migrants, but also has strong relevance in other objectives including notably Objective 18: Invest in Skills Development and Facilitate Mutual Recognition of Skills, Qualifications and Competences. For a full list of Objectives relevant to SDG 4, please see the icons below, and learn more about SDG 4 and the GCM from the UN Network on Migration’s GCM Booklet and Migration Network Hub.

gcm 2

Strong educational systems can enhance opportunities in communities of origin, especially for youth and women, empowering all people and mitigating adverse drivers.

GCM 16

To foster social cohesion, we must promote school environments that are welcoming and safe, support the aspirations of migrant children and promote diversity and inclusivity among parents and the wider school community.

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Robust awareness-raising programmes linked to strong education systems can ensure migrants have access to reliable and accurate information.

GCM 18

Innovative educational programmes for children and adults can develop skills that meet new labour market needs, as long as governments collaborate to mutually recognize credentials.

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Regular student and academic mobility can boost migrant skills and credentials, which in turn contributes to the sustainable development of communities at origin and destination.

GCM 19

Migrants and diaspora keep educational systems running, through remittances funding access to education and as students, teachers and researchers.

GCM 15

Providing inclusive and equitable quality education to migrant children - including early childhood development, formal and non-formal schooling, vocational training and more - ensures access to basic services for all.

GCM 20

Remittances from emigrant family members can fund good quality education of family members back in the country of origin.

Data & Measuring Results

For the latest data on migration and SDG 4, check out:


Developed under the Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development (MMICD) initiative, the Toolkit on Integrating Migration into Education Interventions helps integrate migration into any stage of the Intervention Cycle. The toolkit includes practical tools for practitioners including for measuring results, such as a Theory of Change and Indicator Bank.

What SDG 4 targets are relevant for migration?

  • 4.1 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes 
    • Promoting access to and improving quality of primary and secondary education for all migrant children at all stages of the migration cycle.
    • Strengthening linkages between secondary education and vocational or technical skills and training opportunities with a view to facilitate access to labour markets and decent work.
      • 4.2 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
        • Promoting access to and improving quality of early childhood development, care and pre-primary education for all migrant children at all stages of the migration cycle.
      • 4.3 By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
        • Promoting access to and improving quality of technical, vocational and tertiary education for all migrant groups at all stages of the migration cycle, including for refugees, returnees and IDPs.
        • Strengthening linkages between tertiary education, technical, vocational skills and training opportunities and labour markets.
        • Improving qualification and learning attainment recognition procedures across countries to facilitate migrants’ access to further study and employment. 
      • 4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
        • Improving skills and training for migrants to increase their access to decent work.
        • Improving local and national linkages between education and skills provision and labour markets, to address any discrepancies such as labour shortages for particular skill profiles or large emigration of a certain skill set.
      • 4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
        • Integrating all migrant groups in all local and national education and training policy and programming.
        • Improving qualification and learning attainment recognition procedures across countries to facilitate migrants’ access to further study and employment.
      • 4.A Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all
        • Taking an inclusive approach to integrating migrant children and their needs into local and national education policy and programming.
      • 4.B By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular LDCs, SIDS and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and ICT, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries
        • Increasing scholarships for enrolment in higher education abroad, including exchange programmes and any other forms of student mobility. 
      Case Studies

      How does migration and SDG 4 truly impact people’s lives? Marlene is a high school student growing up in a transit community on the border of Mozambique and South Africa. Marlene has received sexual and reproductive health information, counselling, and support through a school-based programme, which has empowered her to complete her schooling. Now a change agent herself, she is sharing her story and mobilising her peers to stay in school and achieve their educational goals.

      This video is a part of a #MigrationConnection series that have been produced by IOM through the “Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development” (MMICD) initiative funded by the EU. 


      Key resources on migration and SDG 4:

      • Integrating Migration into Education Interventions Toolkit (IOM/UNICEF/UNESCO): This toolkit was developed under the EU-funded Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development (MMICD) Initiative to provide operational and user-friendly tools to help international cooperation and development actors to integrate migration into education interventions.
        • See how this was piloted in Nepal here.
      • Global Education Monitoring Report 2019: Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges Not Walls (UNESCO): This report presents evidence on the implications of different types of migration and displacement for education systems, as well as how reforming curricula and pedagogy can address the challenges and opportunities posed by migration.
      • Education, Migration and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (ODI): This briefing explores the challenges and opportunities related to primary-school education for migrants – especially in host countries – and the implications for the 2030 Agenda. It highlights why education matters for migrants and their host countries, trends in primary education and how migrant education contributes to the achievement of various SDGs, particularly Goal 4.
      • Children on the Move: Why, Where, How? (IOM/UNICEF): This background paper on to linkages between environment and climate change, children on the move and their educational needs highlights the key data trends, protection gaps and gender dimensions, while providing concrete policy recommendations.