By Emma Batha
LONDON, Jan 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Contrary to fears that immigrants steal jobs and threaten security, a report released on Wednesday said newcomers boost developing economies and could be far more of an asset than a drain.
"Most developing countries can benefit from immigrants," said the joint report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Labour Organization.
Developing countries, which host more than a third of the world's international migrants, are missing a trick by excluding immigration from their development plans, the report said.
The four-year study focused on immigrants' contributions to the labour market, economic growth and public finance in 10 developing and middle-income countries.
Immigrants' estimated contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) averaged out at 7 percent - ranging from about 1 percent in Ghana to 19 percent in Ivory Coast.
"Local populations often believe that immigrants take the jobs of native-born workers, contribute to lowering wages, take advantage of public services, do not pay enough taxes, and threaten social cohesion and security," the study said.
"(However) the perception that immigrants cost more than they yield ... rarely relies on empirical evidence."
The countries studied were Argentina, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa and Thailand.
Immigrants not only contribute as workers but as consumers and tax payers, the report said. Even those saving their earnings to send home contribute indirectly, via the bank system, to investment in their host countries.
As entrepreneurs and investors, immigrants also create jobs and promote innovation and technological change.
"Through these different roles, immigrants can help stimulate economic growth ... and thus promote development," the report said.
It recommended developing countries foster policies and legal routes aimed at "making the most of immigration".
Immigrants in formal employment pay tax, it noted, also urging an end to any barriers that stop migrants creating businesses or investing.
The authors cited Rwanda as an example of a country that has made immigration part of its economic development strategy.
Those countries that lack integration policies run risks.
"(This) can generate serious problems of social cohesion which in some cases even translates into riots and turmoil," the analysts said, citing a 2010-2011 conflict in Ivory Coast.
Positive initiatives highlighted included a Thai health insurance scheme, language classes in Argentina and one-stop shops in Ghana aimed at helping immigrants set up businesses.
(Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.