Leave no one behind

A pilot study on disaggregating SDG indicators by migratory status

On 25 September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, along with a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets.

The commitment to “leave no one behind” has been a key feature of all the discussions on the post-2015 agenda and the SDGs. As clearly stipulated in the UN Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report, The Road to Dignity by 2030, progress means that targets can only be considered achieved if they have been met for all relevant income and social groups.

This includes migrants as one population group with growing global relevance and particular vulnerabilities. Target 17 and 18 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development enshrines the “leaving no one behind”.

International Organization on Migration (IOM) conducted a study, called A pilot study on disaggregating SDG indicators by migratory status, to provide the technical elements necessary for this process not to remain just a wish list.

In this report, migrants are identified using the IPUMS-International variable NATIVITY, which indicates whether an individual is native- or foreign-born. This approach is consistent with that taken by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) to estimate the international migrant stock; that is, both IPUMS and UN DESA define “migrant” as an individual who is foreign-born. In most countries and territories, information on place of birth is collected for all individuals included in the census.

Reliable, internationally comparable data on migration and migrant well-being are limited.
Data on migrants residing outside the traditional migrant-receiving countries of the developed world is particularly inaccessible. For countries that lack comprehensive population registers and/or have limited statistical and administrative resources to devote to targeted migration monitoring, census data is an important source of reliable information on migrant stocks, flows and well-being.

However, it must be stated that even when data is available in low-income countries, it is often not utilized to its full potential. To fullfil the disaggregation mandate associated with the SDGs, which requires that all relevant indicators be disaggregated by migratory status (among other demographic characteristics), national governments and UN custodian agencies must rely on census data, the only statistically robust source of information on the entire population of a country or territory. The IPUMS-International is currently the best source of such information for this exercise.

This report provides a first template and graphical method for reporting on SDG Target 17 and 18 – specifically regarding disaggregation by migratory status. The results highlight the potential use of harmonized census data, as provided by IPUMS-International, in comparing the outcomes for migrants and natives in 62 countries and territories.

Reporting progress towards the SDG migration disaggregation goal is a complex endeavour, given the multidimensional nature of the analysis:

  1. To monitor progress towards the overall SDG goal, the graph must display changes over time, that is, between two census rounds in the same country/territory.
  2. To examine whether and to what extent migrants are left behind, the graph must also display disparities in outcomes for native- and foreign-born (i.e. migrant) populations in the same year and in the same country/territory.
  3. To monitor progress towards reducing disparities between native and migrant populations, the graph must enable a comparison of gaps observed in the two census rounds in the same country/territory.
  4. Lastly, to compare regional and global trends, multiple countries and/or territories must be included in the graph.

The report also illustrates how to analyse trends over time by comparing two census rounds for the same country/territory. The analysis allows UN Member States to track progress towards the SDG targets in this area. For further development of and discussion about migration-relevant SDG monitoring based on census data, the report gives five concrete recommendations:

  1. Disaggregating SDG indicators by migratory status and comparing results over time is most useful at the national level.
  2. Census data has to be made available in a timelier manner. The earlier the data is available after collection, the sooner results can inform policy in various areas.
  3. More countries and territories should share high-precision census microdata samples to enable data harmonization and facilitate more comprehensive SDG monitoring.
  4. The report illustrates the magnitude of the analysis involved in monitoring just one SDG indicator. Given that the potential for disaggregation of SDG targets by migratory status is enormous, and that data is limited, countries need to prioritize which targets should be disaggregated by migratory status consistent with their policy agenda in certain areas.
  5. Censuses are a key source of data on international migration, but given the fact that they are not conducted very frequently and may not fully capture data about hidden populations such as migrants, countries will also need to consider using other sources of data to assess how far migrants are being left behind.

2030 is less distant than it seems and, in order not to repeat past mistakes that have only led to moving deadlines further ahead, it is also necessary to invest in tools, funds and practical policies to achieve them.


by Christian Elia