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FEATURE STORY July 19, 2021

Managed Labor Migration Can Help Unlock Nigeria’s Unrealized Economic Potential


Provide the growing number of youths in Nigeria with an opportunity for safe, regular, and orderly migration while catering to the needs of Nigeria’s labor market.

Phot: Chuka J Agu, World Bank


  • Two new published reports on migration in Nigeria highlight that the unemployment rate in the country rose five-fold between 2010 and 2020, from 6.4 percent in 2010 to 33.3 percent at the end of 2020, significantly affecting youth in their quest to find gainful employment opportunities
  • As Nigeria’s booming youth continue to seek for gainful employment, the reports assess the managed labor migration systems to support overseas employment of youth and assess the feasibility of establishing new migration partnerships to provide them with opportunities for safe, regular, and orderly migration
  • The reports also underline the importance of international migration to Nigeria’s economy; the challenges posed by irregular migration; and how multilateral organizations such as the World Bank could help reduce the costs and improve the benefits from international migration

ABUJA, July 19, 2021 – As Africa’s most populous and largest economy, Nigeria’s economic prosperity has implications for the continent and the rest of the world. The labor market in Nigeria has not kept pace with the rising working-age population and has significantly worsened following the 2016 recession and COVID-19. Large numbers of educated youths are unable to realize higher economic returns from investing in their human capital.

A combination of rising unemployment, booming demographics, and unfulfilled aspirations is increasing the pressure on young Nigerians to migrate internationally in search for gainful employment. With limited legal migration options, young Nigerians are increasingly choosing irregular alternatives to find better work opportunities overseas.

The Government of Nigeria (GoN) has developed institutional and policy frameworks that recognize international labor mobility as a tool to address unemployment, increase remittances, and facilitate the transfer of knowledge and investments from its diaspora, and has simultaneously worked on initiatives that curtail irregular migration.

At GoN’s request, the World Bank supported through the Employment, Skills Partnership and Labor Migration Advisory Services and Analytics (ASA). The ASA, which commenced in 2019, broadly assessed Nigeria’s policy and institutional framework for international labor mobility and explored the feasibility of expanding new and innovative labor migration partnerships with countries of destination in Europe, culminating in two recently published reports.

The ReportOf Roads Less Travelled: Assessing the Potential of Economic Migration to Provide Overseas Jobs for Nigeria’s Youth finds that while there is an increased recognition within Nigeria of the need to better leverage regular migration for economic development, as documented by the increasing number of initiatives and stakeholders working on this issue, current programs are not geared towards making use of safe, orderly, and regular channels for migration. Other key findings from the report are as follows:

  • The number of first-time asylum seekers from Nigeria to Europe peaked in 2016, with nearly 40,000 Nigerians arriving in Italian shores, before subsiding in late-2017.
  • Less than 1 percent of Nigeria’s population are international migrants, a much lower share than their peer countries.
  • Remittances from abroad are important for Nigeria’s development, and amounted to 5 percent of Nigeria’s GDP in 2019, but the cost of sending remittances to Nigeria has remained stubbornly high.
  • Nigeria has made significant recent improvements to its managed migration framework and continues to draw on the support of stakeholders for policy making and implementation. Despite this, Nigeria does not have a single Bilateral Labor Agreement (BLA) to provide overseas employment opportunities to the growing number of youths in the country. In comparison, Nigeria’s peers such as Philippines, Bangladesh, and Indonesia have benefitted from having structured international labor mobility agreements with destination countries.
  • European donors have shown increased interest in the migration policy-making space in Nigeria. However, most resources and attention have been devoted toward strengthening border controls or creating awareness around irregular migration. While those initiatives are necessary, they are not sufficient to address the challenge of irregular migration, as they overlook the economic and demographic context in which irregular migration occurs.

The ReportExpanding Legal Migration Pathways from Nigeria to Europe: From Brain Drain to Brain Gainjointly produced with the Center for Global Development (CGD), assesses the feasibility of establishing new migration partnerships to provide the growing number of youths in Nigeria with an opportunity for safe, regular, and orderly migration while catering to the needs of Nigeria’s labor market. Based on interviews with more than 100 stakeholders, this report applies CGD’s Global Skill Partnership (GSP) model to the sectors of health care, construction, and ICT, and proposes partnerships between Nigeria and select countries of destination in Europe. Other key findings from the report are as follows:

  • High income countries, such as those in Europe, are seeing rapid decreases in their working-age population. Employers within these countries are facing significant skill shortages, reducing productivity and investment.
  • Through a GSP, countries of destination can provide technology and finance to train potential migrants with targeted skills in countries of origin such as Nigeria, prior to migration, and get migrants with precisely the skills they need to integrate and contribute best upon arrival. The country of origin agrees to provide that training and gets support for the training of non-migrants too – thereby turning “brain drain” into “brain gain”.
  • The report provides a framework for assessing sectors and countries of destination most amenable to this kind of partnership and applies the framework to a: (i) healthcare partnership with the UK; (ii) construction partnership with Germany; and (iii) ICT partnership with select European destination countries.
  • The report also outlines how such partnerships could be designed, what risks could materialize, which mitigation measures need to be put in place, and potential avenues for financing.
  • Multilateral organizations such as the World Bank could support these partnerships by: (i) leveraging the knowledge generation potential and conducting foundational analysis to understand the full range of possibilities; (ii) supporting capacity building activities to improve migration systems in countries of origin such as Nigeria; and (iii) financing and evaluating pilots on migration partnerships to provide “proof of concept”.