Regional seminar
on migration statistics
The topic of migration is paramount on the political and economic agendas of all states. Insufficient or low quality data not only complicates the assessment of migration itself, but also inhibits the study of its various consequences. Today, leading experts from major international organizations and national statistical agencies will speak on topics that reflect a number of key issues in migration statistics.
Ms. Olga Chudinovskikh
PhD in Economics, Head of the Laboratory of Population Economics and Demography, Faculty of Economics,
Moscow State University

Report on the Regional seminar on Migration Statistics

Moscow, June 22, 2021


On June 22, 2021, a regional seminar on migration statistics for the CIS countries was held in a distance format. It was organized as part of the CISPop regional program "High-Quality Data - Effective Policy". The event was organized by the Federal State Statistics Service of Russia, the United Nations Population Fund and the International Center for Statistical Expertise (Centrostat) with financial support from the Russian Federation[1].

At the opening of the seminar, it was noted that its goal was to discuss the key issues in the field of migration statistics in the context of international experience and recommendations of international organizations, to update information on the main approaches to the measurement of various types of migration, attract attention to the best practices or problems faced by countries (including those in the CIS region) while producing and disseminating migration statistics.

[1] http://workshop.center-stat.ru/
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The workshop was organized, inter alia, because the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Compact for Safe, Managed and Regular Migration emphasize the need to have reliable migration statistics and identify migration-related indicators that directly or indirectly characterize the success of countries in achieving SDGs and Global Compact goals[1].

Leading experts of the major international organizations involved in issues of the methodology of migration statistics, harmonization and integration of national statistics on migration into international databases, were invited as speakers. They represented the UN Population Division, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the International Organization for Migration ( IOM), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Interstate Statistical Committee of the CIS countries. The high status of the seminar and the relevance of the topics stated in the program attracted great attention to it: over a hundred people took part in the seminar, including specialists from the national statistical services of the CIS countries, representatives of leading international organizations, and the academic community.
The CIS countries belong to one of the world's largest migration systems: before the pandemic, millions of labor migrants annually participated in migration flows, and hundreds of thousands of people changed their country of permanent residence. Even in the times of the pandemic, millions of labor migrants remain outside the states of their citizenship, and many thousands of residents of the CIS countries are planning move and moving to another country for permanent residence. The CIS region is represented by both migrants-receiving and migrant-sending countries, and the main part of movements occur within the region. Migration issues are among the most important on the political and economic agenda of our states. The lack or low quality of data not only complicates the assessment of migration itself, but also hinders the study of its causes and diverse consequences, including economic, political and social ones. Despite the efforts made, the situation in the field of migration statistics in the CIS countries is very different and, in general, it can hardly be called satisfactory[2].

While preparing the seminar, it became obvious that it was necessary to take into account the experience of similar events that have been carried out over the years by other UN agencies, such as the UN Economic Commission for Europe, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the International Labor Organization, IOM, the UN Statistics Division etc.

In this regard, it was decided to draw up the seminar program in such a way as to outline the key directions in migration statistics and the main methodological approaches that are recommended for countries (including the CIS region). Among other things, such topics were presented as measuring migration in the course of population censuses, measuring migration and remittances within the framework of sample household surveys, dissemination of data and their synthesis on the platform of leading international organizations, as well as the possibility of measuring some of the economic consequences of migration. Leading experts from the major international organizations and national statistical agencies were invited as key speakers. The participation of these specialists gave the seminar a high status and attracted great interest in it.

During the seminar, the reports of the speakers were heard, in the discussions with additional information on national practices, the leading specialists of the statistical agencies of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation and Armenia took the floor.
Opening remarks at the opening of the seminar were made by: Svetlana Nikitina, (Head of the Department of Population and Health Statistics of Rosstat), Alanna Armitage (Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)), Konstantin Kulikov (Adviser of the Department international organizations, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Dmitry Politov (Executive Director of Centrostat). The workshop was moderated by Olga Chudinovskikh, Head of the Laboratory of Population Economics and Demography, Faculty of Economics, Lomonosov Moscow State University.

The first session of the seminar was devoted to the most relevant topic - measuring migration in censuses of the 2020 round. In her report, Fiona Willis-Nuñez, a specialist at the Economic Commission for Europe, recalled the main methodological publications containing recommendations for the collection of migration statistics - the UN Recommendations 1998 and the Recommendations of the Conference of European Statisticians Recommendations for the 2020 Censuses of Population and Housing (2015). The UNECE, based on the synthesis of the materials of the national statistical services after the 2010 census round, concluded that key questions on migration, such as country of birth and citizenship, do not usually cause any difficulties and are included in the census programs, while the question on the experience of long-term international migration (residence abroad) is much less common.

Assessing the prospects for the 2020 round of censuses, F. Willis-Nuñez noted that in the future, we can expect an increase in the practice of using several data sources in the census, implement different methods of calculation (including self counting, collection of personal data via the Internet, etc.). It was noted that many countries have postponed their censuses due to the coronavirus pandemic, which also led to a decrease in migration flows. F. Willis-Nuñez reminded that the work is currently underway to revise the UN recommendations on statistics of international migration and the first results were presented at a meeting of the UN Statistical Commission in March 2021. Under the auspices of the UNECE, an expert group is working on the use of new sources for measuring international migration and cross-border movements, including big data, information from social networks and other innovative sources. The final results of the work of the expert group are expected in 2022. UNECE has already begun work on the preparation of recommendations for the 2030 round of population censuses.

Ruslan Gilmanov, the chief specialist-expert of Rosstat, in his speech dwelled on the changes in the block of questions on migration in the programs of the All-Russian population censuses of 2002, 2010 and 2021. Over the past three censuses, Rosstat has followed international recommendations and includes core and non-core topics in the program, which provide information on both international and internal migrants. The retention of traditional questions and the inclusion of new ones ensures the continuity and development of the census program. Censuses are the main source of data on the number of international and internal migrants in Russia, and until the creation of a population register, their importance will remain high. The inclusion of traditional questions ensures almost complete comparability of data from all censuses, new questions are expected to enhance the analytical capacity of the information collected, and new data will shed light on little-studied aspects of migration in Russia.

Head of the Population Census Department of the Statistical Bureau of Moldova, Valentina Istrati, said that census data is the basis for current estimates of the country's population. She dwelled not only on migration issues in national censuses (past - 2013 and future - 2023), but also talked about the original approach that Moldovan statisticians use to estimate the flows of international migration in the intercensal period. It is based on the use of personalized data of the Moldovan border service, about persons who are absent from or stay in the country for more than a year.

Irina Zbarskaya, Head of the Department of Socio-Demographic Statistics of the Interstate Statistical Committee of the CIS countries, noted that following the previously adopted decisions of the Council of CIS Heads of States, the timing of censuses in the Commonwealth countries is as close as possible to 2020, and the main issues, including migration issues, should be harmonized. All countries during the last censuses include the question of country of birth, citizenship, continuity of residence. It is assumed that the agreed timing of the censuses and similar wording of the questions will make it possible to obtain agreed indicators and the methodology for obtaining them, ensure the international comparability of data, and contribute to the strengthening of information interactions between the CIS countries. Irina Zbarskaya also spoke about the recommendations of the CIS Statistical Committee on tabulating census materials regarding migration.

Specialists of the national statistical services of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Belarus took part in the discussion on the topic of the session. In particular, representatives of the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus told about the technology of taking the census of 2019, major difficulties faced, as well as the continuity in the issues of migration module questions 2019 almost copies the census of 2009, which provides full comparability of the two censuses. Specialists of the Agency for Statistics under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan and the National Statistical Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic noted the place of population censuses in the system of migration data sources and focused on migration issues in the census program of the 2020 round.

The second session of the workshop focused on UNECE initiatives to measure migration and remittances in households sample surveys with a harmonized module of questions and to assess the impact of the pandemic on data collection on migration in a changed environment. UNECE consultant Anna Prokhorova said that when working on the harmonized module of questions in household surveys, it was decided to whitewash questions on migration and remittances into separate blocks, to study households with and without migrants, to include an additional module of questions concerning members of households who are already long-term (permanent) emigrants; compare two types of households - with temporary and permanent emigrants. The second part of the work related to assessing the impact of the pandemic on the collection of migration statistics was carried out through online interviews with experts from 25 countries. The results of the survey showed that data collection was carried out mainly without significant delays, but the quality of the data itself is a concern. In 2020, 17 sample household surveys were conducted in 25 surveyed countries, incl. - 5 surveys in EECCA countries; suspended were the surveys of tourists and surveys at border crossing points; the population census in many countries has been postponed to 2021, including Russia, Kazakhstan and Armenia.

Assessing the results of such surveys in a pandemic, A. Prokhorova concluded that it was necessary to improve the tools and techniques of the surveys, develop guidelines for participating in telephone surveys, extend the sample, use alternative data sources, etc. digitalization of remittances and their dynamics in the context of a pandemic. A special module of questions about remittances was presented, allowing to collect structured information that gives a versatile characterization of the process and scope of remittances. In conclusion, the speaker outlined some priorities for data collection, including a proposal to harmonize the approach to conducting household surveys, taking into account potential repeated lockdowns and with a focus on digital remittances. This will allow solving development problems, primarily in terms of financial integration, for the sake of increasing prosperity for the long term.

This goal can be achieved by expanding the harmonized module and inclusion of questions about the method of sending and receiving remittances, and linking this information with geographical location and type of employment of recipients and senders. In general, it is recommended to shift the concentration of statisticians' efforts from data “accuracy” to obtaining a comprehensive assessment of well-being, i.e. the impact of migration and remittances on its participants - migrants and members of their families, as well as countries of destination and origin of migrants, and consider migration as a tool of “support” in a critical situation.

In the additional information prepared by Natalia Kiseleva, an expert of the CIS Statistical Committee, the statistics of the national banks of Russia and a number of CIS countries on the dynamics of remittances in the years preceding the pandemic and in the years of the pandemic were summarized. Comparison of quarterly and monthly data convincingly showed how painful months of lockdowns were for labour migrants-sending countries in the CIS region.

The leading experts of the national statistical offices of Tajikistan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan took part in the discussion of the report, they spoke about household sample surveys used to collect data on external labor migration and its economic aspects. Specialists from Kyrgyzstan noted that the overall situation with migration statistics remains unsatisfactory.

The third session was devoted to global statistical and information resources on migration, which are created and supported by such international organizations as OECD, UN Population Division, UNHCR and IOM.

Jean-Christophe Dumont, Head of International Migration, International Migration, Office of Employment, Labor and Social Affairs of the OECD and Philippe Herve, Statistician of the same department, provided information on the activities of the OECD in the field of migration statistics. It is not limited to collecting national data on flows and stocks of international migrants and their characteristics, but reflects the diversity of the OECD's work in this area. Data are needed to monitor the volume of flows and the number of migrants in individual countries and the OECD as a whole, to assess the positive and negative economic consequences of migration, integration of migrants and their children, to assess the scale of emigration, and to study the situation about refugees. Migration statistics issues are part of the broader context of OECD activities and priorities. The speakers talked about what variables are required while statistics on flows of long-term and temporary migrants are collected, how the impact of temporary labor migrants to national labor markets is estimated, how data on international students and refugees is taken into account to assess migration flows.

The issues of forming a database of internationally comparable data on foreign-born migrants, the main variable for which information is available, and the cooperation of the OECD with the World Bank and Oxford University in this work were highlighted. Of particular interest were the examples of the use of data on migrants from Russia in the OECD countries; the mirror statistics method showed that in many OECD countries Russia is one of the main countries of origin of long-term migrants, and their total stock exceeds 2.5 million. The availability of information about the level of education and the place of training made it possible to assess the contribution of migrants from Russia to the skilled labor force of the OECD countries. Separately, the speakers dwelled on indicators of the integration of migrants and their children; developments of this kind have long been underway in the OECD. In conclusion, the speakers spoke about the international forum on migration statistics, which has already been held twice with the support of the OECD, IOM and other UN agencies. The speakers also dwelled on indicators of the integration of migrants and their children; developments of this kind have long been carried out in the OECD. In conclusion, the speakers spoke about the international forum on migration statistics, which has already been held twice with the support of the OECD, IOM and other UN agencies.

The presentation by Carla Rojas-Paz, a specialist of the International Organization for Migration, was dedicated to one of the most interesting global projects initiated and supported by the IOM - the Migration data portal (https://migrationdataportal.org/). This is a relatively new Internet resource, which not only contains the data itself, but also provides the most common definitions of certain types of migration, lists the main data sources, provides links to other sites with useful information and publications of various international organizations on migration statistics.

In her speech, K. Rojas-Paz demonstrated the possibilities of forming online queries and downloading data for individual countries, as well as presented the concept of “data value chain”, clearly illustrating the relationship between data and users. The author emphasized that the availability and dissemination of data is not a guarantee of its use. This observation is relevant for the CIS region and should be taken into account in the formation of national systems of statistical data on migration and their possible unification at the regional level. The report noted that when deciding on the placement of data in the public domain, one should keep in mind the range of users for whom they are intended, their needs, and take into account the language of publication, format and distribution channels. The presentation was illustrated with screenshots from individual pages of the site; the capabilities of the portal are demonstrated: using the data posted there, you can create an overall picture of migration in individual countries or regions of the world, at least in terms of the stock of international migrants, remittances, etc.

Kirill Andreev, the specialist of the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, spoke about the estimates of the stock of international migrants and the Global Database on Migration. For almost three decades, the Population Division has been carrying out extensive methodological and technical work to collect, compile, harmonize and publish data on international migration. National statistics on flows and stocks of international migrants, based on the criteria of country of birth or citizenship, are collected using questionnaires which are sent to the national statistical offices annually. At the national level, the sources of information are censuses, official estimates of foreign-born population in the intercensal period, sample surveys, administrative sources and UNHCR data, etc.

In the report of K. Andreev, the process of data collection was considered in detail and explanations were given of the algorithm through which the collected national information is generalized and harmonized and the missing data is compensated. Correction and modeling procedures are described. The results of the Population Division's work are disseminated through a variety of channels, published online as files, used in regular UN reports on international migration, fact sheets and briefs, and posted on partner websites. In the future, the Population Division plans to continue work on the creation of an empirical database and an archive of publications, an archive of census microdata, systematization of accompanying documentation (with links to the main publications for each country with an emphasis on migration flows and stocks). It is planned to improve the existing methodology for assessing the number of migrants and create a software library for the implementation of the methodology.

In her report, Aina Helen Saetre, a specialist at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, presented the main indicators of the scale of forced migration in the world and spoke about the UNHCR's approaches to measuring this phenomenon. The report shows that the features of collection and presentation of statistics on forced migration are also related to its diversity. This type of migration can have a pronounced impact on the dynamics of the population of receiving (and sending) countries. Official population statistics (database) maintained by UNHCR reflect the complex work of collecting, integrating and harmonizing primary information and includes not only the creation of the database itself, but also their quality control and dissemination. A.H.Saetre spoke about little-known facts about the UNHCR population data platform, in particular, about the three components of its formation - the Annual Statistical Report (ASR); Mid-year Statistical Report (MYSR) and Planning figures (PF). UNHCR began collecting demographic data using the Population Statistical Reference (PSR) online platform in February 2015. The main problems related to the formation of UNHCR statistical resources were also highlighted. For a significant part of refugees, asylum seekers and, especially, internally displaced persons, information on age and sex is not available, national data on some indicators are not provided by almost half of the countries participating in filling out reports for UNHCR, there are problems with vital statistics and data about stateless persons. As a partial solution to the problems, it is proposed to use modeling methods, and indirect estimates of the number and age and sex composition of stateless people at the level of individual countries A.H.Saetre also spoke about the work of the Expert Group on Statistics of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons and publications - guidelines and technical reports on the collection of these statistics[3].

The recommendations, not very well known in the CIS region, provide an ordered terminology, a list of tabulations of data and indicators, an assessment of the main data sources and justification of ways to improve them, in addition, socio-economic indicators of the integration and well-being of forced migrants are identified. The indicators of forced migration related to the SDGs are considered separately, and steps are identified to improve coordination in the field of statistics at the national, regional and international levels. The main recommendations for individual countries are related to the use of a single terminological apparatus and definitions of a migrant, the creation of a network of producers of forced migration statistics at the national level, the use of censuses and surveys to collect data on forced migrants, data integration and coordination between individual sources and producers of forced migration statistics.

In the presentation of the CIS Statistical Committee on the dissemination of data on migration, the expert of the Statistical Committee Natalya Kiseleva said that the main source for the preparation of publications and analytical materials on the socio-economic development of the CIS countries is the data provided by the national statistical services of the participating countries. With the help of an annually sent questionnaire, the CIS Statistical Committee receives statistical information on migration with a change of place of permanent residence and temporary labor migration. The report presented the main variables for which statistics are requested. N. Kiseleva noted that the main problem remains the completeness of the information provided, which is associated with differences in methodology and capabilities for collecting the necessary data. Not all countries manage to fill out questionnaires for the entire requested list of indicators and meet the established deadlines for submitting information.

In the presentation, attention was paid to the publication of generalized statistics for the CIS countries - in the statistical bulletin "Statistics of the CIS", in the annual report of the Interstate Statistical Committee, in the Statistical Yearbook. In the future, a database with migration indicators accumulated over several years will be available. N. Kiseleva spoke about new technological solutions that are designed to simplify and make more convenient data processing and publication. In particular, the CIS Statistical Committee is currently commissioning the Information and Analytical Web Portal of the CIS Statistical Committee (PAC IAP), which will automate the work of specialists from the national statistical services of the CIS countries, including using personal accounts; improve the management of the information content of the web portal and the bank of educational statistical materials and the management of the Unified database for storing and processing statistical data, creating mechanisms for the exchange of statistical data, including in the SDMX format.

Within the framework of the fourth session (due to technical problems with the connection on the part of the speaker and the lack of time, there was no time for discussion), a presentation was made by IOM specialist Roberto Canсel, who presented the new IOM guidelines on measuring the economic contribution of the diaspora[4]. The main idea of the guide is to emphasize that the variety of economic benefits of emigration are not limited to remittances, which are traditionally the main focus of the analysis. R. Сanсel's speech can be considered as the beginning of a deeper discussion at the seminars of the Federal State Statistics Service and the Centrostat of measuring the various consequences of migration - economic, social, and the use of these measurements for making managerial decisions.

In the closing remarks, the moderator of the seminar Olga Chudinovskikh and the Head of the Department of International Statistical Projects of Rosstat Ekaterina Aksenova thanked the speakers and representatives of national statistical agencies for meaningful presentations and speeches giving food for thought, participants (including from the academic community and even from countries outside the CIS) for the interest shown, and the organizers, without whose goodwill and support - organizational, financial and methodological - this seminar would not have taken place. It was noted that among the participants and listeners of the seminar there was a not so frequent combination of professionals from different circles - employees of national statistical agencies and other executive authorities of the CIS countries, methodologists, analysts and "integrators" of migration statistics at the global and regional levels, as well as scientists who are one of the most interested parties in the availability and good quality of migration statistics.

The following conclusions and recommendations were made as a result of the seminar:
In order to broaden the audience of similar seminars in the future it makes sense to invite also migration policy makers and producers of administrative data from different national agencies to participate in the events. Only with the expansion of the circle of participants, inclusion of the producers and users of statistics, with personal communication of all parties of the process and with the feedback, the development of this most important segment of information is possible.

In perspective it is advisable to focus such seminars on the discussion of special issues related to migration statistics: including issues of harmonization of statistics in the countries of the region, possibilities of creating integrated databases of sample surveys on migration, measuring the impact of migration on demographic processes - fertility, mortality and natality, measuring health indicators of migrants, offenses by migrants, migrants’ integration, economic and social effects of migration.

A separate topic could be the discussion of new recommendations on migration statistics, which are not yet well known and applied in the countries of the region. In addition to the previously mentioned recommendations on migration statistics for refugees and internally displaced persons, in recent years recommendations have been published and discussed: ILO Draft Guidelines on Labour Migration Statistics (2018)[5], the WHO Technical Guidelines on Collecting and Integrating Refugee and Migrant Health Data in the European Region (2020)[6], the activities and documents of the United Nations Expert group on migration statistics[7], including its work on the revision of the 1998 UN Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration. Familiarization with these documents and materials will contribute to faster adaptation of national statistical systems to international recommendations. Strengthening the competence of national producers and users of migration statistics in the future will gradually improve the situation of availability and comparability of such data in the CIS region.


[1] Despite the fact that the Russian Federation expressed a special position when signing the Global Compact, in this document a reference was made to the new Concept of Migration Policy, in which, in turn, the issues of informational and statistical support were highlighted in a separate section. See Statement of the Russian Federation to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, Marrakesh, 11 December 2018 https://www.mid.ru/iniciativy-rossii-v-oon/-/asset_publisher/lt9FJKw0JOXM/content/id/3440694

[2] Back in 2014, the "Action Plan for Improving Migration Statistics in the CIS Member States for 2014-2016" was adopted, http://www.cisstat.com/migration/plan_migration.pdf, however, not all of the tasks were achieved, and in recent years new problems have been added to them.

[3] International Recommendations on Refugee Statistics. European Union and the United Nations, 2018 https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic-social/Standards-and-Methods/files/Principles_and_Recommendations/International-Migration/2018_1746_EN_08-E.pdf ;
Technical Report on Statistics of IDPs. European Union and the United Nations, 2018. https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic-social/Standards-and-Methods/files/Technical-Report/national-reporting/Technical-report-on-statistics-of-IDPs-E.pdf;

International Recommendations on IDP Statistics. European Union and the United Nations, 2020 https://www.jips.org/uploads/2021/01/EGRIS-IRIS-IntRecommendationsIDPstatistics-EN.pdf ;
Compilers’ Manual on Displacement Statistics. Statistical Commission Background document. Fifty-first session. 3 –6 March 2020 https://unstats.un.org/unsd/statcom/51st-session/documents/BG-item-3n-compilers-manual-E.pdf

[4]Contributions and Counting: Guidance on Measuring the Economic Impact of your Diaspora beyond Remittances. IOM, 2020. https://publications.iom.int/books/contributions-and-counting-guidance-measuring-economic-impact-your-diaspora-beyond-remittanceshttps://publications.iom.int/books/contributions-and-counting-guidance-measuring-economic-impact-your-diaspora-beyond-remittances

[5]ILO (2018) Guidelines concerning statistics of international labour migration. ILO 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians. Geneva, 10-19 October 2018 https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---stat/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_648922.pdf

[6] WHO (2020). Collection and integration of data on refugee and migrant health in the WHO European Region. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2020. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-determinants/migration-and-health/publications/2020/collection-and-integration-of-data-on-refugee-and-migrant-health-in-the-who-european-region-2020

[7] https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic-social/migration-expert-group/
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