In recent years, expectations have grown concerning the potential contributions migrants and diasporas may make to development in their countries of origin. This has led to an increasing number of governments in countries of origin and destination to develop new policies, integrating migrants as actors of development plans. This new focus on migration and the role of migrants in development projects is a reflection of a wider evaluation of the complex relationship between migration and development over the last decade. It has generated a vast array of academic and policy literature, conferences, initiatives and programmes, including the UN High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development and the inter-governmental Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).
Today, there is a consensus among governments, international institutions and diaspora organisations that the involvement of diaspora communities in development projects has positive effects. This perception is reflected in many governments' tendency to 'mobilise' or engage their diasporas. Diaspora engagement generally implies an effort to transcend the initial transfer of resources, mainly through remittances, and move towards development projects in which other actors can participate. Governments, diasporas and various organisations identify needs and generate programmes with concrete goals and instruments to measure their progress.
The many ways in which diasporas relate to their governments and to international institutions result in a variety of schemes through which diasporas contribute to development. Certain common patterns and models can be identified when looking at examples of how diasporas participate in development projects.
Much of the current research on the relationship between diasporas and development seeks to determine more precisely the contributions that diasporas actually make to their countries of origin, taking into account not only the direct transfer of financial resources (mainly remittances) but also other resources that may be more difficult to measure, such as knowledge, skills and cultural influence (i.e. social remittances). These studies also seek to assess the long-term sustainability of diasporas' contribution to development, as well as its effect in terms of exacerbating or mitigating the negative impacts of emigration, such as brain drain, the distortion of age pyramids and the loss of capacities for local production.
In the light of the general debates about the effectiveness of traditional forms of development cooperation, migrants are increasingly seen as a new 'bottom-up' development 'resource'. It is anticipated that they could introduce new approaches to development practices and potentially lead to partnerships between states, development agencies and migrants. It is now widely believed that migrants possess knowledge and transnational experience that can contribute to the formulation of more effective development policies.