Originally posted May 2010

A Moroccan friend of mine recently commented that she hoped that migrants returning from work abroad - men and women who had developed expectations concerning quality of life and political freedom - would in turn push Morocco to change. The problem, she admitted, was that highly skilled Moroccans often did not want to return or sought to leave at the earliest opportunity because of a lack of job prospects. “Unfortunately,” she lamented, “The Moroccans who leave become too separated from Morocco, in terms of work, language, society, or just how they see themselves.”

Her comments sum up the conflicting trends that characterize the relationship between migration and social development in Morocco. Migrants are valued because of the education, skills, and experience they have gained in foreign universities and workplaces and what these assets could do for the country. Yet, the lack of a supportive infrastructure for the work that particularly high-skilled migrants may want to do - such as launch a business based on technological innovation, conduct scientific research, start social projects, practice law, or teach - can deter migrants from returning or making any commitment to the development of the country, even from afar. At the same time, the inadequacy of public services and limited job opportunities continue to push unskilled or semi-skilled men and women to consider migration as the only hope for a better quality of life, for both themselves and their children.

The continued lure of migration arguably reflects a failure of public policy and public sector institutions in Morocco and of the strategies European aid agencies have pursued to deter men and women from pursuing illegal immigration. In brief, by failing to arrest the deterioration of public education and the health sector, policymakers have also substantially limited the economic and social value of knowledge. They have simultaneously stymied innovation through a lack of public sector support, and constrained prospects for social mobility among low-income families eying migration as their only chance at a better life. The opportunity to alter these trends - through party participation, unions, associations, and the media - is arguably shrinking, leaving little hope for a different direction in the future.

Today, over 3.3 million Moroccan citizens, or approximately 10% of the country’s population, live outside of Morocco. Moroccans have emigrated all over the world, but the primary destination remains Europe, particularly France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and The Netherlands. The number of people of Moroccan origin living in France rose from 1.1% of the total immigrant population in 1962 to 12.1% of the total immigrant population in 1999, the year of the last French census.[1] The most recent data (2007) account for 1,131,000 Moroccans in France and 547,000 in Spain as compared to 100,000 non-resident Moroccans in the United States and 60,000 in Canada.[2]

Pursuing the opportunities presented by the large emigrant population, over the past two decades, the Moroccan government has established institutions and organizations to address the specific needs and/or demands of non-residents and facilitated financial transactions and savings. The institutions include the Hassan II Foundation for Non-Resident Moroccans (established in 1990 under King Hassan II), which provides support for non-residents while in Morocco and promotes cooperation on economic, social, and cultural affairs. The Ministry for Non-Resident Moroccans - an office created in 1990 - offers advice on investment, manages cultural and educational events, and encourages social action among non-residents. Like the Hassan II Foundation, the Ministry offers grants to projects involving non-resident Moroccans. In 2007, King Muhammad VI created a new agency, Conseil de la Communauté Marocaine à l’Etranger, as a four-year experiment to encourage greater interest among non-residents in their country of origin. Finally, the Moroccan government has implemented specific supportive measures for non-resident investment, such as the MDM Invest (Marocains du Monde) fund, which provides 10% of the capital needed for business projects costing between one and five million Moroccan dirhams (MAD).

While the Moroccan government has worked hard to cultivate an attachment among non-residents for their country of origin, European aid agencies have concentrated their efforts on convincing Moroccans not to consider illegal immigration to Europe. They have supported Moroccan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in offering microcredit, information technology (IT) training, and other vocational programs intended to raise incomes and increase job opportunities in Morocco.

There are two problems with the efforts made to attract emigrant investment and deter illegal migration. First, the impact of all of the programs remains virtually unknown. In the spring of 2006, the Ministry of the Interior claimed that illegal migration had dropped 65% from the previous year. This decline, however, was due to stricter border controls. With evaluation of social projects in general in Morocco still underdeveloped, most reporting is based on project attendance rather than changes in individual behavior.

Perhaps the far more difficult issue is that the policies and projects concerning migration, while typically connected to a speech of the King, have not been situated within a coherent strategy of social cohesion that relates all Moroccans, resident and non-resident, to the development of the country. The approach of the Moroccan government has been to create a combination of possible avenues for increasing contact between non-residents and Morocco. The various agencies propose activities, whether cultural events or summer education programs for children of non-residents, while the government creates financial incentives to promote business.

However, my own research and a study conducted by the World Bank on mobility out of poverty in Morocco (2007), indicate that ultimately it is the improvement of public institutions and the creation of a larger role for the state in supporting research and development that will make the difference in connecting migration to social development. By using the public sector to confront migration, the government would necessarily also be linking the different groups to collective welfare. The World Bank study reported that young people expressed ambivalence about migration as a means to confront poverty. The study states: “While most interviewed youth acknowledged that migration offers the most realistic opportunity for upward mobility, many resented parental pressure to migrate and feared the costs, hardships and dangers, especially of illegal migration. They were concerned about the brain drain from their communities, and complained about the absence of opportunities to remain at home and contribute to the economic improvement of their own communities.”[3]

This author’s interviews with high-skilled migrants living in Europe reveal the same basic complaint - that the state has neglected endogenous development. A PhD in engineering remarked that “I can’t go back there. There isn’t the technology or the facilities to work with, and I don’t want to teach in a public university. I know if I go back, I will have to change careers completely.” The problem and its solution for both ends of migration seem to be making participation in social development easier and more rewarding. In political terms, it means relating the material possibility of enacting change to the experience of “being” Moroccan and furthering the progress of the country as a whole.



[2]2. Marocains de l’Extérieur, Observatoire CMRE, Fondation Hassan II, 2007, cited in Étude sur la contribution des Marocains Résidant à l’Étranger au développement économique et social du Maroc, Organisation pour les Migrations Internationales et Ministère Chargé de la Communauté Organisation Internationale pour Marocaine Résidant à l’Étranger, June 2009, p. 11.


[3]3. Marocains de l’Extérieur, Observatoire CMRE, Fondation Hassan II, 2007.