Report on the Evaluation of Canada’s Membership in the International Organization for Migration

4. Evaluation Findings

4.1 Governance/Accountability
4.2 Benefits and Alternatives
4.3 Relevance

This chapter contains our findings with respect to the evaluation of Canada’s membership in the IOM. The findings are organized according to the three evaluation issues. In most cases, the findings relate to specific evaluation questions. However, in some cases, the findings relating to several questions were very closely linked and, in these cases, we have integrated the discussion of findings.

4.1 Governance/Accountability

The IOM was established by and for its member states. Initially, the founding membership was quite small and quite homogeneous. They had set of common concerns with respect to the serious resettlement problems that arose after World War II. The IOM at that time was a relatively small organization, compared to today, and had a relatively narrow focus — assisting in resettling refugees and other displaced persons, mostly from Europe, to North and South America.

Over the last half century, much has changed both within the IOM and in the environment within which the IOM operates. Some of these changes would have, by their very nature, created challenges for the IOM and for its member states, in terms of the mandate of the organization, membership and governance and accountability. In this section, the focus is on the challenges with regard to governance; but, because issues around mandate, membership and directions are closely entwined with governance, we will be discussing these issues as well.

Consequently, we have organized the discussion as follows:

  1. Roles of governance structures;
  2. Effectiveness of member states in overseeing the P&B; strategic directions; and membership; and
  3. Factors affecting the governance of IOM

Following these discussions we will provide conclusions and recommendations to improve governance and accountability.

4.1.1 Effectiveness of Governance Structures

There are four means by which member states exercise their governance role with respect to the IOM. Three of these are formal structures: the Council, the SCBF and the Executive Committee. The fourth means is through informal consultations. The role and functioning of these structures and processes is discussed in the program profile in Chapter Two of this report. In this section we discuss our findings regarding the effectiveness of these individual structures and processes.

Sub-Committee of Budget and Finance (SCBF)

Although there is no mention of the SCBF in the Constitution of the IOM, both the Mission officials we interviewed (Canada and other countries) and senior officials of the IOM have a clear understanding of its primary role, in general terms. That role is primarily to review the annual Programme and Budget (P&B) of the IOM and to make recommendations to Council regarding approval of the P&B or with respect to specific items in the P&B. A key focus with respect to the P&B is the Administrative Budget, as this portion of the budget is funded from the annual contributions of member states.

As well, the SCBF reviews specific proposals submitted for its consideration by the IOM Administration. These can range from discussion papers on strategic directions to proposals regarding the disposition of surplus UN Security fees charged to IOM projects.

At one time, the SCBF membership consisted of about fifteen representatives of member states. In 1994, a proposal was put forth and accepted to increase representation to the entire membership which, at that time, comprised some forty nations. The SCBF meets in November each year to review the next year’s P&B and in the spring, to review the updated budget.

While there was a consensus among those we interviewed regarding the overall role of the SCBF, there was a divergence of views both among Mission officials and IOM senior officials regarding the level of detail to which the SCBF should be going in exercising its role. A minority of Mission officials and some IOM officials expressed the view that some states were “micro-managing” the IOM. These officials were of the view that the SCBF membership should be concerned with the overall P&B and should not concern itself with such things as:

  1. whether specific projects fall within the mandate of the IOM;
  2. the specifics of how the IOM organizes itself to deliver its programme, for example, the number and location of IOM field missions; and
  3. the size of the executive complement within the IOM.

There are good arguments on both sides of this question. On the one hand, the IOM is an optional service organization that responds to requests for its services, much in the way private sector firms respond to market demands for their services. On this analogy, the member states could be seen as corresponding to the Board of Directors of a corporation. A private sector Board would not normally concern itself with operational issues, such as the location of plants or offices, or the detailed organization of the corporation.

On the other hand, the IOM is not completely market-driven. According to some of those we interviewed, the number and location of its offices sometimes reflect political considerations, such as encouraging countries to become members; to maximize contributions for projects; or simply because member states want an IOM office in their country. As some of the costs for field “Missions with Regional Functions (MRFs)” are allocated to the Administrative Budget, funding for which comes out of the annual membership fees, member states, in our view, have good reason to take an interest in the rationale for increases in the number of these.

Similarly, the number and size of the projects carried out by the IOM indirectly impact on the size of the corporate support services and administrative structure and, consequently, on the annual fees paid by members. Thus, the members have good reason to want to ensure that the projects carried out by the IOM are within its mandate.

It is clear that a balance has to be struck between “micro-management” and a “laissez-faire” approach to governance by members. With respect to projects, such a balance could be achieved if, when presenting its P&B proposal to the SCBF each year, the IOM provided a more detailed categorization of projects, based on the nature of the project. At present, projects are classified under general headings, such “Migration Health” or “Technical Cooperation on Migration”. More detailed breakdowns under categories that were more descriptive of the actual nature of the projects would enable the SCBF to monitor overall trends rather than focusing on individual projects that might be funded on an exceptional basis. For example, it would be useful to know the number and value of projects in areas such as: capacity-building, migration and border management technology, public health, migration infrastructure development, employment or economic development etc.

With respect to issues such as offices and executive complement, member states likely could make most effective use of the SCBF to focus on issues that directly affect the Administrative Budget, such as the number of, and rationale for, MRFs and let the IOM make decisions around other operational and organizational issues as much as possible.


The IOM Constitution gives the Council a fairly broad mandate over policy, the P&B and IOM activities. In fact, according to virtually everyone we interviewed, the role of the Council has evolved somewhat. Although the Council still is responsible for final approval of the P&B and for providing direction to the IOM on policy matters, it does not appear to get involved in IOM activities in any detail, unless it has concerns about these in relation to the IOM mandate or the budget, in particular, the Administrative Budget.

In recent years, beginning in 2001, the annual meeting of the Council in December, in addition to being the occasion for approval of the budget for the forthcoming year, has provided the opportunity for dialogue on migration issues. Since 2001, some of the time at this meeting has been set aside for presentations by experts and discussion on selected topics.

Based on our interviews, while IOM officials are generally positive about this evolution in the role of Council, views are more mixed among Canadian officials and among Mission officials representing other member states at the IOM. Representatives of several other countries indicated that they thought that the time spent on migration issues was valuable; others — a minority — were of the view that it took time away from consideration of the P&B and other matters.

Whether the time allocated to migration issues at Council meetings is a good use of time appears to be linked, somewhat, to individual views about whether the Council, in fact, plays a substantive role in reviewing the P&B or whether, in the words of some, it simply “rubber stamps” the recommendations of the SCBF. Based on our interviews, it would appear that, for the most part, substantive budget decisions are reached at the SCBF and it is only when a consensus cannot be reached in the latter forum that the Council plays a significant role in the process of approving the P&B. Given this, and given the fact that the SCBF is a committee of the entire membership of the IOM, it may well be that an increasing focus on migration issues is a more valuable use of the Council’s time. For the most part, it does not seem to be a concern of representatives of member states.

Executive Committee

Those we interviewed, both Mission officials of other countries and IOM officials, tended to be less clear about the role of the Executive Committee (EX). This body was intended to play an inter-sessional role of reviewing the P&B update in the spring and looking at issues that it was not felt worthwhile to bring to the attention of Council. The membership was initially limited to twenty representatives but a number of years ago it was decided to allow representatives of other member states to attend as observers. It would appear that this increase in membership negatively impacted on the effectiveness of the EX. Consequently, questions were raised about the value of the EC and a proposal was put forth and accepted, to eliminate this body.

Elimination of the EC involves an amendment to the IOM Constitution, which must be ratified by two-thirds of the member states. This has not yet occurred so the EX still exists under the IOM Constitution. According to almost everyone we interviewed, however, it is no longer plays a governance role.

Nevertheless, the IOM still schedules meetings of the EX, possibly because the Constitution requires this until the proposal to eliminate the EX is ratified by the membership. The purpose of these meetings is not clear, given that the EX no longer plays a substantive role in overseeing the organization.


Consultation processes provide opportunities for member states to obtain more detailed information from the IOM Administration on issues of concern to them and to express their views on these issues to the IOM. Consultations usually take the form of multilateral consultations organized by the IOM and are open to the entire membership or, on some occasions, to regionally-based groups.

There are two regionally-based IOM groups: GRULAC, which is a group of states from Latin America and the Caribbean and the African group, which includes states from Africa and the Middle East. In addition, some of the founding European and North American nations, together with Japan, have formed a group called the “Friends of the IOM”, but this is an informal group that does not self-identify at IOM meetings and does not receive regionally-specific briefings from the IOM.

These consultations are, for the most part, organized to discuss P&B issues but consultations have also been held on the recent IOM Strategy document, on the International Migration Law (IML) proposal and on migration topics of interest (e.g. Valuing Migration).

In addition to these multilateral consultations, Canada and other member states can and do engage in bilateral consultations and discussions with the IOM on issues of concern. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of these bilateral consultations. One IOM senior official we interviewed indicated that member states could more effectively influence the IOM in this fashion than by raising issues or challenging the IOM at SCBF meetings.

On rare occasions, member states establish working groups to look at particular issues in depth. A recent example of this was the working group established to develop recommendations for better oversight of the IOM’s “1035” Project. This is a fund, established through un-earmarked contributions and surpluses in project overhead charges, through which projects can be implemented in developing nations. The working group produced a paper outlining recommendations to improve the selection and management processes.

Based on the interviews we conducted, there is considerable diversity among Canadian officials and officials representing other member states, and between Canadian and other representatives and senior IOM officials, regarding the extent to which consultation processes play a meaningful role in decisions around the P&B or in decisions regarding specific proposals.

Most IOM officials perceive the multilateral consultations they hold as being valuable to them and as influencing the IOM on issues. They clearly see themselves as an organization that consults extensively. In 2004, the IOM held ten consultations with member states — some of these involving multiple sessions — on the P&B, the IOM Strategy and other issues. As one senior IOM official said, “Member states used to complain that we did not consult; now they complain that we consult too much”.

About one-half of the representatives of member states with whom we raised this issue were satisfied with IOM consultation processes. These individuals indicated that member states do not always take advantage of opportunities to provide input, citing the IOM’s request for written input to its draft Strategy paper last January. Only two states provided input within the three month time frame and two more provided input late.

An equal number of Mission officials indicated dissatisfaction with the IOM’s approach to consultation. Complaints centered on such things as:

  1. timing — the pre-SCBF P&B consultations were held this year less than one week before the SCBF meeting and pre-SCBF consultations on the expansion of MRFs this fall were scheduled at the same time as meetings of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR);
  2. difficulty getting information; and
  3. the receptivity of IOM officials to negative feedback in consultations.

More fundamentally, the Mission officials who are skeptical of the IOM’s consultation processes believe that the IOM does not hear members and that it goes ahead and does what it wants no matter what are the views of members. A recent example of this that was cited was the proposal for establishing an International Migration Law (IML) unit at IOM HQs. Despite evidence of opposition to this in consultations, according to one interviewee, the IOM acted as though it had a consensus on this and included it in the P&B for approval.

Another example cited by several Mission officials was the experience of the working group on the 1035 Project initiative. IOM initially indicated that it would be impossible to implement some of the working group recommendations. Subsequently, the IOM’s proposal to the SCBF on reform of the 1035 Project incorporated some of the recommendations it had deemed unfeasible.

Clearly, Canada and at least some representatives of other member states are much more skeptical about IOM’s consultation processes than IOM officials. In part, this may reflect different understandings of what consultation is. Based on our discussions with IOM officials, at least some of them appear to see consultation more as informing than as informing and seeking feedback, whereas Mission officials view the opportunity to provide feedback and to influence IOM’s decisions as very important. It also seems clear that, although there are shortcomings in the way the IOM goes about consultations and in the way it makes use of those consultations to guide its actions, member states do not always take advantage of opportunities provided by the IOM to have input.

In conclusion, it would appear that the governance structures and processes in place at the IOM are of mixed effectiveness in terms of process (this could be termed “process effectiveness”). An important question is whether the lack of effectiveness of these structures and processes impacts on the effectiveness of members in providing direction to the IOM and in ensuring that the IOM follows that guidance with respect to such issues as programmes and budgets, strategic directions and membership (“outcomes effectiveness”), all of which affect the interest of member states.

This question is examined in the next section of the report. In Section 4.1.3 we discuss some the common factors underlying both process effectiveness and outcomes effectiveness.

4.1.2 Effectiveness of Oversight of IOM Programme, Budget, Membership and Strategic Directions

The IOM Constitution indicates that member states are to provide direction over the policies, programmes, budgets, membership and activities of the organization. The IOM member states exercise their governance responsibilities through the governance structures, the effectiveness of which we discussed in the previous section. In this section we look at the effectiveness of governance from the perspective of the outcomes of this function in terms of the IOM P&B, membership and the strategic directions of the organization.

Programme and Budget

A key measure of the effectiveness of the various IOM governance structures and processes is whether the programmes and budgets that result from these processes reflect the wishes and interests of members. Accordingly, in our interviews with Canadian officials at HQ and at the Mission in Geneva, with officials of other Missions and with senior IOM officials, we raised a series of questions aimed at addressing this issue.

Based on our review of documents, including the last three IOM annual P&B documents; on our observation of the SCBF meeting; and on our interviews, it would appear that the member states have little control over the annual programme of activities proposed by the IOM. There are several reasons for this:

  1. The IOM programme largely consists of projects implemented at the request of sponsoring countries or other organizations, such as the UN. The vast majority of the projects, in fact, are sponsored by IOM member states. So long as projects fall within the mandate of the IOM, member states in their roles on the SCBF and Council have no basis for opposing them.
  2. Even where proposed projects are questionable in terms of their relevance to the IOM mandate, member states, while they may question the IOM on these and express concern, are unlikely to oppose them for three reasons:
    1. most wish to maintain good relations with other states;
    2. increasingly, in recent years, because they themselves may be sponsoring IOM projects that are of questionable relevance to its mandate; and
    3. the “consensus” [note 5] approach to decision-making at SCBF and the Council, which discourages countries from strongly opposing proposals unless they have significant support from other nations.

In addition, the sheer number of projects contained in the annual P&B document is so large that representatives of most member states do not have the time to review every project in detail. Even if they so wished, the level of detail about the projects is insufficient to provide a basis for determining whether the project is appropriate or not.

As noted above, it is the view of some IOM and Mission officials that it is not the role of members to review and approve every project and, in fact, based on our observations at the November, 2004 meeting, they do not scrutinize the P&B on a project-by-project basis. Member states will, however — and did so at the November, 2004 SCBF meeting — raise questions about projects they feel may be outside the mandate of the IOM.

As we noted earlier, raising questions about individual projects is likely not the most useful role the SCBF and Council could play in overseeing the IOM’s programme. The IOM, like any other organization that operates on cost recovery, is constantly looking for projects to keep revenues flowing in. It is inevitable that, from time to time they will take on projects outside of their traditional role. So long as this is on an exception basis and they have the relevant competencies, it is not a serious issue, in our view.

Members could play a more useful role by reviewing the program for widespread or systematic patterns of projects that are outside the mandate of the IOM; that overlap with the mandates of other international agencies; or that may be contrary to the interests of members by putting in jeopardy other services more important to members. To do this, however, member states need more detailed breakdowns of projects by category, as we mentioned earlier.

Member states also review and approve the budget of the IOM, through their roles on the SCBF and Council. The IOM budget has two components:

  1. An Operational Budget, which has two components;
    1. Earmarked Contributions, which fund projects and which include a 12% overhead fee to cover indirect costs and UN security coordination fees; and
    2. Discretionary Income, which includes un-earmarked contributions, surplus project overhead revenue; and interest income.
  2. An Administrative Budget, which is derived from the annual membership fee charged to member states.

As may be discerned from the discussion above regarding the programme, IOM member states have very little control over the Operational Budget. If they approve the IOM’s programme then de facto they have approved the budget for the programme. Members do review and approve the percentage overhead fee charged on projects, however, and have provided some direction to the IOM on the use of those funds, most recently, with regard to the use of surplus UN security fees.

IOM members do exercise much more control over the Administrative Budget. In the past number of years the membership has adopted a Zero Nominal Growth (ZNG) policy on the IOM with respect to the Administrative Budget. For the most part, member states have been successful in imposing this policy on the IOM. Most recently, at the November, 2004 SCBF meeting, the membership declined to approve a small increase in the Administrative Budget, even though the Administration had lobbied quite hard for this increase.

Based on our interviews with members, the ZNG was introduced to impose tighter control over the core budget during a period when the IOM was less financially secure than it is now. Concerns over potential growth in the core budget during the present time when many member countries are experiencing fiscal deficits, continues to provide a strong incentive for members to maintain the policy of ZNG. Based on our interviews, some states, including Canada, continue to support ZNG as a means of reining in what they see as an expansionary IOM Administration.

IOM officials tended to be strongly of the view that the IOM over the last number of years has taken significant steps to contain administrative costs, despite the dramatic increases in the Operational Budget. A key initiative in this regard has been the transfer of a number of administrative functions to Manila. This has resulted in savings of some $4.9 Million (USD) to date and is projected to result in savings of $3.2 Million in 2005.

There are a couple of reasons for thinking that, in the near future, the membership may have more difficulty enforcing the ZNG policy and that the IOM may be successful in obtaining increases in the Administrative budget.

For one thing, support for ZNG is not universal among the developed nations that were originally behind ZNG. Several of the Mission officials we interviewed indicated that, by the standards of most international organizations, the IOM is both very effective and efficient. Several of the Mission officials we interviewed indicated that they do not support continuation of the ZNG policy, although one of these stated that they would not oppose it if there was a consensus.

Secondly, the Operational Budget of the IOM has been increasing dramatically in recent years. A significant part of this growth has been due to the IOM’s taking on the Forced Labour Compensation Program of Germany, which currently provides almost one-half of the IOM’s budget. Nevertheless, even without this program, which will come to an end in the next few years, the IOM’s Operational Budget is much larger than it was even five years ago.

The growth in the Operational Budget, which has occurred with the approval of the membership, has, of necessity, resulted in increases in indirect costs, including core administrative functions. As a result, in light of the ZNG policy, the IOM Administration has been funding an increasing share of the costs of its administration from Discretionary Income.

The consequence of this is that, while member states have been successful in freezing the growth of the Administrative Budget, they have not been successful in freezing the growth of the IOM core administrative function. There is nothing wrong with this in principle; in fact there is an argument that some of the administrative costs of the IOM should be charged to the Operational Budget, in that the growth in the administrative functions is largely due to the growth in operations.

However, there are several reasons why members may want to rethink the ZNG policy with respect to the Administrative Budget:

  1. it ensures that all members, not just those funding projects, pay a fair share of the administrative costs;
  2. heavy reliance on the Operational Budget to fund administrative expenses could create serious financial problems for the IOM should project income suffer a significant, sudden decrease;
  3. the ZNG policy has the paradoxical effect that membership fees as a share of the total IOM budget (currently about 6%) will continue to decline in percentage terms. This may seriously impact on the ability of members to oversee and influence the IOM Administration.

Most of those we interviewed were clear that the function of the Administrative Budget is to support core functions, such as the offices of the Director General and the Deputy Director General, the management of MRFs and Special Liaison Missions, Human Resource Management and the Inspector General.

Based on our review of the IOM P&B for the last three years, the IOM does a good job of explaining what, specifically, the organization treats as core functions. From the P&B it is fairly easy to tell, not only to what the Administrative Budget is allocated but also what proportion of core administrative costs are funded from the Administrative Budget and what from Discretionary Income.

Strategic Directions

Related to the issue of the effectiveness of the oversight of programmes and budgets is that of the oversight of the mandate and strategic directions of the IOM.

The IOM Constitution and Mission Statement provide the IOM with a very broad and somewhat vague mandate and, particularly in the last ten years, the IOM has taken a quite liberal interpretation of its mandate in expanding the volume and scope of the services it provides. In the last decade, the IOM has initiated, or expanded the scope of, work in areas such as migration health; migration technology; technical cooperation; emergency resettlement, evacuation or return; and in other traditional areas of service.

More recently, the IOM has widened the range of its activities to include projects in areas where it traditionally has not provided services. Some of the key initiatives in this regard in the past few years have been:

  1. establishment of an international migration policy and research capability;
  2. establishment of an international law unit;
  3. support for global and regional dialogues on migration (e.g. Puebla Process);
  4. extension of its post-emergency relief activities from evacuation, resettlement and return to include economic development, protection and de-mobilization of combatants;
  5. out-of-country voting management for refugees;
  6. security and border management;
  7. mediation of intergovernmental agreements;
  8. forced labour compensation programs;
  9. labour migration, in particular, remittances of migrant workers.

A number of factors have driven this expansion. Principal among these have been:

  1. a significant increase in the number of migrants and displaced persons around the world;
  2. a recognition by governments and international organizations of an increasingly broader range of migrant needs;
  3. a dramatic increase in the number and diversity of IOM members, with a concomitant increase in the range of requests for services;
  4. an increase in the number of countries that recognize migration as an issue of interest and/or concern;
  5. increased recognition by countries and international organizations of the need for international cooperation on migration issues;
  6. increased concerns about health and security aspects of migration;
  7. a significant increase in partnerships between the IOM and other public and private organizations; and
  8. in response to increasing interest by the UN and other international organizations, a desire by the IOM to be seen as the leading international organization on migration.

The members of IOM senior management that we interviewed were, as might be expected, strongly supportive of this evolution of the IOM. Several pointed out that the IOM has gotten into many of these areas of activity at the request of member states. As a service-based organization the IOM naturally will (and should) evolve to meet the changing nature of demands place on it by its clientele. Nevertheless, among the Canadian officials and representatives of other member states we interviewed, views on the current and planned scope of activities are more divergent. Close to one-half (3) of those we interviewed took a conservative view of IOM’s mandate and would prefer that the IOM focus on traditional areas of service, such as processing, medical services, transportation and voluntary returns. The rest took a “laissez-faire” view of IOM’s forays into new areas, indicating either that the IOM is filling a gap or that the IOM was simply responding to member states.

Among those who disagree with the IOM’ strategic directions, there are three main concerns:

1. Overlap/Duplication

IOM officials as well as Mission officials recognized that the IOM has been getting into areas that traditionally have been under the purview of other organizations. Areas of overlap or duplication cited included its post-conflict, post disaster operations where it overlaps with the UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Development Program (IDP) of the UN; labour migration, where it overlaps with the International Labour Organization (ILO); and community development projects, where it potentially overlaps with a large number of national and international organizations.

Senior officials of the IOM recognize the potential for overlap and duplication but they — and some Mission officials — are not overly concerned about this, for the following reasons:

  1. the IOM has agreements in place with a number of UN and other international organizations that help to ensure the organizations work together and do not get into conflict situations; and
  2. migration is a large, complex area, in which a large number of organizations have an interest and some overlap/duplication is inevitable and may even be desirable.
2. Impacts on the Administrative Budget

Most Mission officials and virtually all of the IOM officials recognized that an expanding IOM has implications for the size of the Administrative Budget and, consequently member fees. Some see the solution as abandoning ZNG; a couple see this as an argument for the IOM not expanding into new areas. Even those Mission officials against further expansion of IOM activities, nevertheless, noted that IOM member states, including some who support ZNG, are requesting projects in these new areas.

Whether or not these concerns are valid, it is apparent that the member states have been unable to provide effective direction to the IOM on this issue.

The main reason for this is that there is not a consensus, even among the small number of states we interviewed, regarding the future directions of the IOM. (Most of the officials who we interviewed represented large donor nations). Despite this lack of consensus (or perhaps because of it), the IOM has gone ahead with a number of new initiatives.

3. Membership

Control over membership in an organization like the IOM is strategically important to existing members. Increasing the number of members increases the potential for diverse or conflicting interests and dilutes the influence of existing members. At the same time, migration is becoming an increasingly international issue, of importance to more and more countries.

Among the Canadian officials and officials of other Missions who we interviewed, two indicated support for the IOM broadening its membership so as to become a “universal” organization in migrations. Most of the other officials did not express opposition to increases in membership in principle. Rather, they had concerns about one or more of the following:

  1. the interest and capacity of some member states to contribute to overseeing the IOM;
  2. what was, up until recently, annually increasing arrears in the contributions of some new members;
  3. impacts of the expanded membership on the overall ability of the member states to achieve a consensus on issues; or
  4. simply, the sheer rate at which new members are joining (the IOM has gone from 41 members in 1995 to 109 full members today).

In theory, the member states control the admission of new members as the Council must approve all new applicants. Applications for membership must have support of two-thirds of the existing membership. In fact, because the IOM tries to operate on a consensus model, applications for new membership are not normally put to a vote. Even if they were, most member states are very reluctant, for diplomatic reasons, to oppose applications for membership. The result of this is that the IOM Administration effectively controls the entry of new members.

In the past few years, according to several Mission officials, the IOM has been very active in recruiting new members, in part, allegedly, because it wants to position itself as the preeminent organization in international migration and in anticipation of the possibility of joining the UN.

Overall, it would appear that member states have lost control of the membership issue. It does not follow from this, however, that the current aggressive approach to recruitment of members by the IOM is contrary to the wishes of members. According to a couple of representatives of other member states, there appears to be considerable support within the organization for expansion of membership, especially among the large number of developing nations that now constitute a majority in the IOM. Even among the developed nations, there appears to be some support for the principle of universalization; two of the officials of other member states who we interviewed indicated that they supported “universalization” of membership.

Member states have had limited success, as well, in dealing with the issue of arrears of contributions. These arrears had been growing for a number of years. Although Council has the authority to revoke the voting rights of members who are in arrears for more than two years, this authority requires a two-thirds majority and has never been exercised. At the same time, member states have been pressuring the IOM to address this issue.

In response, the IOM has implemented a variety of strategies, including repayment plans and advising delinquent member states that projects in their country are at risk. Nevertheless, the amount in arrears in 2004 (CHF 6.5 Million) remained virtually unchanged from 2003.

In conclusion, it would appear that member states are not able to effectively oversee either new memberships or the issue of member fees.

4.1.3 Factors Affecting Governance of the IOM

As noted earlier in this section, the apparent mixed success of the membership in providing effective direction to the IOM with respect to such things as programs, budgets, membership and strategic directions is closely linked to the issue of the effectiveness of governance structures and processes, especially the SCBF and the Council. In this section we outline what we believe to be, based on our research, the key factors that influence both aspects of effectiveness.

  • The dramatic increase in membership in the last ten years has resulted in a great deal more diversity in the views of member states on issues; this has made it more difficult to reach consensus in the SCBF.
  • The consensus approach to decision-making tends to gloss over differences of opinion and may, at times, make it difficult to ascertain whether, in fact, most or all of the members support a particular decision.

    It is unreasonable to expect in an organization of the size of the IOM that a consensus can be achieved on every issue, if this means agreement of every member state. In fact, several of those interviewed indicated that decisions of the SCBF and Council are often the result of “backroom deals” that involve the IOM Administration and a small number of influential and/or interested states.

    Nor do members appear ready to abandon the consensus approach, despite its weaknesses. Most of the Mission officials we interviewed, the majority of whom represented wealthy, donor nations, indicated that they would be concerned about being regularly outvoted on issues if the consensus approach was abandoned in favour of a more democratic approach, such as voting.

    A consequence of the consensus approach, however, is that IOM often lacks clear direction from governing bodies on initiatives. It would appear that the IOM, at times, takes advantage of this by acting as though it had a consensus when, in fact, it does not. This aggressive approach to its agenda is as much a cause of irritation to some members as actual substantive disagreements over the agenda itself.

  • Many representatives lack the knowledge or time to play an effective oversight role.

    Canada is one of the few countries where the representative at the IOM is an expert in immigration matters. Most representatives are Foreign Service generalists or specialists in other areas. They often have limited knowledge of migration and budgetary matters. As well, most representatives are delegates to other international organizations and are limited in the time they devote to the IOM.

  • Some representatives have difficulty obtaining instructions from their governments on IOM issues.

    In some countries, responsibilities for migration issues are dispersed among a number of departments. In others, time differences or lack of good communication infrastructure make it difficult for delegates to communicate with their government to obtain instructions on IOM issues.

  • The existing governance bodies represent the entire membership and are too unwieldy and lack the time to provide effective oversight.

    Both the SCBF and the Council are committees of the entire membership. The sheer size of these bodies makes it difficult for them to exercise their oversight role effectively. This is particularly true of the SCBF, whose role it is to review the P&B and to make recommendations on these to the Council. This suggests that the SCBF should be taking a more in-depth approach to its role than the Council. However, the SCBF includes the entire membership, many of whom, apparently, lack the interest and/or the skills to exercise this role, especially in regard to the budget. Furthermore, the time provided for members of the SCBF for the budget review process is insufficient for this body to conduct a meaningful review.

4.1.4 Conclusions and Recommendations

In conclusion, it would appear that, in many ways the governance structures and processes of the IOM by their very nature, as well as the recent increases in the size and diversity of the IOM make it difficult for member states to effectively control the IOM’s programmes, budgets, membership and strategic directions.

The IOM Administration is very aggressive in pursuing its agenda with members and is very often able to achieve its goals because of the factors cited above. This sometimes leaves member states with the impression that the IOM is moving ahead on items without the approval of members (In fact, this appears to be the case with the International Migration Law Unit).

Canada, although an influential member of the IOM in view of its history with the organization and its relatively large contribution is, nevertheless only one nation among one hundred and nine, many of whom have conflicting views with Canada on specific issues. A more effective governance structure is in Canada’s interests along with other IOM members. Our recommendations for improving that governance structure are as follows:

  • The IOM should be encouraged to re-structure the SCBF as a sub-committee of about twenty knowledgeable members.

    A reduction to about twenty members who expressed an interest in, and had the knowledge to conduct a detailed review of the annual P&B would enable the SCBF to provide more thoughtful recommendations to Council, based on a more in-depth analysis of budget and programme issues.

  • The IOM should be encouraged to provide member states with more time to review the annual Programme and Budget.

    Member states on the SCBF should have access to the P&B for the next year at an earlier date than is now the case, to ensure members have sufficient time to thoroughly review this document and prepare recommendations.

  • The IOM should establish a policy sub-committee to conduct in-depth reviews of policy and strategic issues and to provide recommendations on these to the Council.

    Neither SCBF nor the Council is a suitable venue for members to review policy and strategic issues independently of the IOM. Many of these issues are complex and require in-depth analysis. While the occasional working group (e.g. the 1035 Projects working group) of members have been established to study specific issues, there is no ongoing mechanism whereby the membership can examine issues relatively independently of the IOM Administration and that can bring independent recommendations on these to Council for consideration.

  • The “Friends of the IOM” should establish themselves as a formal regional group and request the IOM to provide them with separate briefings as they do for other regional groups.

    Canada can be more effective in influencing the IOM as part of a group than on its own. Currently, Canada participates in the “Friends of the IOM” group; however, at present this group is highly informal. Other regional groups (GRULAC and the African group) are formally recognized by the IOM and it carries out individual consultations with them. Individual consultations would give the “Friends” the opportunity to discuss regional implications of IOM initiatives.

4.2 Benefits and Alternatives

In this section we examine the issue of the benefits to Canada of membership in the IOM. In evaluating this issue, we considered two aspects:

  • benefits to Canada in terms of its ability to address international migration issues; and
  • benefits to Canada of accessing IOM service in the areas of transportation, medical assessments and orientation training.

4.2.1 Benefits for Migration Issues

We looked at this question from two perspectives:

  1. the specific benefits cited by stakeholders, including IOM officials, Canadian officials and representatives of other IOM member states; and
  2. alternative fora or ways in which Canada and other nations could and/or do, in fact, deal with migration issues.

For the most part, those IOM officials who responded to the question of benefits tended to cite operational services. Four, however, specifically cited opportunities or services related to migration issues. The main benefits cited in this area were:

  1. the opportunity to discuss migration issues and to engage in exchanges on policy;
  2. the IOM is perceived by some to be an effective channel or conduit for North/ South dialogue as it has membership from both;
  3. preferred access to IOM documents and publications;
  4. the IOM’s role in regional consultations on migration; and
  5. access to IOM’s research database when this is operational.

In our interviews with Canadian officials and officials of other IOM member states, we found a diverse range of views on the benefits. In general, however, most member nations do not see the IOM as a forum for dealing with bilateral issues. In most cases, including Canada, member states deal with these issues directly with other countries. There were two representatives, however, who indicated that they had employed the IOM to negotiate re-admission agreements with other countries. In one case, the representative indicated that their country could not have successfully negotiated this agreement on their own and that the reputation of the IOM as a non-political organization was crucial to the successful negotiations.

Views were more disparate with respect to multilateral issues but the theme that emerged from our interviews was that the IOM is seen primarily as a forum for discussion and exchange of information and knowledge on migration issues of common interest to a number of countries rather than as a forum for the negotiation of multilateral agreements. This is not surprising given that the IOM does not operate under any kind of international convention giving it the authority to act in the latter role.

Most of the officials we talked to indicated that to address multilateral issues of the latter sort, there are number of alternative organizations and processes, including:

  • Intergovernmental Conference on Asylum, Refugees & Migration (IGC), a conference of some fifteen developed nations that is an informal forum for the exchange of ideas and information.
  • The Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM), an independent Commission of international experts mandated to make recommendations regarding international migration in a final report to the UN Secretary General by July 2005.
  • Regional Conferences on Migration Issues, such as the Puebla Process (in which Canada takes part).
  • The European Union.

It is worth noting that the IOM is involved in some of the activities indirectly in that it provides administrative support to the IGC and to the Puebla Process, as well as other regional conferences.

4.2.2 Access to IOM Migration Services

We examined this issue from two perspectives;

  1. the benefits Canada receives from accessing IOM membership services; and
  2. whether membership is necessary to access these services.

When asked about the benefits of membership in the organization, IOM officials cited the following:

  1. IOM’s ability to offer services globally;
  2. the wide range of programs offered by the IOM, ranging from migrant processing and transportation to capacity-building; as one individual noted, the IOM is the only organization involved in every aspect of migration; and
  3. the cost savings to migrants in airfares for the transportation of migrants.

The representatives of other IOM member states, for the most part, emphasized IOM’s operational services as the primary reason they joined the organization. Specific services cited included:

  1. pre-departure orientation;
  2. forced labour compensation programs;
  3. assistance with voluntary returns; assistance in negotiating re-admission agreements;
  4. capacity-building; and
  5. the movement of people.

Canada benefits from IOM services principally in the following areas:

  • Processing and Transportation of Refugees

    The IOM assists in the processing of refugees, including medical examinations and pre-departure medical treatment (malaria and parasites), and arranges for their transport to Canada from a wide range of countries around the world.

  • Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA)

    The IOM provides cultural orientation training, primarily to refugees, but also to skilled workers, temporary workers and, to a lesser extent, Family Class immigrants.

Canada realizes cost-savings and other benefits from both of these programs. In the case of the COA, the IOM manages the program from Manila, where salary and other costs are significantly lower than in Canada. The COA makes use of low-cost contracted employees to deliver the COA.

In addition to significant savings in direct costs, compared to the costs of using a Canadian-based staff, Canada also likely realizes indirect savings from the COA in the form of reduced use of in-Canada settlement services by refugees and others who have taken the course.

In addition, the administration of this program is greatly facilitated and costs are lowered by the fact that, as the organization processing refugees for Canada at the COA sites, the IOM is easily able to contact refugees to encourage them to register for the program.

In the case of the refugee processing and transportation services provide by the IOM, refugees and CIC benefit in two ways:

  1. the IOM, because it provides these services to several countries, including the US, is able to obtain very large discounts from posted fares, from air carriers; and
  2. Canada avoids the cost of having to hire Canadian-based or locally engaged staff for Missions abroad to carry out this function.

The benefits of the IOM’s ability to negotiate low cost fares accrue primarily to the refugees who are being transported, as they must reimburse CIC for the costs of these fares after their arrival in Canada. Currently, the recovery rate is about 91%, so 9% of this benefit accrues to CIC, in the form of reduced costs for those refugees who do not repay their loans.

In order to determine the extent to which the IOM is able to achieve discounts from posted fares, we conducted a comparison of a sample of airfares actually obtained by the IOM with a corresponding sample of advance purchase ticket fares available on the websites of the airlines flying to Canada from the IOM source cities.

In conducting the comparison, we compared the IOM fares, which are one way fares, with discounted, advance purchase, return tickets. This theoretically put the IOM at a disadvantage as the best return fares are normally lower than the best available one way fares. However, because occasionally, one-way fares can be less than discounted return fares, we compared the IOM fares with one-half of the comparable, advance ticket fares. This ensured a very conservative approach to estimating savings obtained by the IOM.

The results of that comparison are contained in Table 4.1. As is evident from this table, the IOM was able to obtain substantial savings in air fares, even compared to values reflecting one-half of the costs of the discounted advance purchase fares. Our calculations indicate that IOM fares ranged from 40% to 103% of the discount fares. In most cases, the IOM achieved significant savings, even compared to one-half of the discounted return fare. Given that that the IOM purchased approximately $5 million (USD) in air fares on behalf of Canadian refugees in 2004, this represents very significant savings to refugees and to CIC.

It is important to note, however, that membership in the IOM is not necessary to access the migration-related services of the IOM. Nor do members benefit from reduced IOM charges for these services, compared to non-members, as was once the case.

In our interviews with IOM officials we asked if Canada had to be a member of the IOM to access these services. They indicated that we did not but did indicate either that members receive preferred treatment in the provision of services or that the IOM pays closer attention to members. They also cited other benefits, including:

  1. the opportunity to directly influence IOM policy and directions; (given Canada’s concern that the IOM’s expansion into so many new areas may undermine traditional services, like transportation, the ability to influence the IOM from the “inside” may be important in the future);
  2. only members can access the 1035 Project funds or discretionary income for projects in their home country (of benefit primarily to developing countries); and
  3. access to IOM documents and publications (likely of minor value to Canada at present but of potential importance if the IOM becomes a focal point for research and migration policy issues).

More importantly, it can be argued that as part of the costs of the administration of the IOM are paid from member fees, Canada has an obligation, as a major user of IOM services to contribute to these administrative costs. This perceived obligation was a major factor in the decision to rejoin the IOM in 1990.

From the perspective of the “Kantian Imperative”, if every country using IOM services decided to revoke their membership, the organization would have an immediate shortfall of millions of dollars. This would have to be made up in the fees charged for services, in which case Canada would likely incur increased costs for those services.

Table 4.1
International Airfare Comparisons (To Toronto)

City Carrier Fare in US dollars* IOM Fare** IOM Fares as % of Discounted Fares
Tehran BA 796 408 51
Islamabad BA 779 544 70
Hong Kong (based on $1550 C) AC 625 545 87
Vienna BA 508    
  AC 381 315 83
Delhi AC 808 555 69
Rome AC 530 320 60
  BA   239  
Paris AC 391 315 81
  BA   215  
Moscow AC 438 450 103
  BA   305  
Amman AC 965 465 48
Dar Es Salaam BA 842 491 58
Nairobi BA 1048 491 47
Tblisi BA 718 503 70
Lusaka BA 1171 557 48
Cairo BA 680 400 59
Dubai BA 847 470 55
Johannesburg BA 1337 532 40
Harare BA 1082 557 51
Accra BA 1129 530 47
* The fare used equals one-half the adult fare, based on an advanced purchase discounted fare.
** Where two fares are listed, they refer to the adult and children's fares, respectively

4.2.3 Conclusions and Recommendations

In conclusion, Canada benefits from its membership in the IOM in two main ways. Firstly, the IOM is seen as a forum for discussion of issues that are of regional or global interest. In this regard, the IOM’s recent establishment of a research and policy unit may prove to be of significant value to Canada and other countries. As well, although member states have reservations about the IOM’s decision to establish an International Migration Law (IML) Unit without ensuring they had the support of the membership for this, migration issues are increasingly being seen as requiring international solutions, potentially enhancing the value of this unit to members in the future. Further, as access to most of the IOM’s publications and research is limited to member states, there are likely future benefits for Canada from membership in the IOM in this regard, as well.

The other main benefit to Canada from its IOM membership, at present, lies in the area of access to migration-related services. Strictly speaking, Canada does not need to be a member of the IOM to access these services nor are there any savings in the costs charged for these services resulting from membership. However, IOM officials indicated that membership does contribute to the attention paid to these services and to our relationship with the IOM as a partner in the delivery of these services. In addition, the administrative costs of the organization are derived from membership fees. These fees support the sustainability of the IOM and, indirectly, the continued provision of these services.

Canada and the refugees who ultimately reimburse Canada for the costs of some of these services realize significant savings from these services. Despite this, Canada does not have a good handle on the savings it realizes from these services. We recommend that:

  • CIC conduct one or more detailed studies of the costs and benefits of accessing IOM’s migration related services in the areas of refugee processing, medical services and orientation training with a view to estimating more accurately and comprehensively the costs and benefits (especially cost-savings) of these services, including the impact of withdrawal from membership.

As noted above, there are potentially, both direct and indirect ways in which Canada may be achieving significant savings from IOM services. More detailed information on these and on the full (including indirect) costs of accessing these services would be of great value in assessing the cost-effectiveness of the IOM and, should other international agencies demonstrate interest in and the capacity for, providing these services, in assessing the best option for obtaining these services.

4.3 Relevance

4.3.1 Contribution to Immigration Program Strategic Objectives

In this section, we examine the issue of the continued relevance to Canada of its membership in the IOM. In this regard, we addressed the extent to which continued membership in the IOM contributes to the strategic objectives of Canada’s Immigration Program.

We raised the issue of the overall benefits of IOM membership with representatives of other member states. Three indicated that their IOM membership was considered extremely valuable to them. A fourth country did not answer this question specifically but in response to earlier questions indicated that the IOM is very important to them operationally. Two other representatives did not respond to this question.

Further, when asked about the possibility of obtaining the services of the IOM without being members, several of these officials indicated that, although they were aware of the possibility, membership was an important part of their relationship with the IOM. They mentioned the importance of supporting the organization and the viability of membership. As one member put it, “If you don’t support the organization you won’t have it.”

Canadian officials we interviewed were concerned about the implications of the IOM’s strategic directions for the services Canada uses. They are concerned that the IOM’s expansion into a number of new areas will be to the detriment of traditional programs. On the other hand, these officials recognize that Canada would face significantly increased costs in its refugee program if it discontinued using IOM services.

As well, Canada may benefit in the future from some of the new areas into which the IOM is expanding, such as research and policy, labour migration and migration law.

4.3.2 Conclusions and Recommendations

There is little doubt that Canada’s IOM membership contributes to the following CIC strategic outcome:

  • Reflection of Canadian values and interests in the management of international migration, including refugee protection.

Nevertheless, Canada and other member states have serious concerns with regard to IOM governance structures and processes, programmes and budgets, and, perhaps, most importantly, with regard to the future directions of the organization. In light of these concerns, we recommend that:

  • Canada work with other interested member states to urge the IOM to institute reforms to the governance structures and processes so that member states can regain control of the governance of the IOM.

    It will likely take some time to assess whether these efforts at reform are successful. During this period Canada should continue its membership in the international Organization for Migration, and monitor the extent to which the IOM addresses concerns regarding governance structures and processes and strategic directions and priorities. However, we recommend that:

  • Canada revisit the costs and benefits of continued membership in the IOM within two years.

    In the absence of the desired reforms to the IOM’s governance structures and processes within this two year time frame, Canada should review whether, in light of its inability to influence the directions of the organization, membership in the IOM continues to be in Canada’s interests.


[5] We asked a number of those we interviewed what exactly was meant by the term “consensus” and did not find universal agreement on a definition. Some officials define it as meaning 100% agreement of member states; others recognize that 100% agreement is, in fact, rarely the case. In practice, it would appear that an IOM decision reflects a consensus when a recommendation at the SCBF or a decision of Council is not opposed by any member states.

Date Modified: