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

Executive Summary


The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) was established in 1951 as an intergovernmental organization to assist in the resettlement of European displaced persons, refugees and migrants, primarily to North America, Latin America and Oceania. Its official headquarters is based in Geneva, Switzerland and most of its corporate administrative and support functions (IT, Security, Human Resources, etc) are located in Manila. Although the IOM is not an agency of the United Nations, it has close, cooperative relationships with a number of UN agencies; it participates in the UN security coordination program; and it has adopted UN salary scales for its employees.

The IOM is primarily a service organization that responds to requests for specific services. Recently, the IOM has broadened the scope of its activities. Currently, its activities are clustered in the following areas: traditional resettlement and transportation services; assisted voluntary returns; migration health; counter-trafficking; mass information; technical cooperation; and labour migration.

The IOM operates under the guidance of its member states, one of which is Canada. Members provide governance to the IOM through two formal governance structures:

  1. IOM Council; and
  2. Sub-Committee of Budget and Finance (SCBF)

The organization is administered by a Director General (DG) and by a Deputy Director General (DDG). Both are elected positions. The Director General and Deputy Director General oversee an organization that employs some 4,100 regular and contract employees; and that operates over two hundred (200) offices in one hundred and eleven (111) countries. The IOM has transferred a number of administrative functions to Manila in the last few years, mainly as a cost-saving measure.

The IOM is financed almost entirely through annual contributions from member states and from fees charged to member states and to other nations and organizations for projects carried out on their behalf. The annual membership fees, which are paid in Swiss Francs (CHF), are applied to the Administrative Budget. In 2005, the Administrative Budget is estimated at 37.1 Million (CHF). Canada’s contribution to this budget in 2005 will amount to 1.2 M (CHF) [note 1]. The Operational Budget, which is applied to the direct and indirect costs of projects sponsored by members and others, is expressed in US Dollars (USD). In 2005, the Operational Budget is estimated at $639 Million USD.

The Administrative Budget, which is to cover core administrative expenses, has been essentially frozen for the last few years, based on a policy of “Zero Nominal Growth”.

Canada’s membership in the IOM is the responsibility of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), although Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC) is consulted on policy issues. Canada’s Immigration Counselor in Geneva represents Canada on the Council and on the SCBF.

The Treasury Board of Canada authorizes funding for Canada’s annual contribution. Up until last year, Canada had paid its contribution by means of a Memorandum of Agreement. Last year, Canada began paying its membership fee by means of a Contribution Agreement with the IOM.

The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) has indicated that, before authorizing funding for next year’s (2006) contribution, they require an evaluation of Canada’s membership in the IOM. This report has been submitted to meet that requirement.

Scope of Evaluation

The evaluation grouped the evaluation questions under the following headings:

i)    Governance and Accountability

Key questions in this regard are:

  • Do Canada and other member states exercise effective oversight over IOM programmes, budgets and memberships, the strategic directions of the IOM and other issues?
  • To what extent are current/planned IOM roles and activities perceived to be in the interest of Canada?
  • Does the IOM overlap with or duplicate the mandate, roles or activities of any other international organizations on migration issues?
  • How effective are current governance bodies and what, if any, changes should be made to the current governance structure to improve its effectiveness?
  • Do Canada and other member states have sufficient information to determine whether staff and office costs charged to the Administrative Budget are appropriate?

ii)    Benefits and Alternatives

We identified four key questions under this issue:

  • To what extent and in what ways has Canada benefited from its membership in the IOM in terms of migration issues?
  • Are there alternative ways Canada could more effectively address bilateral/multilateral migration issues?
  • What have been the benefits to Canada of accessing IOM services in the areas of transportation, medical assessments and orientation training?
  • Could Canada access IOM cost-recoverable migration services without being a member of IOM?

iii)     Relevance

We have identified one question related to relevance:

  • To what extent does continued membership in the IOM contribute to the strategic objectives of Canada’s immigration program?

Evaluation Methodology

The evaluation relied heavily on qualitative research methodologies, including interviews with various knowledgeable stakeholders, reviews of key documents and observation of the IOM governing bodies, supplemented by quantitative methods where practical. The methodologies we employed were the following:

Interviews with Key Stakeholders

We conducted interviews with the following stakeholder groups:

  1. CIC HQ and CIC Mission Officials,
  2. Officials of Other Missions, and
  3. IOM Senior Officials.

In addition, interviews conducted at IOM Regional and Country Missions, carried out as part of the concurrent evaluation of the Canadian Orientation Abroad (COA) Program, provided information that contributed to the evaluation of the IOM membership.

Review of Documents

We obtained and reviewed a wide range of CIC and IOM documents. A complete list of these is contained in Appendix D.

On-Site Observation

While in Geneva, we attended the meeting of the IOM Sub-Committee of Budget and Finance (SCBF). This was helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of IOM governance bodies.

Comparative Data Analysis

We analyzed the extent to which the IOM was able to achieve significant savings in the cost of air transport for migrants. As refugees and other migrants who are assisted by the IOM must ultimately reimburse the Government of Canada for the cost of these flights, this is an important issue for both them and for CIC.

Evaluation Findings


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 programs, 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).

Our recommendations for improving the 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 Programme and Budget (P&B) would enable the SCBF to provide more thoughtful recommendations to Council, based on a more in-depth analysis of budget and program issues.

  • The IOM should be encouraged to provide member states with more time to review the annual Program 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 of members has been established to study specific issues, there is no ongoing mechanism whereby the membership can examine issues relatively independently of the IOM Administration and 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, a group of western, developed nations and Japan that meets regularly to exchange information and to discuss issues. However, at present this group is highly informal. Other regional groups — GRULAC (a group of Latin American and Caribbean nations) and the African group (a group of African and Middle Eastern nations) — 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.

Benefits and Alternatives

Canada benefits from its membership in the IOM in two main ways. Firstly, the IOM is seen as 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 Canada and other 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.

Another aspect of our relationship with IOM, 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. According to IOM officials, 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:

  • Canada 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 withdrawing from membership.

    As noted above, there are, potentially, both direct and indirect ways in which Canada may be achieving significant savings from IOM services, both for refugees, who must reimburse CIC for the costs of transporting them to Canada, and for CIC, in terms of the staff and other costs that are avoided through the use of the IOM. 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.


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 IOM’s 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 IOM 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.


[1] CHF — Swiss Francs: at the present time the Swiss Franc is on a par with the Canadian dollar, so the membership fee is the same amount in Canadian dollars.

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