Data Innovation Event Guest Blog
Strengthening CRVS Systems to Improve Migration Policy: A Promising Innovation
Posted on 15th of December 2021 by Tawheeda Wahabzada, Deirdre Appel
Migration is one of the most pressing issues of our time and innovation for migration policy can take on several different shapes to help solve challenges. It is seen through radical technological breakthrough such as biometric identifiers that completely transform the status quo as well as technological disruptions like mobile phone fund transforms that alter an existing process. There is also incremental innovation, or the gradual improvement of an existing process or institution even. Regardless of where the fall on the spectrum, their innovative applications are all relevant to migration policy.
Incremental innovation for civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems can greatly benefit migrants and the policymakers trying to help them. According to World Health Organization, a well-functioning CRVS system registers all births and deaths, issues birth and death certificates, and compiles and disseminates vital statistics, including cause of death information. It may also record marriages and divorces. Each of these services brings a world of crucial advantages. But despite the social and legal benefits for individuals, especially migrants, these systems remain underfunded and under functioning. More than 100 low and middle-income countries lack functional CRVS systems and about one-third of all births are not registered. This amounts to more than one billion people without a legal identity leaving them unable to prove who they are and creating serious barriers to access health, education, financial, and other social services.
Throughout countries in Africa, there are great differences in CRVS coverage, where birth coverage ranges from above 90 percent in some North African countries to under 50 percent across several countries in different regions; and with death registration having greater gaps with either no information or lower coverage rates. For countries with low functioning CRVS systems, potential migrants from these countries could face additional obstacles in obtaining birth certificates and proof of identification.
Today African migrants’ destinations are overwhelmingly not to Europe or North America, but rather to each other’s countries. According to the African Union, intra-African mobility numbers have never been higher, with international migration in Africa increasing from 13.3 million to 25.4 million migrants between 2008 and 2017. This has a significant impact on African governments own ability to respond and manage the influx. In the case of Europe, while the coverage of birth and death registration is at least 90 percent or more in most European countries (with the exception of Monaco and Albania) and capacity of statistical systems are on average higher, host countries still need to navigate ensuring those emigrating into their country are properly registered.
CRVS systems play an integral role in migration, especially in the African and European regions. Migrants may move away from their homes for many reasons including to work, study, reunite with family members, or to permanently resettle in the host country. Proper registration can also support migrants in their efforts to obtain passports or visas. With functional CRVS systems and proper issuance of birth certificates, individuals are then able to show their birth certificate as proof of citizenship in order to obtain a passport. A passport will effectively serve as a travel document and an accepted form of identification in place of national identification cards.
To ensure regular channels of migration, passports, visas, and birth certificates can also be further vetted by border management or immigration authorities. In instances where host governments lack the capacity to implement proper fraud detection, the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Immigration and Border Management Programme can support these countries by verifying migrants’ birth certificates by working with the home country’s civil registrar or passport services. Once their birth certificate and passport are verified, immigration or border management authorities can then properly issue a visa. In addition to a valid passport, a legitimate birth certificate is a supplementary form of documentation for migrants to enter a host country through regular migration channels under conditions covered by laws, regulations, or international agreements.
CRVS can also support family reunification during migration. Migrants can sponsor their immediate families by showing marriage certificates for proof of marriage and additional birth certificates to show proof of relation to their children. Additionally, CRVS is especially important if migrants choose to return to their homelands in order to prove their inheritance and land rights. Additionally, proper civil registration documents can support families registering births in their country or proving parentage in the new host country. Depending on the laws of the host country, citizenship could be based on jus soli (birthright citizenship) or on jus sanguinis (citizenship based on parentage). In host nations that have jus soli laws of citizenship, the birth registration of a migrant family’s birth in a host nation is critical, so that the child can obtain birthright citizenship. Although children of migrants born host nations with jus sanguinis are not automatically eligible for citizenship, the birth registration of a migrant family’s child is also important to show proof for obtaining legal identification, legal residency, or even naturalization once the child is eligible.
The aforementioned complexities in the conformation of citizenship of children born to migrant parents are show in in the United Kingdom, where the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens works to undercover the complexities of the UK nationality system, and highlight how it has developed in a way that seriously contributes to the creation and subsequent maintenance of statelessness in the UK. Efforts continue to wage on to better harness legal support and laws surrounding birth registration to prevent statelessness in the country.
Countries in Africa are also heeding the call to determine how CRVS systems and migration data can complement and support one another. In 2018 officials representing more than 30 African countries gathered in Mauritania to stress the importance of collaboration to identify innovations and good practices on CRVS in the continent, including the registration and documentation of migrants, refugees, stateless persons and other forcibly displaced persons.
Though without proper and verifiable form identification, migrants may only have access to irregular migration channels, or those movements that take place outside the law, regulations or international agreements that govern border movement. This leaves undocumented migrants more vulnerable, as they may face labor exploitation, or have difficulty exercising their rights or have any access to social services. For undocumented migrants, obtaining birth registration for their children in the host country can be extremely challenging. In countries such as Morocco and Egypt, one such reason may be due to the lack of official marriage certification.
Enshrined by the SGD Target 16.9, there is a global commitment to ensure “legal identity for all, including birth registration.” The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration echoed this call in 2018 in their fourth objective to ensure all migrants have proof of legal identity and adequate documentation. To realize this commitment, the Global Compact calls to improve civil registry systems. Additionally, Action 7 of the UNHCR’s ten-point action planlooks to birth registration as a mechanism to prevent statelessness. While many countries have growing national ID systems to provide legal identity, there is a strong argument to ensure CRVS systems are not left behind and to enable each to bolster the other.
Even with a perfectly built digital ID register that is updated using CRVS records, countries with paper-based or inefficient digital systems and poor levels of birth and death registration will not be able to successfully build a robust and complete national ID system. Despite the incredible technological advancements of today, and discussions of data innovation, there remains an uneven pace of modernization among CRVS and national ID systems. Countries such as Cameroon, Madagascar, Zambia, and others still rely on paper-based CRVS or national ID systems. An individual ID system should be considered a logical extension of a CRVS system, which is the only mechanism that provides registration, identification, and statistical functions for one’s entire life. With countries struggling on such fundamental levels, significant focus needs to be on improving existing systems.
Innovation is not only technological; it is institutional as well. Incrementally innovating how data systems operate and coordinate is key to navigating our ever-evolving, interconnected world. CRVS systems can greatly support migration management as demonstrated above. More coordination and integration between the CRVS systems and migration sector can help improve and protect the lives of all migrants. Additionally, the mobilization of financial resources at the global and national level to strengthen CRVS systems is critical as well-functioning, digitized, and biometric based CRVS systems can protect migrants and verify identity.
So as the Harnessing data innovation for migration policy in Europe and Africa event gathers at the end of month to discuss big data and other innovations for migrant policy, let’s not forget that not all innovation needs to introduce a new technology or wildly disrupt a system. Innovation can also be improving our current processes (that is, digitizing CRVS records, integrating national ID and CRVS systems, and building institutional capacity to count all individuals) which will bring about positive, sustainable change.
Strengthening CRVS systems, which help provide the foundation to a migrant’s identity, is a promising innovation worth exploring.