Policy dialogue on migration is an interactive, participatory and continuous process of consultations (both formal and informal) to inform policies on migration.  The States’ hesitance to discuss migration at dedicated formal venues gave birth to Inter-State consultation mechanisms on migration (ISCMs), which have become important actors in policy dialogue on migration along with other stakeholders (States, IGOs, non-State actors, migrants, etc.) and often bringing these stakeholders together within the ISCMs.
Policy dialogue on migration has shaped the approaches and norms that became the building bricks of migration governance. 

Migration governance is the combined frameworks of legal norms, laws and regulations, policies and traditions as well as organizational structures (subnational, national, regional and international) and the relevant processes that shape and regulate States’ approaches with regard to migration in all its forms, addressing rights and responsibilities and promoting international cooperation International Migration Law No 34: Glossary on Migration). 

Good migration governance adheres to international standards and fulfills migrant’s rights; formulates policy using evidence and a ‘whole-of government’ approach; engages with partners to address migration and related issues.  The objectives of a good migration governance should be to seek to advance the socioeconomic well-being of migrants and society; effectively address the mobility dimensions of crises; and ensure that migration takes place in a safe, orderly and dignified manner. (Migration Governance Framework). 

Migration governance has national, regional and global dimensions

States are the primary actors in migration, mobility and nationality issues and have the responsibility to govern migration at the national and international levels. Other actors – citizens, migrants, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, unions, non-governmental organizations, academia – also contribute to migration governance.  State-led policy dialogues on migration – the inter-State consultation mechanisms on migration (ISCMs)– are important actors in “migration diplomacy,” international cooperation on migration and migration governance, particularly regional governance of migration. Often they are the only entities specifically focusing on migration within or across the regions.  Over more than three decades, they have provided an informal, non-binding environment for States to shape common approaches to migration governance at the national, regional, interregional and international levels. 

Regional governance of migration refers to the combined frameworks of regional legal norms, laws and regulations, policies and traditions as well as regional and interregional organizational structures, inter-State consultation mechanisms on migration and the relevant processes that shape and regulate collective regional approaches with regard to migration in all its forms, addressing rights and responsibilities and promoting regional and interregional cooperation.

Global migration governance refers to the “norms, rules, principles and decision-making procedures that regulate the behaviour of States (and other transnational actors)” (Betts, A. (ed.), Global Migration Governance,2011). According to the Global Commission on International Migration, “in the domain of international migration, governance assumes a variety of forms, including the migration policies and programmes of individual countries, inter-State discussions and agreements, multilateral [forums] and consultative processes, the activities of international organizations, as well as relevant laws and norms” (Migration in an Interconnected World: New Directions for Action).

In the IOM Assessment of Principal RCPs, migration governance is conceived as a process that starts with the identification of an issue and which may culminate in the enactment of laws, policies or practices. The three distinct phases in the migration governance process (each phase occurs at the State, the international (bilateral, regional and inter-regional) and the global levels) are:

  • agenda setting (developing common ground among States) and issue definition (an understanding of different types of migration and the issues at stake in them and the emergence of a common set of terms and concepts used to understand migration);
  • consensus-building through communication (often to the point where communication and coordination with other states becomes a more natural part of the governance process) and, eventually, position convergence (on a particular aspect of migration, or an issue of particular concern); and
  • changes in concrete laws, policies or practices governing how migration is managed at the national and regional level.

ISCMs potentially contribute to each of the three phases of migration governance.

Specific outcomes of their work, which are not necessarily discrete outcomes, include:

  • Providing a forum for dialogue and discussion in an informal, non-binding setting (as mentioned above);
  • Providing the opportunity to create a government network and create relationships between the officials of different countries;
  • Providing technical support, training and capacity building for officials;
  • Providing the opportunity to discuss and compare migration laws, practices and policies, often leading to policy coherence and/or the development of laws or agreements;
  • Designing and implementing pilot projects or regional initiatives;
  • In some cases, preparing a common, regional perspective for input into global governance processes;
  • In some cases, providing a repository for data on migration.


ISCMs’ contribution to migration governance
  • ISCMs have contributed to shaping common approaches to national migration governance among their constituent States and to the emergence of convergent policy approaches at the regional, interregional and international levels. 
  • ISCMs have paved the way for the emergence of global initiatives addressing migration and mainstreaming migration into the political agenda at the highest level. 
  • ISCMs have been instrumental in building their member State’s capacities and piloting new regional initiatives and projects. 
  • ISCMs have proved as efficient migration policy forums and policy coordination and networking instruments. 
  • ISCMs continue to play a unique role in allowing informal, non-binding policy dialogue among and across regions.
  • ISCMs contribute to the national, regional and global levels of migration governance. ISCMs continue to shape approaches to migration governance among Member States without jeopardizing State sovereignty.
  • ISCMs’ greatest contribution is seen through the establishment of regional models of migration management and the promotion of harmonization in national policies.
  • ISCMs have contributed to almost every area of migration governance and emerging migration policy issues and challenges, including security, skills recognition and portability, and voluntary return and reintegration.

As informal entities, most ISCMs do not have indicators to measure the impact of their work in their Member States’ national migration policies. Lack of clear indicators makes it difficult to evaluate the outcomes and results of the ISCMs' work or to credit ISCMs for their accomplishments.

ISCMs are most valued by States for their expertise on migration, for fostering partnerships, networking and trust-building; promoting dialogue on emerging issues; sharing effective practices for national migration policy development; policy coordination among States and within and across Regions; informality; and tailored capacity building. 

ISCMs and global initiatives addressing migration

ISCMs have built a solid foundation for international cooperation and global initiatives and are useful platforms for cooperation on global initiatives related to migration, such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) Initiative or the global compacts for migration and refugees. 

ISCMs and 2030 Agenda

The 6th Global RCP Meeting in 2016 addressed ISCM’s role in SDG implementation, follow-up and review.  A number of ISCMs have organized events addressing SDGs since 2016 and have contributed to SDG implementation and/or review within their respective MSs and/or regions. 

ISCMs and Climate Action and COP

ISCMs and the Global Compact for Migration

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration assigns important roles to RCPs and other ICSMs in GCM implementation, follow-up and review, in particular by contributing to the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF). 

ISCMs were referred to in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (paragraph 54) and the Global compact for migration Modalities Resolution (paragraph 22) as valid existing mechanisms contributing to the preparatory process and negotiations towards the Global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.  Paragraphs 47, 50 and 52 of the Global Compact assign important roles to regional consultative processes on migration and other ICSMs in implementation, follow-up and review, in particular by contributing to the International Migration Review Forum.

The 7th Global ISCM Meeting in 2017 addressed ISCM’s role in the Global compact for migration and resulted in GRCP 7 Highlights – joint actionable commitments arising from recommendations by ISCMs and partners to the global compact for migration.  . These were submitted to the GCM stocktaking conference in December 2017 along with the summary of the pre-GRCP stocktaking survey on ISCMs and the GCM

While GCM implementation rests with States themselves, ISCMs can contribute to their efforts by providing expert platforms for the exchange of practices, information and knowledge on the GCM; and thereby building respective Member States’ capacities.  Irregular migration, labour migration, migration and development, drivers of migration, counter-smuggling and counter-trafficking are GCM themes also frequently addressed by ISCMs in their positions and recommendations on the GCM. 

According to 2018 Review “The role of inter-State consultation mechanisms on migration in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”, many ISCMs see their having a role in contributing towards the GCM Objectives on data, drivers of migration, regular migration pathways, reducing vulnerabilities, counter-trafficking, social inclusion, and international cooperation and partnerships. 

Both GRCP 7 outcomes and the 2018 IOM Review point to the ISCMs potential for partnerships with other regional actors (e.g., UN Regional Commissions or regional political or economic organizations) for more effective engagement in GCM implementation, review and follow-up at the regional level. 

The GCM invites RCPs and other ISCMs (“State-led initiatives on international migration”) to provide platforms to exchange experiences, foster multi-stakeholder partnerships and contribute to the IMRF “by providing relevant data, evidence, best practices, innovative approaches and recommendations as they relate to the implementation” of the GCM (paragraph 52). 

Many ISCMs have been considering their potential engagement with the GCM since 2016 and some also participated in the GCM consultations.  During the two-year-long GCM preparatory process, various ISCMs included the Compact in their agendas, workplans and strategies. Several ISCMs formulated formal positions or recommendations during the GCM stocktaking exercise. As major players at the regional level ISCMs have the potential to contribute to GCM regional reviews in partnership with other regional actors and provided that they are mandated by their Member States to engage in the GCM.

GRCP Reports
ISCM Key Documents

ISCMs and Migration Governance

ISCMs and the Global Compact for Migration

ISCMs and the 2030 Agenda

ISCM Calendar
ISCM Highlights Newsletter
Related Links