In Focus

Vienna Migration Conference 2023 discussed the need to conclude the ‘Pact’, step up labour migration, and safeguard fundamental rights at borders

12 October 2023

The eighth annual Vienna Migration Conference (VMC2023) took place on 10 and 11 October 2023, gathering key stakeholders from the migration policy world. Discussions centred on pressing topics in migration governance, including how to facilitate safe and regular migration, protecting migrants’ rights at borders, what the future of work might look like, and the role of policy in securing needed workers. A range of speakers took stock of where we stand and where we need to go, sharing successful initiatives and ideas for the road ahead.

VMC2023 brought together some 250 decision-makers, practitioners, and analysts from governments, international organisations, academia, think tanks, the private sector, and civil society to discuss current developments and future dynamics shaping migration and mobility in and beyond Europe. The two days of wide-ranging conversations were streamed live to a global virtual audience of 1,500.

Since last year’s VMC, the world has seen the outbreak of new conflicts and coups, joining an already daunting list of challenges impacting the movement of people across borders. At the same time, the migration debate is increasingly focused on the issues of climate change, the rising cost of living, widespread labour shortages, and increasing migration, both irregular and regular. Against this backdrop, diverse speakers shared their perspectives on the old and new forces shaping international migration – and how governments, international organisations, civil society, and the private sector should respond.  

For a variety of reasons, thousands of migrants risk their lives by taking dangerous land and sea migration routes, not least across the Sahara and the Mediterranean. For this reason, VMC2023 dedicated a series of sessions to exploring effective policy responses regarding people on the move and ensuring higher standards for safe migration. Speakers stressed the need for multidisciplinary and balanced approaches to achieve this goal and the importance of cooperation with countries along migration routes. There was a general consensus among in-person and online participants that there are indeed policy solutions that ensure the right balance between secure borders and commitment to respect, protect and fulfil human rights for people on the move – and ICMPD will continue to maintain a space for dialogue and debate on this critical issue at the annual VMC and elsewhere.

Current labour shortages in Europe, which are expected to worsen were also the topic of much discussion. Private sector speakers emphasised the need for policymakers to enable employers to hire the workers they need – including those who currently live in another country. They also pinpointed where the EU can help make the region more attractive to global talent. Given increased concerns about the impact of climate change, newer skills are needed to support the green transition, and the VMC2023 side event highlighted opportunities via migration and mobility schemes.

It was apparent that there is considerable momentum behind the Pact on Migration and Asylum, with decision-makers expressing optimism that it could be concluded. At the same time, there was a recognition that this would be a big step but not the end point. Talent policy, for example, is an area that must be further explored. And expectations need to be managed if the Pact is agreed; palpable results will take time.

Over the course of two days, the audience heard that migration policies perhaps work better than often thought, but that there is still much to achieve in view of current and upcoming challenges and opportunities – and that it is critical to become much better in communicating aims and approaches applied. As ICMPD Director General Michael Spindelegger noted, “We cannot do this work without enhancing the consent and support of our citizens. We need to find the concrete arguments to recalibrate the discourse. We have to be clearer on what a lack of legal and orderly migration might entail for our economies and welfare systems.”


The Vienna Migration Conference is ICMPD’s flagship event, dedicated to providing a space each autumn to discuss unfolding global trends, geopolitical dynamics, international cooperation, and the European migration agenda. More information on VMC2023, including the session recordings, are available on the VMC website.

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