David Lincoln

Document Type

Migration Policy Briefs

Publication Date



Balsillie School of International Affairs


Mauritius is a society descended of involuntary and voluntary migrants. After two-and-a-half centuries of settlement as a plantation colony and by the time of its independence from colonial rule in 1968 the island nation’s population had grown to seemingly insupportable levels. But having faced the afflictions of overpopulation, social division and economic despair (and sizeable emigration) at the dawn of its independence, it took just a decade and-a-half for despondency to fade and for Mauritius to begin resembling a tropical idyll of sorts. Though poverty persisted as the small island successfully transformed its economy from colonial plantation to mostly industrial (light manufacturing) and service (tourism and financial services) activity, rapid economic growth became a normal condition and living standards improved markedly under conditions of parliamentary democracy. If the threat of overpopulation had initially hung over the fledgling republic, the subsequent period of prodigious economic growth saw a vast expansion of formal employment and a decimation of unemployment. During this growth spurt the Mauritian economy resumed its reliance on contractual labour migrants from abroad.

Contemporary Mauritius enjoys a reputation of developmental success and it is frequently held up as a model to be emulated by other aspiring developers. While the last quarter of a century of this success coincides with a phase of systematic and unabated contractual labour migration, the Mauritian government has more recently embarked on further migration schemes, on the one hand to attract highly qualified and ‘high net worth’ individuals to the country and on the other hand to encourage circulatory out-migration. Both the decades-old system of contractual labour migration and these more recent movements are closely aligned with the country’s development trajectory, providing a test of widely-held assumptions about the relationship between migration and development.

Focusing mainly on international labour migration, and viewing it within the context of a global division of labour, this policy brief provides an account of migration and development in contemporary Mauritius. The first part deals with conceptions of the migration and development relationship, the second introduces current patterns of migration into and out of Mauritius, the third examines labour migration to Mauritius, and the final part offers some conceptual and policy-related generalisations arising from the study of the migration-development relationship in Mauritius. Concentrating on the period 2005 to 2010 and focusing especially on the migration of clothing and textile factory workers, the study relies primarily on official statistics and media reports for its empirical content and it draws also from published and organisational sources.