Home .Migration Migrants and the crisis
Migrants and the crisis
Tuesday, 18 January 2011 12:55

We all like migrants when the good times roll.  They make an important contribution to our economy.


But when crisis strikes, we get tough with migrants – unfairly and often stupidly so.


The number of the world’s migrants has been gradually creeping up.  According to the statistics, worldwide there are now 215 million, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population.  If we could count all of our migrants, including the illegal ones, the number would be very much higher.


Migration is most pronounced at the top and bottom ends of the labor market.  High-skilled migrants congregate in places like New York, San Francisco or Silicon Valley, London or Paris, and Hong Kong, Singapore or Sydney.  They are active in technology, research, finance, education, the creative industries and so on.  Tokyo has trouble attracting this global elite because it is not really an international city, and Japanese enterprises still follow Japan systems of management, rather than international systems.


Then there are health workers like doctors, nurses and care providers.  The Philippines and other countries provide massive numbers of these health workers.  Even though they could save your life, nurses and care providers are often not considered to be highly skilled by some countries like Japan.


And to close this panorama, there are the unskilled migrants – many of those who do the 3-D work, dirty, difficult and dangerous.  This work could be in the construction industry, oil rigs, agriculture, or factories.  Domestic help work can also be a 3-D job based on the abuse and violence that they experience.  These people are often not well integrated into the economy.  They might have an irregular contract or no contract at all and therefore have no rights. 


They may also be poorly integrated into our societies.  They may not speak the local language.  Their children may do poorly at school.  Some may be victims of human trafficking.  Our governments don’t do enough to help these poor people.  We just use them.


Many of these people may not have a working visa.  They are working illegally.  US congressmen push the administration to turn a blind eye to their illegal status.  Business men who bankroll US politicians like cheap labor with no strings attached.


The hypocrisy of this is clear when crisis strikes.  Public opinion turns against migrants, especially the illegal ones.  While yesterday they kept our economy afloat, today they steal our jobs or rip off our social welfare systems.  The fundamental problem is that governments are not doing enough to facilitate their integration into our societies and economies.  Public opinion should turn against incompetent government, not migrants.


One of the silliest things was the trick of the Japanese government against ethnic Japanese migrants from Brazil and other Latin American countries.  The government invited them to migrate to Japan because they shared the same blood.  This was of course a folly.  Because in reality, they had samba running in their blood, not kabuki or karaoke.  So when the financial crisis struck, the government offered these poorly integrated migrants a one way ticket back to Latin America on the condition that they not return for many years.  In the event, many did return to Latin America, but without accepting this poisoned chalice.  They wanted to keep their right to return.  


The tragedy is that all advanced economies need migrants.  Our populations are ageing, and in some case declining.  Migrants fill gaps in the labor market, especially for health workers. 


America desperately needs highly skilled migrants to maintain its economic (and therefore political) leadership.  In the US, the quality of education becomes questionable once you drop below the Ivy League schools.  And at high school, American kids do poorly for literacy, numeracy and scientific capacities.  


Then there is the 3-D work, we will always need migrants for that. 


Migrants need to be treated better.  They are an asset and an investment for our economic and social development.  And what’s more, they are human beings like you and me.  They deserve to be treated right.


While most governments are badly managing migration, this comes to the fore when there is a financial crisis – when we wish to throw out migrants who had been doing such a good job. 


So it all comes back to these financial crises which are making a mess of everything, not just the financial sector.  Governments must become more serious about stopping these crises.  But there are not enough signs of that yet.



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