There is a side spectacle to every Olympic defeat. President Barak Obama would have noticed it when he presented Chicago’s bid to hold the 2016 Olympics. Notwithstanding the star power he displayed in the presence of his wife Michelle during his short-three-hour-trip to Copenhagen, there was just one question posed to him. And, it came from an unexpected quarter: Pakistan. Despite being dependent on Uncle Sam for its existential problems, Pakistan sought to know whether Chicago was the right venue given the security and visa problems that foreigners had to face when they entered the dream land of liberty and democracy!
In many ways, this is also an issue that migrants — skilled or unskilled labourers — face on any foreign soil. Other than the severe immigration, economic and labour tests that they invariably face, they also invite the wrath of the rising anti-immigration and anti-foreigner protesters. While severe immigration restrictions on the movement of labour has mutated over time, capital, especially finance-capital, is accorded royal treatment — the price that is now being paid to restore the financial sector in many countries seems like an ocean as compared to a drop of investment in labour and liberal immigration policies.
Disturbingly, the global financial crisis — it caused a long-lasting damage to the real economy by igniting recessionary fires in the industrialised world — is bound to make matters worse for both internal and external migration. That immigration policies are among the hottest political issues is now well known.
Yet, for any speedy recovery from the worsening global recession, the pundits of the World Bank keep chanting, almost like a mantra, that there should be no burdensome restrictions on liberal movement of services’ providers — whether they are plumbers from Poland or computing professional from the Philippines and India. Besides, demographic trends — an aging population in developed countries and a young and growing population in developing countries — and growing employment opportunities, combined with cheaper communications and transport, have increased the demand for migration.
Last week, the United Nations’ Human Development Report 2009 poignantly captured the state of play on barriers for human mobility and development. It brought a human development perspective that is often missing in the debate on the trade in labour movement, namely, the benefits that accrue on different fronts because of internal and external migration. Of course, there are negative features which are caused by unchecked urbanisation which is forcing large migratory movements from rural areas to cities. There is also the issue of brain drain. It, however, demolished the myth that migration is a one-way-flow from poor countries to the rich world. If anything, “migration from developing to developed countries accounts for only a minor fraction of human movement and the share of internal migrants in the world’s population is remarkably stable at around 3 per cent over the past 50 years, despite factors that could have been expected to increase flows”.
And remittances from these short- or medium-term migrants brought dramatic changes in countries where they originated. India, Mexico, China, and the Philippines among other countries are often cited as clear beneficiaries. “It cannot be the sole national strategy to accelerate human development.” Countries like India, which moved from 114th position to 134th (a drop of 20 places) in its human development index last year, must continue to address the constraints to human development at home, with migration viewed as a potential element in a broad-based approach.
Nevertheless, the positive contribution from migration — which is more than six on a scale of one to ten — can only be realised if there is a level playing field and an appropriate architecture for international rules. Sadly, in the global trade negotiations, the developing countries were unable to get in place rules that would have helped them benefit from their comparative advantage in labour. In the previous Uruguay Round as well as in the dying Doha Round now, the developing countries led by India have made few measurable gains in Mode 4 which deals with the short-term movement of their service providers.
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