Trinidad & Tobago Express
Migration not infrequently gets a bad press. Negative stereotypes, portraying migrants as ’stealing our jobs’ or ’scrounging off the taxpayer’, abound in sections of the media and public opinion especially in time of recession. -United Nations Human Development Report 2009.
The UN report quoted about goes on to say that ’fears about migrants taking the jobs or lowering the wages of local people, placing an unwelcome burden on local services, or costing the taxpayer money, are generally exaggerated.’ The report asserts, ’when migrants’ skills complement those of local people, both groups benefit’ and it makes the point that ’the policy response to migration can be wanting. Many governments institute increasingly repressive entry regimes, turn a blind eye to health and safety violations by employers, or fail to take a lead in educating the public on the benefits of immigration.’
Little wonder, then, that immigration in most countries has become a political problem. In the absence of factual information on the benefits of immigration to societies, the view prevails that immigration is harmful.
There are some regions where outward migration has a peculiarly negative impact because of the type of people who migrate, and the Caricom area is one such region where there is a heavy outflow of tertiary educated people to the developed countries. Among the Caricom countries that have lost more than 75 per cent of their tertiary educated graduates are Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
Unless these countries can produce enough tertiary educated graduates to retain a sufficient number for their own development needs, not only will the public and private sectors suffer from a paucity of knowledge-based skills and entrepreneurial insights, but their economies will become uncompetitive and will decline.
There is, of course, another side to the immigration story, and that is remittances sent back home from migrants abroad. In the 53-nation Commonwealth, remittances have become extremely important.
They are greater than official development assistance and second only to foreign direct investment (FDI). The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reckons that total global remittances in 2008 were $328 billion as against official development assistance of $120 billion.
All Caricom countries benefit from remittances. The leaders in 2008 in terms of remittances per head of population were Jamaica ($826), St Kitts-Nevis ($760), Barbados ($659), Grenada ($603), Dominica ($412), Guyana ($365) and Antigua and Barbuda ($305). But, it is clear that in 2009, the remittance figure declined indicating that immigrants were among the principal sufferers in the countries to which they had migrated. Many of them lost jobs or were constrained to accept lower wages and, thus, had less money to send back home. In this connection, while remittances are important to the economies of many Caribbean countries, active policies for attracting investment from the Caribbean Diaspora have to be developed for the medium term.
Within Caricom, the problem of migration has become a vexed one in the context of the current global recession. As the 2009 UN Human Development Report stated: ’The current recession has made migrants particularly vulnerable. Some destination country governments have stepped up the enforcement of migration laws in ways that can infringe on migrants’ rights’. It is a human reaction to try to secure the interests of citizens over migrants at a time of crisis, particularly when the migrant community is substantial as in the cases in Caricom of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Even though the Caricom Treaty acknowledges ’Freedom of movement of People’, it is impractical to simply rely on that as a justification for migration. Caricom ought to be considering a more practical and realistic approach to the issue until such time as a Single Market and Economy is fully completed.
One way of doing this would be to develop a regional mechanism under which there would be a partnership between countries of origin and destination, supervised by a Council of appropriate officials, to manage migration based on labour needs with full respect for the rights of workers and their families by the destination countries.
In early November, the former Prime Minister of Jamaica, P J Patterson, quietly began the Chairmanship of a Commission on Migration and Development. The Commission is an initiative of the Ramphal Centre in London, named after the Caribbean’s former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Shridath ’Sonny’ Ramphal.
The task before it is huge, but Patterson has the gravitas in the international community to make the Commission’s report a seminal document in the international discourse on how the issue of migration should be tackled to maximise its benefits.
Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat who publishes widely on small states in the global community.
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