Nepali Doctor in the Maldives.. Photo: IOM/Natalie Oren
The International Day of Family Remittances (IDFR) has traditionally focused on raising awareness around migrants and remittances. Beyond remittances however, migrants and diaspora contribute to countries of origin and destination economically in many more ways – through labour force participation, entrepreneurship and self-employment, small scale investments including real estate/portfolio markets, nostalgia/ cross border trade, and the transfer of social and technological capital. On this 16th of June, when all eyes are on the World Bank’s predicted 20 per cent drop in migrant remittances this year, it is important to recognize the key factors behind this drop and to draw the attention to how broader economic contributions of migrants and diaspora are affected and could be safeguarded in the future.
DROP OF REMITTANCES CAUSED BY LOSS OF INCOME
Remittances are the most visible form of migrants’ economic contributions to their home countries. At an economy-wide level, remittances form a substantial part of several countries’ GDP and help shore up foreign reserves. However, being private money, 75 per cent of which are used to cover essentials, the anticipated drop in remittances will be particularly felt by migrants and their families who may no longer be able to cover school fees, medical expenses, housing, or even food. The COVID-19 lockdown severely limited the business of money transfer operators (MTOs) which migrants rely on, highlighting the importance of digitalization in service provision. At the same time, an even more important factor disrupting remittance flows remains the disproportionate loss of income by migrants who became stranded in countries of destination or managed to return only to face little prospect of any economic activity in their communities of origin, similarly affected by economic stalemates.
Similar to the 2008 global financial crisis, when the increase in unemployment among foreign‐born workers in the EU‐28 countries was substantially higher than that of native‐born workers, during the COVID-19 crisis too, migrant workers are more exposed to the loss of employment and risks of being stranded in situations of vulnerability. With a considerable number of migrant workers employed in low-skilled professions with high levels of informality, they are particularly vulnerable owing to limited savings and access to social security.
LOCKDOWN AND MOBILITY RESTRICTIONS EXPOSE SECTORS AND BUSINESSES TRADITIONALLY RELIANT ON MIGRANTS AS THEIR WORKFORCE
A large proportion of the estimated 164 million migrant workers are impacted by COVID-19-related restrictions, both in term of immediate loss of jobs but also their capacity to engage in economic activity abroad even once these restrictions start loosening up. Strict lockdown measures have disproportionally impacted sectors with high reliance on migrant labour. In the transport sector, more than 52,000 extraordinary restrictions to mobility were put in place worldwide. In the tourism sector, the United Nations World Tourism Organization predicts a 45–70 per cent decline in the international tourism economy. In the agriculture sector, due to movement restrictions, producers experience severe labour shortages, which resulted in disruptions to harvesting, processing and distribution, and impacting agri-food systems more broadly. The construction sector, which employs migrant manual workers, especially in the Middle East, has been similarly negatively impacted. Finally, the healthcare sector itself, experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand for its services, employs has a large migrants: nearly 30 per cent of healthcare workers in OECD countries having a migrant background.
IMPACT ON MIGRANT ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND TRADE
Migrant and diaspora entrepreneurship is primarily concentrated in small and medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and micro-businesses. COVID-19 has particularly impacted micro-businesses and SMEs. ILO estimates that around 81 per cent of employers and 66 per cent of own-account workers are in countries with recommended or required workplace closures with severe impacts on current operations and solvency. Migrants and diaspora trade and operate as cross-border traders. Trade in goods and services in the era of COVID-19 is seeing a slowdown owing to the disruption of value chains, border restrictions, and trade policy shocks, such as commodity prices.
COVID-19 pandemic is seeing a slowdown owing to disruption of value chains, border restrictions, and trade policy shocks, such as commodity prices. COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities of the global and regional supply chains. During the pandemic there were severe disturbances in about a quarter of intermediate inputs coming from China used in high-tech exports in the US, Japan, Korea, and Mexico. Migrant businesses, even small-scale suppliers of goods and services or nostalgia goods, can be linked directly or indirectly to supply chains. Further, informal cross-border trade in goods and services between neighboring countries and at border markets which is conducted by small, unregistered traders suffered due to lockdown and travel restrictions.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SAFEGUARD MIGRANTS CONTRIBUTIONS? A FEW SUGGESTIONS
Monitor the situation and evolve appropriate responses: As industries and sectors respond and restructure to the COVID-19 pandemic, labour mobility is likely to evolve, with some jobs being created while others become obsolete either by design or default. Effective responses at each distinct phase of the COVID-19 crisis will depend on good data collection and analysis relating to migrant movement and concerns, the financial sector, economy wide developments and national policy measures.
Access to social security and fiscal stimulus packages: As of now, 190 countries introduced some kind of a social protection programme in response to COVID-19. Most countries also implemented some form of financial stimulus. These mechanisms can be an important safety net for migrant employees, self-employed individuals, entrepreneurs, and traders. Ensuring awareness of and access to financial stimulus packages and other employment measures is important for both diaspora and stakeholders in the migration continuum, such as remittance services providers.
- Remittances specific: During the past few months, the international community worked intensively to evaluate remittance developments and formulate responses for governments, the private sector and diaspora associations. Two notable initiatives in this regard are the Swiss and UK government-led Call to Action on “Remittance in Crisis: How to Keep Them Flowing” and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) coordinated Remittance Task Force. Migrant and Diaspora areas for consideration include:
- Digital Remittance Transfers: A technology-centric framework can bring remittance costs down, largely due to the lower physical infrastructure requirements, as was the case for mobile money transfers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Informal Remittances: It is estimated that informal remittances amount to 35-75 per cent of official remittances to developing countries with significant regional variations; exact figures are however difficult to obtain. Digitization and falling commission charges may reduce reliance on informal channels. Enabling behavioral change from informal towards formal remittances including through financial and digital literacy is therefore important.
- Inter-relationship between debt and remittances: Some of IOM’s initial work on debt, migration and remittances for South and South-East Asia indicates that debt can be both a driver and an outcome of migration. Migrant households incur loans to cover education, healthcare, farm support and business establishments. Migrants also take out debt to cover migration-related costs, e.g. recruitment, transportation, documentation and medical checks. Remittances are used to service such debts as, for instance, in rural households in South-East Asia which reported debt repayments as the primary use of remittances as well as in Bangladesh and some parts of South America. In the COVID- 19 context, migrants debt sustainability becomes important as remittances and income levels shrink.
- Financial inclusion: In 2017, only 63 per cent of adults in developing economies had an account at a financial institution, well below the 93 per cent in developed economies. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity through greater digitization and expanding the migrant and diaspora financial ecosystem to enable greater financial inclusion. Financial/ digital literacy enables informed choices by migrants on the cheapest and most secure means of sending money home, as well as saving possibilities. Enhancing the financial ecosystem, in terms of creating or re-adapting financial products to migrant- specific needs including savings accounts, insurance products, mortgages, investment products, portfolio investment and real estate purchases can further boost financial inclusion.
- Diaspora contributions: A key and often forgotten factor is the need for active inclusion of diaspora and migrants who are willing contributors in times of crisis. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments can deepen relations with diaspora communities and strengthen virtual collaborations with skilled diaspora, such as health care professionals via telemedicine.
- Migrant enterprises and trade opportunities: migrant enterprises lack access to finance and are least likely to benefit from COVID-19 linked fiscal stimulus measures. Migrant entrepreneurship and trade can consider the applicability of financial stimulus packages and other schemes to access credit, loan guarantees, microfinance. In the case of returning migrants, access to such schemes would enable longer-term livelihood plans. In addition in the context of internal migration, the creation of employment opportunities in the rural context is both an opportunity and a necessity.
- Looking to the future of work: Finally, the world of work even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic was already changing due to technology and globalization. COVID-19 may result in newer ways of working, i.e. digital versus physical, changes in business models, e.g. 3D printing versus manufacturing, changing workers preference, i.e. remote versus on site working and potentially both job destruction and job creation. Developments in the future of work arena can act as both a driver of migration – if there is massive unemployment – as well as reducing migration pressure, if creative solutions can be found. These developments are likely to influence migration flows resulting in what some economists refer to as a “period of unpredictable and fast-changing migration flows.” A key challenge will therefore lie in managing these transitions.
In conclusion – while the true impact of COVID 19 will depend on the kind, shape and duration of the economic recession, it does provide us with an opportunity to reset, for the better, certain areas of the migration continuum, including in the area of migrant and diaspora economic contributions. Any way we look at the evolving post COVID-19 world, and how it will impact the migration domain, we are at an inflection point with the opportunity of turning this phenomenon into something that benefits all countries and people.
Note: Views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of IOM.
(1) Senior Economic Development Specialist, International Organization for Migration. The author is grateful to Marina Manke, Head Labour and Human Development Division, IOM and Sarah Lima, Intern, IOM for the substantive comments provided in the preparation of this piece. While this piece is focused on the economic contributions made by migrants and diaspora, it is important to recognize that these economic contributions are possible if migrant’s social protection and rights are safeguarded. For the purposes of this piece the term migrant is deemed to include diaspora and maybe used interchangeably.
IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre releases report on ‘Migration from and within West and North Africa’
IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre released the newly edited volume “Migration in West and North Africa And Across the Mediterranean: Trends, Risks, Development, Governance”. This publication is the result of a highly collaborative effort involving several IOM offices and organizations participating in the programme: Safety, Support and Solutions II (SSSII) funded by the United Kingdom Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as well as other international, non-governmental and civil society organizations, and research institutions.
Timely, reliable, disaggregated data and contextual information related to people on the move are imperative for well-informed, well-managed and humane policymaking on migration. A nuanced understanding of migration realities is especially important in contexts such as North and West Africa and the Central Mediterranean, where migration movements result from a combination of different and complex factors.
This volume, divided in four sections, dedicated to migration trends risks, development, and governance, focuses on West and North Africa, and mostly covers the period 2018–2019. Its four sections deal with four of the most salient features of migration along the Central Mediterranean Route: recent trends and data issues, development implications, risks and vulnerabilities, as well as national, regional and cross-regional governance elements. The report provides a comprehensive, fact-based account of migration from and within West and North Africa and across the Mediterranean, with the aim of promoting more coherent, forward-looking and sustainable policy approaches, in line with the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).
There are eight main take-aways from this volume:
- Recognize migrants’ agency: migrants from West and North Africa adopt flexible mobility-based strategies to contribute to their own and their communities’ resilience and development.
- Address inequalities in migration: Migrants adapt their mobility-based strategies to changing policies, labour market opportunities, border controls and risks.
- Understand linkages between migrants’ profiles and circumstances, and exposure to risks and their ability to cope with them.
- Ensure the basic rights of migrants irrespective of their legal status.
- Recognize the complexity of migrant smuggling.
- Deconstruct misconceptions and fears about African migration.
- Support policies informed by evidence and monitor their impact.
- Produce and analyze administrative data to inform opinions and governments.
This publication is released at a time of great uncertainty regarding migration and changing socioeconomic dynamics around the world, especially during the ongoing global health crisis COVID-19, which further exacerbates pre-existing vulnerabilities. However, this volume is anticipated to improve evidence on migration in these regions, and its use for programming and policy in the wider context of migration governance
Experts speak on importance of accurate data on migration to implement GCM
Global migration experts have suggested that countries should ensure having adequate and accurate data of outgoing and returning migrant workers to take effective interventions at the national levels to protect the migrants during this COVID-19 pandemic situation.
Speaking at the first session of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) webinar series held on Tuesday (September 1), they underscored the need for collecting and utilizing disaggregated migration data to promote safe, orderly and regular migration.
The webinar series happened under part of the six months Certificate Programme on “Global Compact for Safe Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM)” hosted by Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Cross Regional Center for Refugees and Migrants (CCRM), Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT), and the Civil Society Action Committee (CSAC).
MFA regional coordinator William Gois who moderated the sessions threw the volley of questions before the expert panelists to highlight what kind of data actually needed for the countries as these data helped them shaping the migration policies.
He said that the respective countries themselves should determine what kind of data especially on remittance and migration, returning migrants they need for collection to take measures including the reintegration of the COVID affected returnees.
William said that although collecting and utilizing accurate and disaggregated data becomes ‘the first objective of the GCM but it is not the easy objective to work with.’
About 500 participants joined the webinar discussed that the UN member states agreed on the goals of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) for managing international migration in all dimensions.
The non-binding GCM encompassed a total of 23 objectives for better managing migration at local, national, regional and global levels.
The Objective 1 of the GCM begins with a commitment to collect and utilize accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies.
Speaking a panelist, Bela Hovy, Chief of Publications, Outreach and Support Unit in UN DESA highlighted the importance of migration data for implementation of the global compact for migration.
“Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is extremely practical. We don’t need further guidance. In fact, let us make it work. There are lots of low-hanging fruits but quite few actions can be easily implemented. We cannot progress on data in our daily works step by step bottom up,” Bela said.
A presentation was made on background history of the GCM, an intergovernmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations that covered all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.
It was formally endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly on 19 December 2018.
In his concluding remarks, Bela Hovy stressed the need for collecting accurate and disaggregated data on migration to simultaneously implement the 2030 agenda and the GCM in all spheres.
Echoing the importance of migration data, Sonia Plaza, Senior Economist in the Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice of the World Bank, mentioned that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included the issues of migrant workers who were affected by the COVID-19 among other stakeholders.
She said that the impact of COVID has been detrimental disturbing the flows of the migrants and remittances of the different countries. Besides, migration became affected as many countries were in wars and others have been facing economic recessions, she said.
Sonia Plaza emphasized on collaboration of the civil society organizations, international bodies and relevant stakeholders to collect data of the migration as “policies can be based on data on remittances and migrant workers.”
“We have the GCM to improve the international comparability and comfortability of data on migration,” said Sonia Plaza.
Dr S. Irudaya Rajan, Professor, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) Research Unit on International Migration at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, also spoke as panelist at the webinar.
Raising the context of Indian migrant workers and Non- Resident Indians, Prof Rajan said that there was no specific data of the Indian migrants badly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lockdown imposed by their government to control spread of coronavirus fully stopped mobility of migrant workers in India, he noted that data was very important to manage COVID but nobody knew how many Indian migrants got stranded abroad and how many of them returned home.
Migration specialist Sara Salman, who is representing the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia said that accessible data had been the preconditions to achieving the rest 22 objectives of GCM.
She said that if there were no reliable data on migration, it would not be possible to see the migration from 360-degree vision.
Migration Governance analyst of Zambia Paddy Siyanga Knudsen, Bangladesh’s former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque and Shabari Nair, of Labour Migration Specialist for South Asia, based in the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team (DWT) in New Delhi, among others also spoke at the webinar.
We have built brains working for NIS- Babandede
57 years ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria promulgated a law to establish Immigration Department now known as Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), in this interview with a team of migration journalists, the Comptroller General of NIS, Muhammad Babandede, MFR reflects on the activities of the agency and his desire for the establishment.
NIS has come of age since August 1, 1963, how will you rate its impact on the economy?
During the colonial era many people assumed immigration was all about stopping the ‘enemies’ from entering, and on the other hand prevent citizens from exiting the nation. As the global economy progresses, immigration develops links with the economy. In last few years that I have been on board as Comptroller General of Immigration (CGI), we have been looking at the relationship between the economy and immigration. Although, we are not revenue generating agency however if you look at what we have been able to generate in last five years, we have made appreciable impacts on the economy. The NIS internally generated revenue in naira was N25 billion in 2015. After I assumed office in 2016, we generated N36 billion. In 2017, we netted N38 billion, in 2018, it was N39 billion and in 2019, we made N52 billion. While we are not operating like a business agency, we are helping to build the economy through remittance to the national pulse and partnership with Nigerian companies generating revenue for the government. Aside that, we have been able to contribute to the growth of foreign exchange earnings such that between 2015 and 2019, we made $29 million, $30 million, $29 million, $36 million and $41 million respectively. All went directly into the government pulse. A very interesting dimension is the introduction of 79 visa categories by the NIS that is encouraging income to nation.
How has the visa increment from six to 79 categories improved the immigration policy and the economy, also what informed that decision?
Governance in the 20th century encompasses review of socio economic policies. During the colonial era, aliens were regarded as people who were not citizens of Commonwealth nations in Nigeria. When I became the CGI, we changed that political concept to migrant which is the global language of migration to determine people who are coming here for whether short, temporal or permanent stay. Simply put, if you are not a Nigerian citizen here you are a migrant. In relation to visa categories, for example, for those coming to fix machines for industries, we created short visit visa for them so also business people have their visa classifications, ditto for sports, health, religion and others with work permits. While selecting these categories of people, we have a duty to pick those who will make sense to the economy. Visa on arrival can be accessed by any qualified persons instead of traveling back to their country of resident or national. This is a major economic development between the immigration service and investors.
With huge investment and energy put into digitalization at the NIS headquarters, how do you intend to cope with the challenge of maintenance?
I agree with you that there are challenges of electricity and internet connection, but we have solved the problem of power to a large extent by connecting to the solar energy and electric inverter. For interment, though, we rely on galaxy but we are sourcing for other alternatives. Concerning maintenance and sustainability, I am happy to inform you that all our machines and equipments are now being installed and managed by the NIS officers because we have built their capacities to a level that we don’t need to look for consultants to do most of our services in relation to that. The brains have been developed and they are now working for us.
Many Nigerians at different times have expressed concern over porous nature of the nation’s borders in some areas, how is immigration addressing this?
When we talk about digitalization of NIS operations, border management is also involved. Frankly, one cannot address the challenges involved through manual approach only. We digitalized because we want transparent, quick, effective actions and services. There is no way the 25,000 immigration officers in Nigeria can patrol the verse land and sea border posts without digital equipment. To address the issues, we have developed a curriculum for land and sea border by training the border patrol corps specially. We now have as many as 84 management posts. We also have established additional 15 Forward Operational (FOB) Base stations equipped with patrol commanders, domestic facilities, patrol vehicles, armory and digital vices connected to the national grid where officers can reside while manning their different border posts. Now NIS operates e-border government approval. Border strategic plans and policies developed by the NIS for 2019-2023 are being implemented. As the first contact at the border, if there are issues beyond us we are in a position to involve the navy, military and the police. The border management system is such that accommodates biometrics of migrants and capture their identities. At different times, several people have been tracked and arrested for trying to either enter or leave Nigeria illegally via digital process. This month alone, 37 of them were arrested and have been prosecuted. In all we do, we also relate and carry along the border communities too.
Last year, the American government pronounced suspension of issuance of non-immigrant visa to Nigerians over failure to comply with certain security details, how was the matter resolved?
America did not ban Nigeria from accessing their visa categories rather they only restricted certain classes of people from being employed. We have done what they required from us. For instance, the issue of lost and found passport to invalidate the use of such document anywhere had been complied with. Once you appeared at the border, all the features about your data would be revealed accurately. We have complied with the security details as requested and they were satisfied. Nigeria now uploads on Interpol base on data relating to passports matters. It is a credit to our country that we achieved such feat even though America imposed it.
Thousand of NIS officers are being promoted under your leadership, what are other things to expect?
We have done well by promoting thousands of officers, by building barracks, commands, local government offices and the FOB as transit camps for officers at the border. All these were not there before. Every worker desires promotion even some that have retired got promoted because while in service they sat for promotion exams but for one reason or the other could not be approved for next rank. We have elevated them accordingly because it was not their fault. Out 29 Assistant Comptroller Generals (ACG), 15 of them have retired but they still got their rank and we are proud to do that. I will continue to sustain promotion and build accommodation units to make officers comfortable. We have identified a company with pedigree after due diligence that has fashioned out mortgage plans for officers that will make them own their own houses as they progress in the service. This is a year of enforcement of all our visa rules. Every migrant in Nigeria must comply with the dictate of the approved visa. For example you cannot come into Nigeria with a visa to install machine in a company and you are doing the opposite, we shall follow up on you and ensure that you are returned to your country immediately. I had personally arrested Indian selling things at Kano market on this. So, all the comptrollers and senior officers including the CGI Special Monitoring Team as backup to keep commands on their toes must rise to the visa enforcement. Nigerians’ labour and jobs must be protected.
What is driving force behind your achievements so far?
- I believe leadership should not be by accident. I became the CGI in May, 2016 and by July that year, I had already formed a team and we went for a retreat in Kano. When I assumed office I was dissatisfied with the state of facilities at many of our state commands. I set a target of completing and commissioning at least two new immigration offices in a year. In 2017 I was able to complete offices in Kano and Jigawa states. In 2018, we completed that of Plateau and Abia states. In 2019, Adamawa and Zamfara states offices got commissioned. In 2020, we had commissioned NIS office in Kwara state. As I speak with you Enugu and Nasarawa states’ offices and three others are ready for unveiling. What I am saying in essence is that a leader must have a plan and must be able to task himself with a deadline to achieve because success doesn’t happen by accident.How are you looking forward to the future?
My dream is to produce a better person to succeed me as CGI. That will be my greatest achievement. If the institution did not produce someone that is better than me, then I have not succeeded. Development of NIS as an institution is paramount to me as officer in charge now. All the senior officers from the rank of comptroller and above, I have ensured that they all partake in leadership training in the area of emotion intelligence and other skills to prepare them for the future.
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