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The effect of closed borders on migration, remittances

30 March 20210 comments

The full extent of how the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on migration, seasonal work and remittances across the globe has become clearer with the release of a raft of new data.

The International Migration Outlook’s shows that migration flows to OECD countries – measured by new permits issued – are estimated to have fallen by 46 per cent in the first half of 2020, and 2020 is expected to be a historical low for migration to OECD countries’.

At the same time, between March 11 2020 and February 22 2021, almost 105,000 movement restrictions were implemented globally.

And 189 countries issued 795 exceptions to these restrictions, thus enabling mobility.

Border closures and mobility restrictions are a global issue and the impact on migration, internal, regional and international, is a global phenomenon.

Seasonal work in the agricultural sector has been impacted significantly by COVID in Australia and elsewhere.

It has implications for food security at different levels in different places.

“It has become very evident how migrants are very often essential workers. This also extends beyond temporary, seasonal migrants of course, and raises questions about how we approach what is often referred to as low-skilled labour,” the IOM outlook says

“The salience of migrants’ contributions in the health sector, in services, and in construction is a reminder of often critical reliance on migration.  During the pandemic it has become more and more clear that in many instances not only seasonal workers, but migrants and their work more generally is quite consistently undervalued in societies around the world,” it says.

The outlook says that remittances, or the money migrants send home, has also been hit by the pandemic but appear to be recovering.

“Remittances, are a critical source of funding securing many families lives, but also in macro-economic terms for nation-states. In March-April 2020 concerns over remittances levels falling in 2020 in the face of the pandemic were huge,” the IOM outlook says.

“Data from Latin American for 2020 show a significant dip in remittances received, starting in March 2020 and continuing into April and May, but then remittance levels pick up through the summer.

“Comparing with autumn 2019, we see that autumn 2020 levels are above the preceding year. This seems to suggest remittances in the context of this pandemic are an incredibly resilient source of finance for families and societies,” it says,

The IOM outlook report also says that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the risk which many migrants face as front-line workers.

“The risk in these jobs, which often are also tough, has only slowly been recognised, and not always effectively acted upon,” the outlook says.

“COVID-19 has a unique impact on migrant. First, reliance on migrants work effort is heavy, but there seems to be quite limited policy development toward sustainable and equitable solutions reflecting a recognition of this reliance.

“Second, the pandemic in general, but also border closures and mobility restrictions specifically, underscore our economic and social vulnerabilities. These are largely interconnected and thus shared vulnerabilities, which demonstrate the necessity of the approach to migration taken in the Global Compact on Migration – one that is holistic.

“Such an approach is not always easily traceable in concrete policy measures in different countries, however.

“Third, there is a paradox in how what might be described as an obsession over ‘immigration’ appears in parallel with a basic insight that the roles of migration and migrants are often fundamental to how our societies function. This disconnect is paradoxical, and illustrates how concerns that dominate public debate may be quite disconnected from the reality on the ground, and deflect policy attention from real problems which require concrete solutions,” the outlook says.