Does COVID-19 mean the age of global migration is over?

Good overview of one of the more significant papers on immigration post-COVID by Alain Gamien that policy makers need to consider and reflect upon:

Is the age of migration coming to an end?

For decades, easy air travel, globalization and international competition for talent in some sectors have made the growing movement of people around the world seem unstoppable.

Until now.

With the pandemic leading to less demand for skilled labour, a smaller aging population to support, and a proliferation of travel restrictions, the future of human migration looks pretty grim post-COVID-19.

“We have had the migration boom, now we are heading into the bust,” said Alan Gamlen, a human geographer at Monash University in Australia and author of a new paper about the outlook of migration, Migration and mobility after the 2020 pandemic: The end of an age?

If Canada’s immigration numbers between April and June — the first full quarter under the influence of the pandemic — are any indication of what is to come, things don’t bode well.

According to a new study to be released later this week by the Association for Canadian Studies, the number of permanent residents admitted to Canada dropped by 64 per cent to 34,260 in the second quarter of 2020, compared to 94,275 during the same period last year.

Those who came under the skilled economic class fell a whopping 52 per cent to 24,805 from 51,665; the family class is down 78 per cent to 5,990 from 27,080; and resettled refugees and protected persons declined by 83 per cent to just 2,685 from 14,570.

While much of that is due to border closures, experts say it’s not immediately clear if the downward trend will be totally reversed once travel restrictions are eased.

In his paper, released in August as part of the International Organization for Migration’s “think series,” Gamlen posed ten key questions that guide future migration and mobility trends.

The No. 1 question on the list is whether countries will need less labour migration.

Unemployment has skyrocketed during the pandemic. With corporate borrowing at a historic high, Gamlen said many companies now lack the revenue to service debt and are either folding or cutting staff.

The net result will be a reduction in demand for migrant labour, with a large pool of unemployed domestic workers and mounting political pressure to hire them over migrant workers.

“It is hard to find grounds for much optimism regarding the short- to medium-term outlook,” Gamlen told the Star.

“We will continue to see dependence on migrant labour in certain sectors of the economy, particularly at the high and low ends of the skills spectrum. This is because some sectors involve work that native workers can’t or won’t do, and because innovation will remain a key driver of prosperity.”

Further complicating the forecast is the uneven death toll COVID-19 has taken on the elderly population, a group that’s particularly vulnerable to the virus as seen in the death rates around the world.

“If high mortality rates persist until a vaccine can be mass produced, the overall death toll could amount to a significant portion of the elderly cohort,” said Gamlen, a long-standing research associate at Oxford University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society.

“If the pandemic devastates a specific generation, it will affect long-term dependency ratios and dynamics of demographic transition. It could reduce the proportion of dependent elderly people in the population and the financial cost of aged care, while generating a boom of babies conceived in lockdown.”

Places where people can move freely to another country by choice will likely see a decline in those rates as they put their migration plan on hold, but the traditional labour-sending countries in the developing world will see a “buildup” of people longing to leave their homelands, said Gamlen.

“The interaction of these changing flows from different places will, I think, lead to a period of unstable, non-linear changes in migration patterns,” he argued.

“The overall volume will decrease, but flows might be less predictable — like when you turn the kitchen tap halfway off, and the water starts spraying out sideways instead of flowing nicely down into the sink.”

Gamlen said it’s inevitable that the numbers of people crossing borders, especially on a permanent and long-term basis, will fall further before they bounce back — if they ever do.

“A huge amount depends on how governments manage all this. They will have a lot of control over when and how borders start to reopen and their choices in this regard will affect both the recovery timeline from the pandemic and from the economic crisis,” he said.

“Opening too early could reignite the spread of the virus. Opening too late could stifle growth and lead to a new era of closed-shop nationalism — which has ended very badly in the past.”

In its immigration study, the Association for Canadian Studies polled 1,531 Canadians between July 31 and August 2 about their attitude to immigration. Forty-six per cent of respondents still believed immigration would have a very positive or somewhat positive impact on Canada while 26 per cent of people held the opposite view.

Given the pandemic, 36 per cent of the respondents said Ottawa should prioritize the admission of those with family members in Canada, followed by refugees (16%), temporary foreign workers (12%), skilled immigrants (8%) and international students (7%).

Jack Jedwab, the academic association’s president, said whether the pandemic will mark the end of migration depends on how long the contagion lasts.

“Canadians seem comfortable with the reduced numbers and are still positive about the impact of immigration and committed to immigration as a strategy for medium to long term economic growth,” Jedwab said.

“But it is not clear when the medium term will occur. The contagion does not provide us with a time frame. There will be a need to reassess the needs regarding immigration given the economic uncertainty and what the changing circumstances call for.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/08/17/does-covid-19-mean-the-age-of-global-migration-is-over.html

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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