The economic crisis induced by COVID-19 could be long, deep, and pervasive when viewed through a migration lens. Lockdowns, travel bans, and social distancing have brought global economic activities to a near standstill.
Host countries face additional challenges in many sectors, such as health and agriculture, that depend on the availability of migrant workers. Migrants face the risk of contagion and also the possible loss of employment, wages, and health insurance coverage.
The Migration and Development Brief entitled 'COVID-19 Crisis Through a Migration Lens' provides a prognosis of how these events might affect global trends in international economic migration and remittances in 2020 and 2021. Considering that migrants tend to be concentrated in urban economic centers (cities), and are vulnerable to infection by the coronavirus, there is a need to include migrants in efforts to fight thecoronavirus. Migrant remittances provide an economic lifeline to poor households in many countries; a reduction in remittance flows could increase poverty and reduce households’ access to muchneeded health services. The crisis could exacerbate xenophobic, discriminatory treatment of migrants, which calls for greater vigilance against such practices.
The policy brief is largely focused on international migrants, but governments should not ignore the plight of internal migrants. The magnitude of internal migration is about two-and-a-half times that of international migration. Lockdowns, loss of employment, and social distancing prompted a chaotic and painful process of mass return for internal migrants in India and many countries in Latin America. Thus, the COVID-19 containment measures might have contributed to spreading the epidemic. Governments need to address the challenges facing internal migrants by including them in health services and cash transfer and other social programs, and protecting them from discrimination.
The key findings of the policy brief entitled COVID-19 Crisis Through a Migration Lens (released on 22nd April, 2020), Migration and Development Brief no. 32, Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD), which is supported by the World Bank, European Commission, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), are as follows (please click here to access):
• Remittances to India are projected to fall by about 23 percent to reach $64 billion in 2020 from $83 billion in 2019. Remittances grew by 5.5 percent in 2019.
• As the early phases of the crisis unfolded, many international migrants, especially from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, returned to countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – until travel restrictions halted these flows.
• The number of recorded, primarily low-skilled emigrants from India rose in 2019 relative to the prior year but is expected to decline in 2020 due to the pandemic and oil price declines impacting the GCC countries. In India, the number of low-skilled emigrants seeking mandatory clearance for emigration rose slightly by 8 percent to 3,68,048 in 2019 (Ministry of External Affairs, India).
• The lockdown in India has impacted the livelihoods of a large proportion of the country’s nearly 40 million internal migrants. Around 50,000–60,000 moved from urban centers to rural areas of origin in the span of a few days. The government set up camps with basic provisions to provide shelter to these migrants in cities and districts of destination, transit, and origin.
• The number of internal migrants is about two-and-a-half times that of international migrants. China and India each have over 100 million internal migrants. For the poorer sections of the population, especially from underdeveloped rural areas, migration to urban economic centers provides an escape from poverty and unemployment. Remittances from these migrants, typically smaller amounts than those from international migrants, serve as a lifeline and insurance for families left behind.
• Lockdowns, loss of employment, and social distancing prompted a chaotic and painful process of mass return for internal migrants in India and many countries in Latin America. Thus, the COVID-19 containment measures might have contributed to spreading the epidemic. Governments need to address the challenges facing internal migrants by including them in health services and cash transfer and other social programmes, and protecting them from discrimination.
• Migrant workers tend to be vulnerable to the loss of employment and wages during an economic crisis in their host country, more so than native-born workers. Lockdowns in labor camps and dormitories can also increase the risk of contagion among migrant workers. Many migrants have been stranded due to the suspension of transport services.
• Although the use of digital payment instruments for sending remittances is increasing, poorer and irregular migrants often lack access to online services. They require the origination and distribution of funds through banks, payment cards, or mobile money. Online transactions (like cash-based services) require remittance service providers to exercise vigilance against fraud and financial crime, to comply with anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regulations. However, such due diligence has become difficult amid staff shortages.
• The COVID-19 outbreak has placed many internal migrant workers in dire conditions, many losing their (mostly informal) jobs and unable to return home due to disruption to public transport services and movement restrictions. This is the reality for most migrant workers, especially those working in the informal sector and living in overcrowded slums.
• In India, the government has now set up camps with basic provisions to provide shelter to stranded migrants in cities and districts of destination, transit, and origin. Some countries are providing cash support to affected and vulnerable groups with a specific allocation for internal migrants and returned migrant workers.
Please click here to access the essay collection entitled Borders of an Epidemic: COVID-19 and Migrant Workers, edited by Prof. Ranabir Samaddar, Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, 2020.