High-Skilled Migration and COVID-19 Pandemic

High-skilled migration will have an impact on business, functioning of countries, but this is something we have to build in our future policy making.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has an unprecedented impact on mobility and migration. While the healthcare crisis has halted labour migration to a large extent, there is greater impetus on migration of high-skilled workers, notably healthcare workers. In this context the Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT) along with the Centre for Research on North America (CISAN-UNAM), jointly organised a webinar titled “High Skilled Migration and Post-Covid-19: Perspectives from Latin America and Asia” to assess and identify the forthcoming challenges to high-skilled migration, migration management, etc.

Prof Enrique Camacho, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, moderated the session posing some methodological questions, such “how pandemic affected skilled migration may be an empirical matter, but to ask about possible scenarios in the aftermath of COVID-19 is a matter of speculation.” He argued that this speculation is interdisciplinary in nature and a common ground of reflection can be articulated by theoretical and philosophical disciplines. The philosophical approaches may offer phenomenology and interpretations of how COVID-19 has affected the experience of skilled workers and also applied ethics may offer ideal frameworks to discuss what justice requires from public policy in the aftermath of worldwide pandemic. In so far as shifts in experience around phenomenological studies are concerned, we have seen an increase in the use of information and communication technologies. Closer space proximity is no longer required in work places. Hence, many people may use these not only to be recruited, but also to work in other countries without leaving their country of origin. Undoubtedly, there will be pernicious effects of these kind of technologies.

Also Read : Migrants and COVID-19: Coping Strategies Worldwide

Latin American Migrants in Australia

Prof Laura Vazquez Maggio, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, discussed the management of COVID crisis by Australia – a country in which skilled migration has played an important role since the last decade of 20th century.

The number of permanent skilled migrants arriving in Australia yearly has increased dramatically from 10,000 in mid 1980s to 120,000 yearly in the past five years.

During 2018, there was an arrival of 11,20,00,000 skilled migrants in the country. A high proportion of Latin American migrants from countries such as Mexico have migrated into this stream. Prof Vazquez pointed out that “the vast majority of Mexican migrants in Australia are highly skilled.” The financial support provided by the Australian government has been able to provide tax support both to individuals and Australian companies. Prof Vazquez made an important point that “a significant number are on high skilled temporary visas in vulnerable situations and in many cases not eligible for financial support.”

Prof Vazquez brought in the discussion an important category of international students as one type of highly skilled migrants affected by COVID crisis. She stated as countries imposed ban on travel thousands of international students have been stranded and have seen their academic plans interrupted without a foreseeable solution. Their situation is particularly vulnerable as they are not eligible for government financial support schemes and in many cases, they have made an enormous investment in an international academic experience.”

In order to manage COVID crisis universities have moved online, which resulted in Australian universities suffering from large revenue and job losses. The projected loss of international students may result in the sector loosing upto 19 billion Australian dollars in the next few years. It is not an exaggeration to say that without international students, Australian universities may downsize, and some might collapse altogether.

Repercussions of High-Skilled migration

Dr Didar Singh, Former Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), pointed out that “there are many positives and negatives in so far as sending and receiving countries are concerned. For sending countries, the biggest issue is ‘brain drain’”. However, the Bangladeshi Diplomat in Middle East, Nahida Sobhan, does not see it as brain drain, but rather as a ‘brain gain’. She took the case of international students to substantiate her argument and claimed “the top countries where international students originate from mainly from Asia, China, India and Republic of Korea and if u look at the pace of the development and the growth rate in these countries I don’t think it indicates towards any brain drain but rather a lot of international students always contribute back to their countries of origin.”

Ms Sobhan emphasised that it depends on how we channelise and what actions we take to profit and make it a sustainable brain gain both in countries of destination as well as in the countries of origin.

Also Read : COVID-19 Calls for Reforms in International Migration Governance

 Several other impacts were pointed out by Dr Singh, such as more skilling within the country, i.e., high-skilled migration travel better, all countries promote or try to promote circulation of migrants particularly, of skilled migrants. So far as receiving countries are concerned, there is an anti-feeling against all migrants. He argued that there is a feeling developing and a fear developing both for low and high-skilled migrants that they take away jobs and steal technology. Yet policy of most countries encourages high-skilled migration rather than low-skilled migration. A grave problem that is faced by many countries now is that of return migration and in turn reduced remittances.

An important impact highlighted by Dr Didar Singh was the future of high-skilled migration will be marked by more and more of localisation and less of globalisation. He remarked that this will have an impact on business, functioning of countries, but this is something we have to build in our future policy making.

(Slider Image: Panoramas, UoP)

(This news report is the Part I of the 2 part webinar panel discussion by the GRFDT)