180 Degree Wanderers

by Juan L. Mercado

PALO ALTO, California — Newspapers tag it “the “Great U Turn”. Think tanks use that caption for   the   180-degree course reversal    by migrant workers, as recession bites.

“Global  migration  flows have reversed  for  the first time since the Depression,” notes Wall  Street  Journal.  But  where does this “U-turn” go from here?   For migrant-exporting countries, like the Philippines, that’s  the over-riding  issue.

For  years, North America, oil-flush Middle Eastern countries or  EU members sought brain and brawn from  abroad. In  Southeast Asia,  migrants from  Indonesia, Burma and the Philippines  streamed  towards   better-off   Singapore or  Hong Kong.

Petro-dollars  transformed  countries, from Saudi Arabia to  Iraq, into voracious labor importers. Filipinos and other  migrants padded the United Arab Emirates’ population  by more than 6% a year. It will dip this year.

Worldwide, the share of  migrants, in total population,  more than doubled  ( from 4% to 10%)  between 1960 and 2005,  UN  estimates. Workers remitted  to the Philippines, Bangladesh  to Guatemala and  Tajikistan almost $305 billion  last year.

Now, World Bank forecasts  padalas could  decline by  8% this year  the  cuts  come in a  tense  pre-2010 election  period. One out of  every  nine  Filipinos works abroad today.  They are  auditors in Iceland, nurses in UK, sailors  off  Somalia to  priests in the US. About two percent of those ordained priests in the US last year came from Asia about 3,200 Filipinos migrate  daily.

There are “involuntary U-turns”. Ex-Superintendent  Glenn Dumlao and Cezar Mancao, were  extradited  in the Dacer-Corbito case.  They’re  a minority. Some of  the jobless have returned.  But   most  remain abroad  to  seek  other jobs.

In  early  2009,  more Mexicans  returned  (139,000)   than left  ( 137,000 ) for the U.S.  Improved conditions in Colombia and economic opportunities are attracting Brazilians.  Latinos in the US  declined by as much as 400,000 from a peak of about three million in 2006, says Pew demographer  Jeffrey Passel.

Many migrants opt to ride out  the recession abroad, rather than go home., observes. Gregory Watson  of  InterAmerican  Development Bank  Indeed,  “Developed countries have suffered substantial job losses. But the prospect in their home countries is even worse.”

Thus,  migrants will  dig in  and may actually see growing demand as employers trade down to lower cost labor”, argues  economist  Jayati  Ghosh in Yale Global   Online.  We’re seeing anecdotal  evidence of  Filipino  OFWs who tighten belts rather than scrounge for a return ticket.

Remittances  buy food, medicine, repaint the house, send kids to school, etc. Human nature being what it is, some  dribble away for  cockfights, alcohol and kalapati  na mababang lipad. But  the lag  in  savings and investments could bite deeper soon.

Firms continue to shutter and employees are cashiered.   Backlash against foreign workers is escalating.  One out of every three workers in  Singapore  is a foreigner. Like much  of  Asia, its exports collapsed by a stunning 35 percent in January, Washington Post notes. This city state is “an epicenter… of a new flow of reverse migration.

“Thousands of foreign workers, including London School of Economics graduates with six-digit salaries and desperately poor Bangladeshi factory workers, are streaming home,” the paper adds.  Singapore may see  an exodus of  one in every 15 workers — by end of 2010.  The port  is overcrowded with idled  freighters. “We’re running out of space to park them,”

Malaysia is expelling 100,000 Indonesians. Thousands of Burmese fled  the brutal junta.  Now, their jobs in Thailand  have crumbled. Czechs and Poles head  home from Britain.

Reverse migration is not a monolithic  movement.  Models  pioneered by Taiwan and South Korea, bring back more than 80% of the students who receive PhDs in the US, says Alex Soojung Kim Pang of the Institute for the Future  in Palo Alto.

University Miguel Nicolesis  draws  talent  to  a  research institute in  Brazil, he notes. About 4,900 Chinese scientists returned from abroad to Beijing’s Zhongguancun Science Park. Cyberspace facilities in  Bangalore and  Hyderabad, attract  Indian executives to return.

“Last   century’s  ‘brain drain’, is likely to be replaced by ‘brain circulation’, Pang  predicts. “Globally mobile scientists and engineers will work, for shorter periods, in a wider range of countries.  They  build professional networks  in multiple countries and boost  scientific infrastructure of the home country.”

What  will  the ultimate impact of  the current crisis be on migration? Will  latest migration U-turn outlast the current recession?  That  is  not  clear  Historically, the world has never seen this number of migrants before.  But  cultural  factors emerge  as  troubling as  financial bottom  lines.

What are the effects of absent  parents on children, in formative years?, thoughtful Filipinos ask.  There is a dearth of sustained research into this field.  Almost two generations of  Filipinos grew into adults without parents.“ I  hear confessions of  students whose parents work  abroad,” a Jesuit friend said. “I’m stunned  by  their confusion and pain. I hate to think of what lies ahead.”.

The jury is still out on what the ultimate impact the current crisis may have on migration, says Yale Global  Online.   Recession or no recession,  one thing is sure: “Hunger is a wanderer “ Does  this  bother any of our “presidentiables”?

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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