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”?