Migration has been going on since centuries. With the evolution of more organized forms of governance and politics, migration was made subject to rules and regulations but it never stopped. Since ages, one main driver of migration has been a search for livelihood. Today we term this as economic migration. Economic migrants are people who leave their country of origin and travel to another country for better jobs and earnings. This analysis talks specifically about the economic migration from less developed regions of the world to the developed ones. This category of migration has undergone drastic changes in the last two centuries owing to innovations in technology. Technological revolution in industry; introduction of manually operated machinery first and more autonomous digital machinery afterwards, has affected economic migrants.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates economic migrants to be 164 million out of a total of 258 million international migrants in 2017.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates economic migrants to be 164 million out of a total of 258 million international migrants in 2017. These economic migrants are facing major challenges today in getting employment abroad. There were immense economic opportunities and promises for the migrants when the Industrial Revolution hit Britain and expanded to other countries (18th century onwards). For example the case of Britain where great numbers of factory workers were needed in the cotton mills in the northern parts in the mid 17th century. The economies grew rapidly on the shoulders of the migrant work force which kept the industry running since those countries themselves, were short of labour. With the passage of time, the revolution did not remain confined to manufacturing. Rather it expanded into trade and technologies.
Today, this revolution manifests itself in semi-autonomous digital high-tech machinery and Artificial Intelligence (AI); the blue prints of which are being laid down. Take for example the very recent Presidential Executive Order in the United States of America titled ‘Accelerating America’s Leadership in AI’ under which landmark resources and investments are being dedicated to prioritize AI research. Similarly the launch of a 15-year ‘new generation AI development plan’- July 2017 in China, further clarifies the world’s dive into AI in industrial manufacturing. The research and theories laid down under this plan are expected to be put into application in manufacturing, agriculture and various other sectors.
The demand for unskilled or low skilled labour has dropped down since machines can now do a lot of major work. These transformations and introduction of high performance machinery into the industry has altered labour markets where demand for unskilled labour has narrowed down. Being short of local labour in the past, the developed economies have invested in innovations, creations and focused on finding solutions that can lower there dependency on foreign labour. While technology became innovative, machines began to replace man power in manufacturing industries. This brings us to the ‘end of work’ logic; which means that high tech digital equipments are capable of doing the work of twenty people with just one skilled person operating the equipment or the machine. This change gives us the realization that the opportunity has not vanished altogether rather it has changed its form. This new form is more generous towards high skilled and technology equipped labour. Therefore, what developed countries need now is definitely not unskilled work force. Rather, they need new ideas, new knowledge and new skills. We do not see human resource becoming irrelevant in any way. Instead, the human resource possessing knowledge and skills is increasingly relevant. Consequently, the developed world, owing to its milestone technological progress, has turned less welcoming and more restrictive towards low skilled labour migrants
This scenario hinders employment availability for unskilled labour and in turn makes the unskilled labour migrants a burden for host country’s economy. Since quantity demand is a function of supply, given the excessive supply of labour (mainly unskilled) from the under developed regions and very limited employment opportunity for that labour in the advanced economies, the wages drop considerably that the dream of better earnings remains unfulfilled. Therefore, the monetary flow to the home countries of migrants also declines. Moreover, low wage earners contribute to worsening of micro and macro-economic indicators in the host countries. That is the reason why the developed world is introducing stricter working visa policies with every passing day. The issue of economic migration is being securitized by these countries. The US closing its doors for South and Central American migrants, this is one of the few examples where, under the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), migrants are pushed back through the Southern Mexican border and covert strategies are being opted to make sure that they remain in Mexico and would not cross the border into the US. Most of these migrants travel to the US to escape poverty back home and to find jobs.
The important point is that economic migration should be capable of ensuring monetary flows to generate foreign revenue of the receiving countries, ultimately stabilising the economic growth.
Contrary to this policy line of the developed world, pro-economic migration proponents stress on the need for job creation within these countries. It is true that an ever great number of small businesses and start-ups are emerging every day. These countries are witnessing an entrepreneurial boost. One might expect that with growing number of enterprises should follow growing number of jobs. But unfortunately this is not the case. Technology is enabling businesses to boost even without the presence of a big team and work force. Start-ups involve individuals and very small teams. So there are increased numbers of enterprises but decreased numbers of hirings.
The cases of labour migrants from the less developed countries are experiencing a rapidly transforming labour market in the developed countries whilst having some lessons for the former. We do not expect that migration stops altogether. The important point is that economic migration should be capable of ensuring monetary flows to generate foreign revenue of the receiving countries, ultimately stabilising the economic growth. To materialize this source of revenue generation, the economic migrants should learn and equip themselves with technical skills. This will ensure that they are a boon for the economy of their respective countries. Unskilled and uneducated economic migrants will not be able to make a fortune in the advanced countries. They will eventually return with no benefits for their home countries. The sending countries lack in provision of technical education and skill learning. This is the area in which investment has to be made to make economic migration fruitful and meaningful.
Nuzhat Rana has served as an intern at the Centre for Strategic and
Contemporary Research. She is currently pursuing her MS in Peace and
Conflict Studies from NUST, Islamabad.