As The Pandemic Recedes, Let Migrants Move Again

As The Pandemic Recedes, Let Migrants Move Again

Post by Isabel Wang.

Source: “As The Pandemic Recedes, Let Migrants Move Again,” The Economist. August 1, 2020.

The coronavirus has led to immense global immobility. Borders are closed. Trips are canceled. Jobs are cut. Dreams are deferred. Although the pandemic is starting to recover and countries are gradually starting to open up again, some nations are unwilling to open their doors to migrants.

There is a fear of a second wave of the pandemic. And even if a vaccine develops and COVID-19 suppresses, countries might still not accept foreigners. Suspicion of foreigners has led to harassment toward people who look Chinese in many countries. Also, mass unemployment caused by the pandemic makes voters believe that migrants take jobs from the natives, an argument that many politicians such as Mr. Trump explicitly make. Along with his executive order in June suspending most work visas aiming at “aliens who present a risk to the U.S. labor market,” immigration will likely be inhibited even after travel restrictions loosens up.

These fears, however, are poorly-founded. The virus does not take note of nationality. Migrants make up a small portion of travelers compared to tourists and business travelers, so borders should be open to migrants if they are short-term travelers. More migrants mean fewer jobs is an economic fallacy because “migrants bring a greater diversity of skills to the workforce” and facilitate the labor market in the long run. Policymakers can adjust to recent market changes and tailor admission criteria for migrants to meet local needs. Moreover, migrants are over-represented among those who make workplace safety and productivity possible—they are harvesting food, delivering groceries, and helping to save lives in hospitals.

Trump’s “nail-the-door-shut” approach where he locked out skilled workers, internal company transfers, and international students can bring long term damage to the nation’s wellbeing. The current policies would make domestic firms lose talents, slow technological innovation (e.g. vaccine development), and push brainy students out to study in Canada instead. Besides the U.S., some countries have seen tighter immigration policies as well as ones that are willing to be more open after the pandemic than before. Italy is alarmed at Africans crossing the Mediterranean while Malaysia has pushed boatloads of Rohingya refugees back into international waters. On the other hand, Japan is allowing foreign “trainees” (migrant workers) to switch jobs, and the U.K. just offered residency to 3 million people from Hong Kong. 

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