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DO IMMIGRANTS FLOW BOTH WAYS?

By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE

APPARENTLY, the newly-elected Zambian government issued a worrisome statement about foreigners who were living in the country, of which most of them were Zimbabweans, and the UPND administration accused them of illegal trading in Lusaka’s streets and using fake documents to disguise themselves as Zambians.

The government reportedly warned of future raids on all illegal immigrants with the help of the immigration officials and other public security agencies. This warning seems prophetic and raises the question: Does life improve for immigrants after migrating to other countries?

In fact, young African men and women risk everything, including their lives, to take on the perilous trip across dozens of borders and the treacherous waves of the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life in Europe. 

Some die along the way, some are turned back and some who complete the journey realise that life may not be easier across the frontier. But with few jobs and dim prospects at home, millions of youths and young adults in impoverished Africa still choose to migrate, often clandestinely.

Such movements of people pose difficult questions for many governments and for the international community. One of the most pressing concerns of governments and citizens in industrialised countries is irregular migration: illegal entry, bogus marriages, overstaying temporary admissions, abuse of asylum systems and the difficulty of removing unsuccessful applicants.

Besides, migration is currently at the centre of disagreements between the mainly poor sending countries and the richer receiving nations. Today, the world is more connected than ever. Information, commodities and money flow rapidly across national boundaries, a phenomenon often referred to as globalisation. 

But while industrialised countries are promoting easier flows of capital, goods and services (which they mainly supply), they are at the same time restricting the movement of labour, which comes mainly from developing countries. Developing countries view this as a double standard, especially since labour is an important factor in the production of goods and services.

Admittedly, migration brings with it many complex challenges. The issues include human rights, economic opportunity, labour shortages and unemployment, the brain drain, multiculturalism and integration, and flows of refugees and asylum seekers. 

Policymakers also must grapple with issues of law enforcement. Many are also focusing on human and national security.

Owing in part to labour shortages in certain sectors, an expanding global economy and the long-term trend of ageing populations, many industrialised countries need migrants. They face shortages in highly skilled areas such as ICT and health services, as well as in manual jobs in agriculture, manufacturing and construction. 

Many turn a blind eye to irregular migration to fill jobs locals do not want to take on. Nearly all immigrants gain economically when they move from one country to another – albeit those from Europe, America and China head to Africa to find better business opportunities. So, do immigrants flow both ways?

Although there are limits to the number of migrants they can take, for a number of reasons, including rising national unemployment. Some countries of the European Union (EU), for example, have a growing number of “underutilised” workers, who are either unemployed or forced to work part-time. 

As a result, more receiving countries are becoming more selective about the migrants they are willing to take in, opting mainly for those with skills or capital to invest.

In stark contrast, developing countries are demanding more open policies. They view migration as offering an opportunity to reduce the ranks of the unemployed, earn revenue through the remittance of workers’ earnings, and import much-needed skills, knowledge and technology via returning residents. 

Yet they are also concerned about losing skilled workers to richer countries, a process referred to as the brain drain. Aware of the detrimental effect of such migration, some have introduced measures to reduce the departure of people whose skills are needed, such as doctors and nurses. 

However, developing comprehensive policies to manage all these issues is daunting.

Most people who seek to migrate are pushed by circumstances in their home countries. Civil wars, poverty and persecution prompt people to become refugees, asylum seekers and labour migrants. 

In most emigrant-producing countries, jobs are scarce or salaries are too low, obliging people to seek opportunities elsewhere. Therefore, in times of peace, governments can stem the flow of citizens seeking to leave by creating jobs. 

Over the last few decades many African countries have failed to create jobs despite pursuing structural adjustment policies recommended by the World Bank and IMF. 

Instead, in many countries there has been a decline in job opportunities and real incomes. Many developing countries maintain that freer migration would be a quick means of increasing their benefits from globalisation. The challenge is to develop policies that are acceptable to both industrialized and developing nations and that will spur global economic growth.

The proposals have generated heated debate, with some opposed to giving any concessions to people living in the country illegally. Such concessions, they argue, would reward “wrongdoers.” 

But there is growing pressure from EU, UK and US businesses for comprehensive immigration reform, including guest-worker programmes, to provide legal ways for those who have entered the country illegally to continue working. 

Due to the need to fill jobs in many developed countries, there has been a trend toward relaxing entry conditions for certain categories of workers, particularly in agriculture on a seasonal basis.

One thing is for sure – there are obvious reasons that make China a preferred partner for Africa. Africans should take a page from China’s playbook on development and sovereignty. They could keep their home in order and also make the best out of the competition between great powers and global economic players whether they are from the West, Far East or the Middle East. 

As things stand, China is already winning the hearts and the minds of Africans. The West will have to either change tact or forever play catch up. But can Chinese migrants seeking to find better business opportunities in Africa, integrate?

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