Many developed countries in Europe and Asia have an ageing population and a shortage of skilled people to fill vacancies in the workforce. India has a very young population with over 18 million people reaching the age of 18 each year. Can we find ways to encourage and facilitate emigration of a few million people each year from India to fill the world’s vacancies?
History of human migration
From time immemorial human beings have moved out of the places they were born in, sometimes by choice in search of better opportunities and often away from conflict. This migration has allowed the human population to grow, and human beings developed physically and mentally. Scientific discoveries, inventions and innovations would have been impossible without this migration. The world is clearly better for this and yet migration has not always been welcomed.
The earliest migration could have been in search for better hunting grounds. Maybe someone found a place with larger caves or a field with juicier berries and decided to invite her family and friends to move there with her.
Or someone may have been thrown out of a tribe for not abiding by the rules of the tribe or because of jealousy. Maybe a tribe was attacked by another tribe and the survivors ran for their lives and moved further away. Running from conflict continues to be a significant reason for migration even today.
As humans developed, people started traveling for trade and some traders settled in the new places they found because they found better opportunities for making a living or maybe because they found a soulmate in this distant land. Or sometimes because they found a place with better weather.
More recently people have started migrating for education, better jobs, a better quality of life and as mentioned earlier, continue to run away from conflict zones in Syria, Afghanistan and the like. Future migrants may seek refuge from the effects of global warming and rising sea levels.
Benefits of migration
As alluded to in the beginning, as people congregate from different places and pool in their collective wisdom and experience, new and improved ideas germinate and grow. Innovation is the rise and there is a diversification and expansion of the economy even as it absorbs and benefits from new skills and capabilities. The competition for jobs leads to improved productivity in the economy and more than anything else, this diversity and intermingling leads to a more beautiful world with more art and culture. Finally, I just believe migration is right. If the jobs cannot always go to where the people are, people can and should go to where the jobs are.
Objections to migration
Despite all the benefits listed above, none of our readers will be ignorant of the hatred, fear and dislike of immigrants in most host countries. Some of it can be attributed to fear of the “unknown other”. There is also fear of having to compete with the newcomers for jobs and the worry that the increase in labour supply will depress wages. There is also suspicion that the newcomers are not invested in the community the same way as the current residents and therefore may cause harm to the local populace but more than anything else it is the sense of “nationalism” and perceived threat to their current way of life. Many of these fears are unfounded and the “nationalistic fervour” is another name for racism and capitalised by unscrupulous politicians. These people make it difficult for the market to attract labour to where it is needed and perpetrates global inequality.
Need for immigration in host countries
However the market is a powerful force. The aging population in the developed world is reducing the working population and leading to a lower GDP. Funding pension and other programs is becoming difficult. Young people are needed in the medical fraternity, the armed forces, the police and even in your neighbourhood retail store and restaurant. Technology has been changing rapidly and the disruptions in technology are leaving many jobs requiring scarce skills. Immigration is the only way in which the skills can be obtained in the short run. There are some underdeveloped nations where sudden discovery of mineral and other natural resources will need access to skills that are available only elsewhere.
Challenges to be overcome by potential emigrants
Now that we are convinced that despite many objections, migration is a good thing for all concerned, why is there so little migration and so much global inequality? Migrants face enormous hardship and have to cross numerous challenges before they can successfully emigrate and settle in the host country. The first hurdle to be crossed is one of knowing where the jobs are but soon as you cross that one there are many more to be crossed. How much can one expect to be paid? How does one apply for these jobs? What skills are needed and how hard is it to acquire these skills? Then comes the issue of visas and work permits, fear of being exploited by the employers in the host country, hounded by local racists and being looked at with suspicion by the police. There are also some practical issues like taxation and cost of living..
Can we help create a “jobs abroad web portal” that uses AI engines to scan employment advertisements across the globe and identifies skills in high demand? Can we then follow up with a huge investment in skills through career impact bonds which facilitate upskilling by financing skills in demand? We can take a page from Philippines and increase the number of MOUs we set up with host countries to facilitate visas and work permits. Double taxation treaties with more countries will help.
Essentially, India will need to look at emigration in the same way we look at coffee exports or software exports? Can the government actively look for opportunities to promote the fantastic and abundant supply of skilled and eager young population?
International Migration Report: https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/migrationreport/docs/InternationalMigration2019_Report.pdf
Migrants for Export by Robyn Magalit Rodiguez
Migrant Rights at Works by Laurie Berg
Migrants and City-Making by Ayse Caglar and Nine Glick Schiller
The Lost Workforce: https://www.pwc.lu/en/upskilling/docs/pwc-wgs-report-the-lost-workforce.pdf
Migration and Mental health edited by Dinesh Bhugra and Susham Gupta
Views are personal and do not represnt Takshashila Institution’s policy recommendations