Friday, December 5, 2008

Return to Sender?

As the global economy comes crashing down around us, the main question on my mind, of course, is how the recession will affect migrants. Migration Information Source reports on two trends in developed nations -- first, efforts by countries that had previously wooed migrant workers to return them and second, continuing competition for skilled migrants despite the economic downturn.
It seems, of course, that unskilled and low-skilled migrants will be hit the hardest by the financial crisis. Countries such as Spain and the United Kingdom that welcomed migrant workers during the economic boom years are now trying to figure out how to address rising unemployment and a glut of workers. As I've posted, these can be dangerous times for immigrants, who are often scapegoated by politicians and pundits when economic conditions go awry. Spain has tried fiscal incentives to entice unemployed legally resident migrants to leave -- without much success. Both Spain and the UK will cut back on migrant visas next year; similar moves seem likely in Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, where hostility towards migrants is on the rise.
In contrast, many developed nations continue to welcome skilled migrants with open arms. The United Kingdom's new points system will allow foreign students to stay and find employment after graduation, much like a program in Australia that tripled the number of foreign students studying there. Sweden and Canada have also implemented more flexible work permit requirements for skilled workers, a trend that may continue in Europe despite the recession as ageing populations face labor shortages.
With anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise, let's hope that these nations work to ensure that any returns proceed humanely and to combat xenophobic propaganda that often comes hand-in-hand with economic hard times. As the trends relating to skilled labor illustrate, immigrants are crucial to most developed economies -- and more importantly, they are humans with rights and should be treated as such.

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