The global diaspora of educated Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans living in the developed world stand accused of undermining the development of their countries of origin.
Paul Collier’s recent book, Exodus, makes the case for strict ceilings on the movement of people from poor countries to rich ones. My colleague Michael Clemens and I already reviewed the book at length for Foreign Affairs (ungated here), but Duncan asked me to respond to the specific issue Paul raised in his recent post for this blog: that skilled migration from some low-income countries is so high that it undermines the development prospects of people “left behind”.
I suspect many people reading this blog in Europe or North America share Professor Collier’s skepticism about skilled migration. You are not racist or xenophobic. You are concerned about the plight of the global poor, and you welcome diversity in your community. But you worry that maybe Paul’s right. Maybe the fate of your university-educated Haitian neighbor down the street, earning a good salary and sending her kids to good schools since moving to the UK, is a distraction from, and maybe even a hindrance to, reducing poverty in Haiti.
Take a seat people, you’re in for a treat. Paul Collier kicks off an exchange with Justin Sandefur on that hottest of hot topics, migration. I’ve asked them to focus on the impact on poor countries, as most of the press debate concentrates on the impact in the North. Justin replies tomorrow and (if I can work the new software) you will then get to vote. Enjoy.
How does emigration affect the people left behind in poor countries? That many countries still provide little hope of even basic prosperity to their citizens is the great global challenge of our century. It is a vital matter that the poorest countries catch up with the rich world, but it will require decades of sustained high growth. To see how emigration might affect this process of convergence we need some understanding of why poor countries have remained poor. Poverty persists in very poor countries because of weak political institutions, dysfunctional social attitudes, and a lack of skills. These all make it difficult to harness economic opportunities. Emigration can either help or hinder convergence depending upon who leaves, how many leave, and for how long they go.
Potentially the most important effect of emigration is on political institutions and social attitudes. There is now solid evidence that emigrants can be influential in their home societies. Students from poor countries who have studied abroad in democracies and then return home bring with them pro-democracy attitudes. They spread these attitudes and are sufficiently influential that they speed up democratization. An astonishingly high proportion of the political leaders of poor countries have studied and worked abroad, and this equips them with both new skills and new attitudes. Even migrants who do not return have some influence with their relatives back home. During elections they give advice and commentary, and they become role models for smaller family size.
Migrant workers sent $6.77 billion home to Bangladesh in July-December, down 8.41% from the same time a year ago. For the first time in recent memory, Bangladesh has experienced a decline in remittances in the first half of the fiscal year.
There are four factors that can potentially account for the decline in remittances: the stock of Bangladeshi migrants abroad, earnings per migrant worker, their average propensity to save, and their average propensity to remit money home out of those savings.
The standard refrain appears to be that the flow of remittance has declined because the stock of Bangladeshi migrants abroad is not growing like it used to. This is because of two reasons. First, Bangladesh is failing to send more workers abroad to traditional markets and exploring new markets. Only 450,000 migrants managed oversees jobs in 2013, down by more than 33% from 680,000 in 2012. Second, the number of migrant workers returning to Bangladesh has also increased because the government could not resolve problems related to the legal status of Bangladeshi migrant labors in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait through diplomatic channels. Unfortunately, there is no reliable time series on the annual number of migrant returnees from abroad.
Is that the full story? I doubt it although it is generally assumed that the current migrant workers are sending money home as per their maximum capacities and have little capacity to increase the flow.
Governments and private sector actions can drive down remittance prices for migrants (Credit: DFID-UK, Flickr Creative Commons)
An estimated 215 million people – 3 percent of the world’s population – have emigrated far from home in order to earn enough to support their families. They include workers from Bangladesh who go to Saudi Arabia to work in the construction trade, Afghans who go to Iran to work in the oilfields, and workers from Burkina Faso who go to Cote d’Ivoire to work on the cocoa or coffee harvests.
Toiling far from their loved ones is not their only burden. When migrants send their money home, they are often charged exorbitant fees, which can account for a large portion of the small sums being sent - sometimes upwards of 20 percent – and can inflict a punishing burden on poor migrants.
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China’s prospects stirred interest as the BRICs met in South Africa and a new survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found China on course to become the world’s largest economy by 2016. The OECD study says China has “weathered the global economic and financial crisis of the past five years better than virtually any OECD country” and should be able to continue catching up and improving living standards over the next decade. While the OECD study says China needs to shift to more environmentally friendly modes of consumption and production, a new Climate Institute/GE Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index finds that France, Japan, China, South Korea and the United Kingdom are “currently best positioned to prosper in the global low-carbon economy.”
It was early 2001, I think, when I got a call inquiring about future-flow securitization of remittances. She was preparing for a talk at the UN, the caller said, and she was intrigued by yet another way in which remittances impact the migrants’ country of origin. That was two years before I began my research on remittances. The caller that day was Dr. Sharon Stanton Russell, a pioneer in the field of remittances and migration, a mainstay of migration studies at MIT and the Inter-University Committee on International Migration (IUCIM).
Sharon passed away on February 27, 2013. More than 300 people attended her funeral on March 23.
Standard trade literature tends to view migration and trade as substitutes. In that framework, either workers migrate to satisfy foreign demand or foreign demand is satisfied by trading goods and services. There is a growing literature, however, emphasizing that migrant networks facilitate bilateral economic transactions by disseminating their preferences for goods from their country of origin and/or by removing informational and cultural barriers between hosts and origin countries. In this case, migration would reduce transaction costs associated with trade and may be a complement rather than a substitute to trade.
In the old times, the post office was the main connector between cities and villages, moving letters and money to every corner of the country, and contributing towards the territorial consolidation of states under construction.
Nowadays in developing countries, the post office is often seen as an old, inefficient, deficit-making, and outdated public service which has not been able to keep up with the evolving markets. It takes some imagination to see the post office as a potential engine for economic growth and social inclusion.