The Big Migration Debate: Finding the Missing Link

The migration debate is complex and emotional. Investment migration only accounts for a small part of worldwide migration, yet the industry has the potential to help shape a more productive discussion.  

Few issues excite controversy like migration, and when global especially when countries have to deal with a large inflow of mi- leaders in Europe, the US and other parts of the world, discuss migration, they usually talk about threats rather than opportunities.

“But the reality is most countries around the world need migrants to fill vital gaps in their workforce and to keep their economies going”, says Khalid Koser, Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF).

While refugees might be the face of migration in the media and in public perception, the large majority of the world’s 258 million migrants have moved across borders voluntarily. What worries Koser most is that “we are quickly losing the space for a sensible, honest and informed debate about migration. There is a polarisation of views, between those who champion migrants and see all refugees as heroes, and those at the other end who believe all migrants, and especially wealthy migrants, are criminals. Of course, the truth is somewhere in between, and one of the key challenges is to overcome these generalisations”.

Most voluntary migrants are working-age adults and can actively contribute to economic growth in their destination countries. For businesses, their different and complementary skills can positively influence innovation and enhance productivity. Research even shows that many times immigrants actually work harder than their native hosts. Obviously, Koser says, it would be hard to argue on a purely economic case for countries to take in migrants – there always will and has to be a humanitarian element. “But I think we need to cross the red line that has been somewhat drawn between humanitarian and economic arguments.”

Migration of the Highly Skilled

He stresses that there is a compelling case for countries to counter intolerance towards mi- grants, especially when it comes to attracting highly skilled migrants. “For them it is not all about salaries, they are mostly after higher living and working standards, including good healthcare, educational opportunities for their children and, most importantly, a safe living environment.” According to Koser, countries that cannot get on top of xenophobia will simply lose out on the global competition for talent, because the people that they want to attract will simply not want to live in an environment that is hostile towards foreigners of all shades.

So what can governments do to bring their people along? Koser says the issue for politicians is that “the topic of migration is almost toxic. The downsides for them are greater than the upsides”. He sees the reason for this in the fact that migration certainly costs in the short term, especially when countries have to deal with a large inflow of migrants due to wars and economic crises. However, there is ample academic evidence that in the long term, migration, and the successful integration of migrants into the job market, pays off. ‘’The trouble is that politicians think in four or five year cycles, and there are easier ways to win votes than making a credible case for the long-term benefits of migration’’.

According to Koser, it would be beneficial if corporates, business leaders and even immigrant investors openly champion the debate. ‘’ if they speak out and showcase why migration and a diverse workforce was beneficial for their businesses and the economy, I am sure people would listen.” The discussion also needs to move away from philosophies, such as multiculturalism and assimilation, and focus on the more practical aspects such as giving migrants the chance to get a job, which then translates into wider opportunities. This, he says, is particularly true for the 22.5 million refugees, who often spent many years in refugee camps where they are being cared for in terms of accommodation and food, but “what they really want is work”. Koser sees great opportunity for companies and institutions to utilise refugee skills to a much wider extent. This could include anything from manufactures tasking refugees with basic assembly jobs, to providing them with access to IT equipment and technology. This would allow them to carry out data processing, translation and online education jobs, and perhaps even writing code for companies around the world. “There is no end to what could be done, and this would also give refugees access to up-skilling initiatives and the opportunity for a better life.

Making a Positive Impact

Besides, more research is required about ways to influence politics and perceptions that are clearly misinformed. “My advice would be to look to other areas of public policy and countries where confidence plummeted after a crisis. Take Japan, which managed to re-build confidence in its economy after the nuclear disaster.” Then there are other ways to bridge the gap between humanitarian and economic arguments, between burden and benefit. “Investment migration just accounts for a small percentage of overall migration, but it generates significant funds, which in part could be used to address some of the causes of migration such as famine, poverty and climate change.” It is unrealistic to believe that migration can be stopped completely, according to Koser. Therefore, it is important that countries find ways to cope with it, and investment migration can become part of the solution.

A Chat with Khalid Koser, Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, Switzerland

Source: IM Yearbook 2019/2020

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