High Skilled Migration during and post Covid 19:Perspectives from Latin America and Asia

Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT) along with The Centre for Research on North America (CISAN), UNAM organized an insightful and dynamic discussion on “High Skilled Migration during and post COVID-19: Perspectives from Latin America and Asia” on August 4th 2020. This session was moderated by Professor Enrique Camacho from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico. This 15th GRFDT virtual panel was attended by policy makers, practitioners, and government officials from different part of the world. The discussion inaugurated critical perspectives of high-skilled migration, the impact of covid-19 on it from both sides (countries of origin and destination), various related contexts, and management and future of high skill migration. 

Changes human experience

The covid-19 pandemic has shifted the view of the world in many sectors including migration. The first and foremost measure in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic was the closure of national borders and enforcement of worldwide entry bans which directly affect the international migration. The discourse of migration mainly discussed from the view of Neoclassical economics and labor market perspective. However, covid-19 pandemic has altered the scenario of migration and introduced a path to analysis the discourse from different angle. Professor Enrique Camacho suggested to examine the migration discourse and present trend form philosophical perspective. Philosophical disciplines are seldom taking into account in this inter-disciplinary study in this kind. Moreover, members of developing countries are not seen or absent from the polices or major disciplinary theories and academic contribution of developed countries even though they are in some extent related with these issues. He emphasized that the philosophical approach might offer phenomenology and interpretation of how it meaningfully changes human experience including highly specialist workers who are looking for immigration. On the other side, it might offer the policy framework in the aftermath of worldwide event such as pandemic in the case of skill workers and the countries involve with it.

Which one should come first- life or livelihood?

Professor Binod Khadria also articulated two philosophies that originated from Indian subcontinent namely Hinduism and Buddhism and he referred both philosophies deliberated Globalization. According to his explanation the Sanskrit term ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ means the entire earth is one family and mankind is its citizens. He advocated a paradigm shift from theoretical constructs. He argued as the world was not ready for something like the ongoing pandemic. Therefore, we need to decide and discuss what is more important, which one should come first- life or livelihood and this need to include new theoretical paradigm. He also given direction how to do that by suggesting not to categories high skill as omnibus such as health workers. There are many low-skilled workers included in this sector that are highly demand for this situation in many countries. Sending countries should grab these opportunities. He also emphasized on time horizon. Time horizon focus on which category of migration will be high demanded in the future whether it is for short run or long run. Because this kind of insight and policy vision will affect the student decision to choose their major and profession in the future.

What is High skilled migration?

The types of skills that constitute high-skilled immigration vary across time. The current level of economic development in the advanced knowledge-based economies the high-skilled are the STEM workers — scientific, technical, engineering and high-level management workers. However, the present pandemic has shifted the notion of high-skilled workers and include more categories in it for example-technology and health workers. High skilled migration is deviated around the world and there are some criteria measuring high skill. Some countries follow wage criteria and some countries follow skill criteria. Dr. A Didar Singh (Former Secretary, FICCI, India) simplified the meaning of high skill and categories high skill as professional and low skill as labor migration. There are positive and negatives aspects of high-skilled migration both from receiving and sending countries ‘concern. For sending countries, the biggest aspect is brain drain which could raise talent within the country itself. Another aspect is remittances increase and also all country tries to promote some amount of circular migration particularly skilled migration. On the contrary, receiving countries’ concern regarding migration during this pandemic are developing fear and negative feelings for all kind of migration. The attitudes of locals seem that the migrants are taking away their jobs. Other concern is the accusation of stealing technology. Developed countries claim that the skill professional such as professor, students are stealing technologies from them.

Dr. A Didar Singh emphasized on Research and Development (R&D), knowledge sharing, and skill migration and its impact both on receiving and sending countries. Receiving countries are now trying to impose rules and more like to hire skilled migrants and ruled out the low skilled migrants as result of pandemic which undeniably incongruous policy for receiving ends. This kind of policies might create tremendous xenophobia and fear against migrants which directed return migration. As we observed that large amount of return migration consists of workers, labor, professional is happening now. They are the contributors of receiving countries’ economy through remittance which is now falling down. From Asian concern, Dr. Singh stated that migrants from Asia travelled to receiving countries are seventy percent is low skill and thirty percent is high skill. Nonetheless, the calculation is rough one, it is truly applicable for Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri lanka, Philippine and even for China to some extent.

 Trade and Economic cooperation context (Asia and Latin America)

 Prof. Andres Solimano upheld the global impact of skill migration from the context of economic contraction. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global economy might contract 5.5-6%, for the first time since the Great Depression of 1930s. This is having a huge impact on the economies of the Global North. The USA expected to contraction of its GDP around 7% whereas countries such as Germany, France, Italy, UK, and international organizations like IMF, World Bank, EU’s GDP contraction might linger between 8-10% or 11%. The economy of origin countries such as Latin America and Asia are also shrinking. According to Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean for United Nations, Latin American economy may contraction 10-12% by 2020. There is pushing factor for migrants and that also related in some extent for high skilled migration. In the case of Asia, the East Asia such as China, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam are recovering and India has also shown positive economic growth in COVID-19 situation. Contrarily, USA, the country considered as global magnet for migrants going through serious problem economically, politically and socially which will affect the flow of migration in some extent.

Prof Laura Vázquez Maggio, featuring the skill migration in Australia. The number of permanent skill migrants in Australia has increased dramatically from 10000 in mid 1980s to 120,000 yearly in the past five years. During 2018, there was an arrival of 112,000 skill workers. High proportion of them coming from Latin American countries. According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, among the foreign-born migrants residing in Australia, around 136,000 come from Latin American countries and of these nearly 5000 from Mexico. The vast majority of migrants in Australia are highly skilled. Sixty five percent of Mexican born migrants have bachelor degree of education or above as compare to twenty percent who born in Australia and thirty two percent born overseas.

Prof Laura highlighted the management of covid-19 in Australia where skill migration has played important role since last decade. In recent times, many other countries including Australia has imposed travel restriction to halt corona virus. Now 272 million international migrants workers worldwide are facing difficulties to return their home due to travel restriction which effect both skilled and less skilled migrants. Australian government has imposed travel ban to entering the country for both on non-permanent and non-citizen residence. That’s means who hold temporary visas such as short-term working visa, student visa, graduate visa, provisional visa and residing outside the country cannot enter the country. Individuals who are in Australia and holding temporary visa, the ban is more prevent them from departing outside the country. In terms of financial support provided by the Australian government characterized as great financial supports to its citizen and permanent residence and many of these highly skilled migrants. Initially the supports supposed to continue for six months then in July it extended till March, 2021. However, a significant number of high skilled migrants who holding temporary visas are not eligible for the supports and also in vulnerable condition.

Dr. Razia Sultana, Research Alumni, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea, Email: raziaewha@gmail.com, Twitter: @raziasu17261635

Part II

High Skilled Migration during and post Covid 19: Perspectives from Latin America and Asia.

Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT) along with The Centre for Research on North America (CISAN), UNAM organized an insightful and dynamic discussion on “High Skilled Migration during and post COVID-19: Perspectives from Latin America and Asia” on August 4th 2020. This is the second part of the report where three other speakers shared their ideas and question answer session held.

Most foreign doctors to the OECD countries are from India

Prof. Rupa Chanda described the situation of skilled migration from the economic and trade cooperation perspective. The distribution of Indian migration is quite large in scale and estimated that the migration movement increased three times between 1999 to 2019 and among them seventeen and half millions went to the USA and several other important destination countries such as middle east and gulf countries, and OECD countries as well. The significant numbers of this skilled migration are under the H1B visa and most of them are students, nearly 100,000 of Indian born students, among most of them IT professionals. About half a million H1B visas issued from 2004 to 2012. The source of most foreign doctors to the OECD countries are from India, second in terms of nurses. In Canada, India is the biggest used of the international mobility program and the temporary foreign worker program. Thus, the observation proposed that Indian skilled migration has contain significant proportion around the world. However, there are disputes between India and USA and UK. The issues in terms of USA regarding heighten the visa fees, and two of non-temporary visas have going inconsistency, and with UK the issue regarding the removal of post study work program that led to decline numbers of foreign students. Compare to the local population, the migrant’s Indian student have much greater graduate degree including management and related professional. The bulk of remittances come from the gulf countries, however around 34% of remittance come from OECD countries in India.

Medical and Health Workers perspective

 Prof. Camelia Tigau has given the insight of skilled migration form health workers and medical perspective. Medicine is one of the main occupations of skill migration in USA. There are 10000 licensed Mexican doctors in USA. On the other hand, Mexican hospitals are suffering from shortage of doctors due to migration, unemployment, and good quality medical professionals. There is a current agreement between Mexico and Cuba to bring back Cuban doctors to Mexico for helping in this current pandemic. Mexican government paid Cuba 6.2 million dollar for the temporary services of 585 doctors throughout second trimester of 2020. The agreement also included advice, field work, epidemiological work involving doctor, nurses and epidemiologist. The execution of this agreement has criticized from the direction of the condition that the people are hired. This is associated with human rights of Cuban doctors. Cuba has sent their health workers in 70 countries during this pandemic to earn income. According to the Reuters, Havana kept 80% of charge for each doctor. According to the UN, the working condition of these doctors are a kind of modern slavery because they are force to work. In response, the Mexican government alleged that the Cuban doctors are working in Mexico voluntarily and they are paid by private sector. Another criticism concerned discrimination between of foreign doctor and Mexican doctor in Mexico.

The Mexican doctors complained that Cuban doctors are paid better compare to their assigned work than them. They also complained that Cuban doctors are not complied with the skill to treat corona virus patients. In the light of skilled migration, there is a model proposed by a researcher suggested that Mexico is a country where people are frequently travel to USA, could take an early measure to prevent the spread. Now, Mexico is following a broader trend of the medical migration during covid-19, specially health workers and other related workers.

International Students and Brain Drain aspect

 Prof Laura analysis the impact of covid-19 (during and post covid) on international students who are studying in the Australian universities, one of the skilled migration sectors severely hit by the covid-19. The suspension of the immigration scheme, option of practical training program which is very important for the international student to stay up one year to three years which is going to affect many foreign students in the USA. As Prof. Rupa Chanda mentioned that the US media look this situation as “the first and the most important thing is the turn of the foist of new immigration program-mission accomplished”. As most of countries-imposed travel ban, thousands of students have become stranded and their academic plans interrupted without a possible solution. The four main English-speaking countries namely USA, UK, Australia, and Canada have all imposed travel restriction and many universities have implemented changes including teaching method shift from face to face to online learning education. This has had a significant implication on international students. Australian universities are currently sufferings revenue shortage and job losses and projected losses of international students in future. It has been estimated that this sector may lose up to 19 billion Australian dollars for next three years and more than 200,00 job will at risk over the six months. Without international students, Australian universities will be downsized and some might collapse all together. From 2003 to 2018 international onshore student’s revenue grows on average as share of all university’s revenue from 14% to 26%. For some universities the dependency even greater exceeding 30%. In July, the Australian government announce visa changes to international students are not worse off due to the pandemic and remain competitive with other countries. This is a very important issue to the Australian government as the international students are part of the income of Australian economy. As high skilled migrants, these students are in vulnerable position as they are not eligible for the government support schemes. For many students, this is a perplexed situation whether they will remain in the destination country without face to face learning but bearing all the cost or return to home country interrupting their academic year. Nahida Soobhan a Bangladeshi diplomat working in Jordan, didn’t agree with the concept of Brain Drain and like to consider it as Brain Gain giving the example of India, China, and Korea. She pointed out towards the growth rate of countries in Asia who send out a huge number of international students every year and emphasized that the growth rate does not direct towards any kind of brain drain. According to the UNESCO report (2017), there are about 600,00 students going out from Bangladesh to various countries which has increased last three years. The demographic projection predicted that by 2025 the middle-income sector will be tripled in Bangladesh, which would create another huge potential to generate more students to go abroad. The Diplomate also recommended for finding solutions by generating ideas as how countries could channelize and what actions might take to maximize profit and real sustainable brain gain for both countries of destination and countries of origin. For countries of origin, it needs to be pondered polices, actions, and the initiatives for creating opportunities for use brain gain more sustainably. For countries of destination, the international students have huge potentiality to use their skills where they are residing and brought back to their country of origin as well.

What will be the Future of high skill migration?

 First, localization over globalization. Dr. A Didar Singh stressed on more and more of localization and less and less of globalization for recruiting employees in the light of pandemic situation analysis. Prof. Rupa Chanda postulated that the suspension of H1B visa will impact on international students including Indian students. The cost of visa will rise and because of travel restriction even if the they get visa from the employer; it will not be sure whether they are able to go USA or not. Thus, the local recruitment will increase and it will affect on the family migration too. At the long run, the recruitment will be very restricted and highly skilled foreign workers will be recruited by means of low cost. It will depend on the demand of the type of areas. Long-term visa dependency will reduce.

Second, increase usage of technologies. It has been observed that the usage of technologies and all kind of information and communication increasing. Particularly use of technology for information and knowledge will play a greater role for migration indicated by Dr. A Didar Singh. Many people who are now using this technology in working setting have proficiency. Professor Enrique Camacho predicted that many people might use these technologies not only be recruited but also could actually work in other countries without even leaving their countries of origin. However, he cautioned that this kind of technologies might threaten autonomy, hinder democracy, and might have potential to manipulate the decision-making processes.

Third, increase the demand of health care sectors professionals. The certain sectors of professionals will be preference over other profession, such as health workers preferences in USA and UK given the example by Prof. Rupa Chanda. Specially in USA, the restriction other green card visas except health workers and investment program applicants and also recommended that unused immigrants visas will be used for the professional nurses and physicians has displayed that reality. In UK, a parliamentary panel has called on the government to offer British citizenship and residency to all foreign health workers and a one-year visa extension without fees. In Sweden, 5% of doctors compare to total is from foreign born. Hence, the significant is very clear that because of this pandemic the health care system and personnel are burned out around the world, thus the countries’ immigration policy are given preferences to certain professional in this case health workers.

Fourth, increase of e-commerce and digitalization. Prof. Andres Solimano expected that

there will be ups side potential for high-tech, medical services, internet, and communication platform, e-commerce, e-education. These sectors are very intensive demand of high skill migrants. For example, Amazon is hiring people and economically in good position. 

Management of high skill migration policies

 First, formulate more orderly and sustainable skill of immigration. There are several policy proposals in literature concerning the prevention of certain detrimental effects of this kind of migration. Prof. Enrique Camacho argued that many might disagree whether it is detrimental or beneficial, both have vast evidences. But they also disagree about the reasonable scope of freedom of movement and freedom of employment. This kind of freedom requires certain condition such as skill immigration, and also kind of decoration that is morally permissible when country of origin invest greatly for the training of this skilled workers. But almost all agreed that there are cases of net lost, cases where countries might suffer for detrimental effect of this kind of immigration and in those cases, justice require to be act by means of co-responsibilities schemes by both countries of origin and destination.


Second, economic engagement. Professor Rupa Chanda advised that the better management of high skilled migration through economic engagement with broad and sector specific bilateral agreements or pacts. In longer term perspective, the thirst of relocation investment and new geopolitical alliances, that are going to be created in a post COVID19 world to a large extend, India or nations can use that momentum and try to push forward in the long term more of broad-based economic cooperation and partnership agreements. Given the example of limited trade deal between India and USA, and Brexit where UK is looking for new partners, she advocated India could potentially one of them. There are India and EU broad-based investment agreement and review of other agreement with many Asian partners which could be open window for new opportunities. Apart from these, the other option is diaspora. India has large skilled diaspora in many developed countries and this diaspora society can exercise their soft power to facilitated pro-business, pro-investment, pro-lobby.

 Finally, take account into wise of skilled migrants. To manage migration and formulate correct policies single important thing is to use of the wise of migrants themselves which is emphasized by Dr. A Didar Singh. Particularly the knowledge and skill of high skill migrants can be used to formulate right policies and manage migration in receiving countries.

 COVID-19 has definitely impacted on international students and all short of migration to a large extent. In post-covid, there will be a void in both countries of origin and destination where these skilled migrants including students can fulfil the void and contribute to the economy of both countries. The policy making process of both countries need to take account of migrants and migration management process sincerely.

Report prepared by Dr. Razia Sultana, Research Alumni, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, Korea, Email: raziaewha@gmail.com, Twitter: @raziasu17261635

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