Migration under the Global Pandemic

30 June, 2020

Turning Crisis into an Opportunity for more Equitable Migration Governance.

Earlier this year, countries across the world closed their borders to slow the spread of COVID-19. While the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many societal issues, like homelessness, insufficient healthcare and food scarcity, it has also significantly affected international migration.

Destination countries have halted immigration processes for refugees and asylum seekers, those on their way to reunite with their family and those moving to take up a new job or study. The pandemic has also inverted previous hierarches of more and less desired (and disposable or not) migrant workers.

Looking at migrant workers at the higher and lower end of the labour market a paradox is unfolding: those highly skilled, previously in-demand and coveted, highly skilled IT engineers, or business managers and software developers are now left stranded; and those with few or only some skills like farm labourers, workers in food processing plants and workers in senior care homes are now deemed essential. Special exemptions are enacted, flights are chartered, special housing arrangements are put in place in the effort of making sure that these workers continue to provide for their indispensables services in their host countries.

But maybe then the crisis can be turned into an opportunity for both categories of migrant workers.

Those highly skilled with a job offer or an immigration visa can be hired to work temporarily from their home country until international travel resumes. They can benefit from some sort of remote work permit and remote social insurance numbers for a period of six months until things can go back to normal.

Farmworkers and caregivers should benefit not only from regularizations programs such as that  enacted in Italy as of 14 May 2020, but also from clear perspectives for a transition to long term status as with the (unfortunately tiny) Agri-food Immigration Pilot inaugurated in Canada on 15 May 2020.

The pandemic has given major prominence to national borders as markers of ‘safety’ and ‘control’. But the interdependence of our economies, the transnational chain of production of services and goods and the crucial, indeed indispensable role of migrant workers in different parts of society (let us not forget that several of the frontline medical staff who died of Covid19 in the UK and elsewhere were of immigrant origin) have shown how much borders are actually irrelevant. The pandemic offers an opportunity for improving our immigration policies, making them more equitable and more humane.