Reverse Migration

An ear of mass migration slowly comes to an end as the recession persists

Migration in Europe has become more than personal. In the East, our relatives come back with the bitterness on their faces and disappointment in their eyes; the statistics back up their stories. Research shows an increase in the number of migrants returning home, as employment opportunities in the wealthier countries vanish in the chaos of the economic crisis. Some experts have recently predicted a 30% decrease in the South-North migration – a drop that has not been seen since the 1930s.

An era of mass migration is slowly coming to an end as growth in developed countries like the U.S. and the UK is stagnating, and employers are laying off workers in a struggle to survive. The first to lose their jobs are the unskilled new arrivals. Without an income, immigrants are unable to cover housing and living costs. Many end up on the street. Often there is no other choice but to buy a ticket and board the plane home.

“The cheap and easy labor [is being sent back] to where it came from,” writes the Consortium of Human Agencies (CHA) in its study, the “Global Financial Crisis and Reverse Migration.” Often, the natives encourage them to leave; sometimes even taking measures to help the immigrants fly back home. With an unemployment rate of 17.4%, the Spanish government last year “offered legal immigrants their unemployment compensation payments in one lump sum” if they agreed to leave and not come back for at least three years. The UK has also taken steps, though not in terms of financial help, but rather cutting the privileges of immigrant workers – removing the incentives for more foreigners to come, while at the same time forcing those already in to consider leaving.

The irony is that encouraging migrants to leave can be a serious impediment to recovery. The strong economies – even if temporarily under pressure – quickly constrict from a lack of unskilled labor: Natives, including young workers and women, refuse to work for minimum wage in the foreigner’s former jobs. So these wages have to be raised to meet the demand, to induce natives to accept those jobs that foreigners used to do for less.

Thus, reverse migration has an impact on the economic growth of developing countries, the researchers write. It also can feed additional social problems. In something like a domino effect, the wealthier economies start failing, and the poorer follow. As foreign workers lose their jobs, less income is sent back home and many families that are dependent on the immigrant’s salaries become homeless. Third World countries are especially vulnerable, experiencing growing social problems such as increasing malnutrition, infant mortality, disease and crime.

In all, foreign workers’ leaving shatters the mosaic of nationalities that has evolved often over decades in a host country. “The hyper-capitalism bubble is bursting,” the researchers noted and immigrants are left with almost no choice but to make the “long journey back home to their roots and their lands.”

One can understand both the natives’ relief and the foreigners’ bitterness. But as everything has a beginning and an end, new trends may, too, come out of this recession. It remains to be seen if they will be as rich and full of hope as the one we are leaving behind.

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