A Year of Pandemic: The State of Global Human Mobility & What Is on the Horizon
António Vitorino, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM) (Introductory Remarks)
Jeanne Batalova, Senior Policy Analyst; Manager, Migration Data Hub, MPI
Alan Bersin, former Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection; former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and International Affairs, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Inaugural Fellow, Homeland Security Project, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Senior Adviser and Policy Consultant, Covington & Burling LLP
Elizabeth Collett, Special Advisor for Policy and Strategy to the Director General, IOM
Brendan Dowling, Minister Counsellor for Home Affairs and Regional Director – Americas, Department of Home Affairs, Embassy of Australia, Washington D.C.
Kate Hooper, Policy Analyst, International Program, MPI
Nanda Kellij, Senior Advisor, Directorate-General for Migration, Ministry of Justice and Security, the Netherlands
Andrew Selee, President, Migration Policy Institute (MPI)
The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed mobility and cross-border movement in 2020, decimating tourism and business travel, severely curtailing labor migration, and dampening all forms of migration, including refugee resettlement. Since the onset of the public-health crisis, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has tracked the hundreds of travel restrictions, border closures, and health-related travel requirements imposed by governments globally. An IOM-Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report draws from the IOM database to sketch the state of mobility across world regions in 2020, and the range of mobility-related strategies used to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus.
This two-panel discussion, featuring introductory remarks by IOM Director General António Vitorino, examines how the pandemic reshaped border management and human mobility in 2020 and what the lasting impacts may be throughout 2021 and beyond.
The first panel examines the government actions and regional and international coordination undertaken in 2020, including “travel bubbles” and immunity passports. Behind the sharp decline in global mobility lies a complex story of travellers stranded abroad, migrant workers locked out of destination countries where they might have performed seasonal or temporary work, displaced people facing severe difficulty in fleeing conflict and disaster zones, and asylum seekers struggling to apply for international protection. Speakers focus on how policymakers balanced health and economic concerns and the needs of vulnerable populations, along with capacity-building and unprecedented logistical issues in their responses to each phase of 2020—mobility lockdowns, phased reopening, and responses to new outbreaks and virus mutations. They also offered analysis of what has proved effective for both migration management and public health.
The second panel explored what policymakers should consider as the world enters into a new, uneven phase marked on the one hand by rising vaccinations, but on the other by the spread of new COVID-19 variants and additional mobility restrictions as caseloads rise in some regions. Speakers tackled questions surrounding emerging trends in migration, such as the widening gulf between those who may have the resources to travel freely and access to vaccinations versus vulnerable populations who may be unable to escape conflict or seek economic opportunities through migration. They discussed what it may take to reopen fully, a possible new border infrastructure focused on public health, what regional and international coordination efforts are showing promise, and a look ahead to major decisions that will need to be made in 2021.